When is an Accepted Fire Alarm System Not Compliant?

This day I’m headed to a suburb of Dallas to inspect a single wet pipe sprinkler system with a dedicated fire alarm system.  The fire alarm and sprinkler systems are about three weeks out of warranty and this will be the first inspection after the original acceptance test.

The system is very basic, one 4” wet riser with a Fire-lite MS-5UD fire control panel, one smoke detector, one manual pull station, one control valve tamper supervisory switch, one paddle type waterflow alarm switch and one exterior audio/visual device.

National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code “Class-A” Wiring Requirement

The jurisdiction where installed requires all fire alarm systems to be wired “Class-A”.  NFPA 72, The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code describes “Class-A” wiring;

  • the path is redundant
  • operational capability continues past a single open
  • conditions that affect the intended operation of the path are annunciated

In layman’s terms, the circuit can be severed anywhere along its path and the device or devices assigned to this circuit will continue to operate, but indicate abnormal circuit condition. The purpose of this type of circuit is one of integrity.

With the control panel door open I notice there was no “Class-A” module necessary to convert the Fire-lite MS-5UD fire alarm control panel from “Class-B” wiring to “Class-A” wiring.  The fire alarm contractor ran the circuitry from their assigned terminals to their intended device and returned the circuit back to the FACP where they installed a resistor and tucked the wires in behind the motherboard effectively hiding the resistors.

Now comes the predicament, with a quick phone call to the jurisdictions fire prevention group I was able to confirm “Class-A” wiring was required without exception. NFPA 72, The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code provides several methods of circuit wiring, the Authority Having Jurisdiction chooses which method they require in their jurisdiction.  Next I had to advise the customer their system was not compliant. Their obvious question, “How can this system be non-compliant when it was accepted just one year ago”?

Many contractors will argue if the AHJ accepts the installation then the system has met the burden of code. However, the code is clear.

International Fire Code – Inspections Section:

“Approval as the result of an inspection shall not be construed to be an approval of a violation of the provisions of this code or of other ordinances of the jurisdiction.  Inspections presuming to give authority to violate or cancel provisions of this code or other ordinances of the jurisdiction shall not be valid.”

Regardless of acceptance; as a state licensed inspector I have an obligation to inspect the system to the codes and standards in force at the time of installation and with the Class “A” wiring mandate I must attach a Yellow “Non Compliance” Tag to the system.

With the installation of a $ 125.00 Fire-lite Class “A” module and landing of the return wiring to the module; the system was brought into compliance. It is unclear why this wasn’t done originally.

There is no denying the customer did not receive what they were entitled, but this installation is a testament that everyone associated with the fire protection and life safety industry has an obligation to meet or exceed the codes and standards in force at time of installation.

The simple truth; education is the path to a more reliable, properly functioning system.

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