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Testing 1, 2, 3...

What can be done to avoid common fire code deficiencies and maintain compliance with NFPA regulations? First and foremost, you should test any new fire alarm system installed in your building. Each new fire alarm system should be fully functional and ready at the time of testing. Follow this up by working with a certified fire protection provider and scheduling regular inspections and maintenance. Fire alarms should be inspected both annually and semi-annually.

  • Annual Inspections – An annual fire alarm test is a thorough review of the entire fire alarm system. This includes testing each device, and checking all audible and visual notification devices to make sure occupants will be able to hear and see alarms when they sound. Inspectors will also complete diagnostic work on control panels, including testing batteries and assuring that all wires are connected and have not been tampered with, among other necessary checks.
  • Semiannual Inspections – Fewer tests will be conducted semiannually, but they still need to be done in order for your building and systems to remain compliant. Semiannual inspections include checking fire sprinkler water flow and valves, testing batteries again and visually inspecting lead-acid batteries for swelling or loose connections. If a radiant energy-sensing fire detector is on site, it will be checked during the semiannual inspection as well.

Why should you regularly test, inspect and maintain fire alarm systems? There are three main reasons:

  1. Safety – A poorly maintained fire alarm system puts you and your building occupants at risk. Some deficiencies, such as non-operable smoke detectors or disconnected wires, are not obvious unless your system is properly tested on a regular basis.
  2. Code Compliance – Proper testing and inspections will help keep your facility and fire protection equipment code compliant. It will also make sure you meet the requirements of your local authority having jurisdiction and your insurance provider. If a fire were to occur and cause damage to your facility, your insurance provider will likely not cover the costs if proof of inspection cannot be provided.
  3. Nuisance Alarms – A final incentive to regularly testing and inspecting your fire alarm systems is to help reduce the occurrence of nuisance alarms, or false alarms. In 2012, U.S. fire departments responded to more than 2 million false fire alarms. Many states have begun to push more adherence to code in an effort to reduce the number of false alarms. In 2012, there was a 4.7 percent decrease in false alarms caused by system malfunctions from 2011, accounting for 713,000 or 31.9 percent of all false alarms.¹ However, improvements can clearly still be made, and proper testing and maintenance are key to accomplishing this.

If you haven’t already, click here to start a fire alarm system inspection program.


¹ http://www.nfpa.org/research/reports-and-statistics/the-fire-service/fire-department-calls/false-alarm-activity-in-the-us