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Significant Changes to the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®
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Issue 105: Significant Changes to the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®

By Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE

NFPA 72-2016, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code®, was issued on August 18, 2015 and had an effective date of September 7, 2015. Both the Code and its associated Handbook became available in early October. What are some of the more important changes? First of all some of the features used in previous editions that often helped the review of changes are not available in this edition. For example, the Cross reference from 2016 to 2013 editions will only appear in the Handbook and Code changes in the new edition are no longer indicated by a vertical rule beside the paragraph, table, or figure in which the change occurred. And where one or more complete paragraphs have been deleted, the deletion is no longer indicated by a bullet (•) between the paragraphs that remain. The absence of these tools will obviously require the users of the new Code to thoroughly review the requirements before making any design decisions. It is not possible to review all of the changes to the Code but the goal of this article will be to highlight the significant changes.

One of the more significant changes to Chapter 7, Documentation is in section which states, “The building owner or the building owner’s representative shall, on an annual basis, review any electronic documentation media formats and associated interfacing hardware for compatibility and update, if necessary.” Obviously the Technical Committee is concerned that rapidly changing technology may obsolete some electronic documentation media and wants to ensure the system documentation remains accessible through the life of the fire alarm system installation.

Chapter 10 – Fundamentals clarified why the requirement exists for requiring a smoke detector at the location of each control unit, notification appliance circuit power extender, and supervising station transmitting equipment stating the smoke detector’s purpose is “to provide notification of fire at that location.”

Section 10.12.2 of the Code requires that when notification appliances are to be deactivated, all visible and audible notification appliances are deactivated. In some jurisdictions this requirement created issues with the fire service who wanted the strobes to continue to flash while they investigated. Annex A.10.12.2 offers some assistance in this area stating, “Where it is desired to deactivate the notification appliances for fire service operations inside the building and signal evacuated occupants that an alarm is still active, it is recommended that a separate non-silenceable notification zone be provided on the exterior of the building. The audible and visible notification appliances located at the building entrances could serve as a warning to occupants to remain outside of the building.

Chapter 14, Inspection, Testing & Maintenance added language requiring notification of recalled equipment, clarified the purpose of initial visual inspection and reminded the users of the Code that this chapter covers only fire alarm systems and ECS, not household fire alarm systems.

Chapter 17, Initiating Devices, confirms that “total coverage” can be applied to building or a portion thereof. Coverage for stairways, shafts, chutes, and small closets that require special consideration have been added to the Annex.

Chapter 18, Notification Appliances requires that the evacuation alarm is repeated for 180 seconds but added a new exception for MNS messages. Section states “The minimum repetition time shall be permitted to be automatically interrupted for the transmission of mass notification messages in accordance with Chapter 24.”

As many of you know, low frequency alarms in all sleeping areas or areas that could be used as sleeping areas has been a requirement since January 1, 2014. Chapter 18 now requires that for low frequency signaling “The notification equipment shall be listed for producing the low frequency waveform.”

Chapter 23, Protected Premises Fire Alarm Systems now requires designers to use isolator modules to ensure that “A single fault on a pathway connected to the addressable devices shall not cause the loss of the devices in more than one zone.” An SLC zone for example, can be a floor, or limited to a maximum area of a floor or fire/smoke barrier compartment boundaries. Class N devices and Class N shared pathways are a new designation of devices and circuit added to Chapter 23. This is the first Code allowance for using a network to connect all fire alarm or mass notification devices and appliances. There are strict requirements for its use in order to ensure system reliability and the circuit must meet the requirements of a Level 3 shared pathway. If a designer wishes to use something less than a shared pathway Level 3, then the following must take place:

  • Written analysis of the risks
  • Maintenance plans
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • A deployment plan is submitted.
  • Level 3 requires dedicated equipment for life safety data; equipment cannot be shared
  • Not permitted to be accessible to general public for any purpose
  • Not permitted to be accessible to building occupants

In order to use Class N pathways and devices the products must be listed for the purpose of fire alarm and/or mass notification and an assessment of the products and the interconnection to form a fire alarm or mass notification system is a critical aspect for compliance with NFPA 72.

Chapter 24, Emergency Communications Systems added a major change to allow designers to ensure required intelligibility in section, stating “Where no listed loudspeaker exists to achieve the intelligibility requirements of the Code for a notification zone, nonlisted loudspeakers shall be permitted to be installed to achieve the intelligibility for that notification zone.” This obviously conflicts with the requirement for all equipment to be listed for the purpose but the technical committee felt for acoustically challenging spaces some flexibility was needed to address the intelligibility requirement of the Code. Chapter 24 has also increased the requirements and guidance for messaging for MNS stating in section “Based on the emergency response plan, emergency messages shall have content that provides information and instructions to people in the building, area, site, or installation.” All messaging information is now contained in the new ANNEX G Guidelines for Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings and Campuses.

There are two new exceptions to the pathway survivability requirements in section that states “For systems employing relocation or partial evacuation, a Level 2 or Level 3 pathway survivability shall be required.

Exception No. 1: Level 1 shall be permitted where notification zones are separated by less than 2-hour fire-rated construction.

Exception No. 2: Level 1 shall be permitted where there are at least two pathways that are separated by at least one-third the maximum diagonal of the notification or signaling zones that the pathways are passing through and the pathway is Class X or Class N.”

And finally when an in-building two-way radio communications enhancement system is required, the Code now states it “shall be designed, installed, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 1221.”

Two new sections in Chapter 26, Supervising Stations, provide clarified language that when signals are received at the supervising station as a zone or a specific identified point this information shall be retransmitted to the fire communications center. Additionally the Code now states that “Alarm signals that are verified as nuisance unwanted alarms are not dispatched and are handled in accordance with shall be reported to the responsible fire department in a manner and at a frequency specified by the responsible fire department." Language was added to section so it is clear when the authority having jurisdiction was to be notified of the cancellation or expiration of a central station certificate.

Lastly there are two significant requirements to Chapter 29, Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Fire Alarm Systems that notes the owner shall be provided information to ensure that “Unless otherwise recommended by the manufacturer's published instructions, smoke alarms shall be replaced when they fail to respond to tests. And that “Smoke alarms installed in one- and two-family dwellings shall not remain in service longer than 10 years from the date of manufacture.”

As stated earlier, the changes here are some of the more significant ones but I encourage you to read the entire Code to ensure a complete understanding of all the important changes.

Wayne D. Moore is with JENSEN HUGHES

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