Click here for a printable version of this article.

July 2000: Why Should You Test Your Fire Alarms?

The simple answer is "to make sure the alarms will work." How does anyone know whether the fire alarms will work when the emergency comes? They don’t, but with frequent testing of the alarms, there is more assurance that the alarms will operate properly.

Table 7-2.2 of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, lists the various types of alarms or equipment and the method for properly testing each device. Table 7-3.1 lists their appropriate testing frequencies.

As one example, Table 7-2.2 indicates how to properly test waterflow switches. It states to "Flow water through an Inspector’s Test Connection indicating the flow of water equal to that from a single sprinkler of the smallest orifice size installed in the system for wet-pipe systems, or an alarm test bypass connection for dry-pipe, pre-action, or deluge systems."

Section 7-1.2.2 requires that personnel shall be qualified and experienced in the inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm system. Examples of qualified personnel may include, but not limited to, individuals who are: a) Factory trained and certified, b) National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies fire alarm certified, c) International Municipal Signal Association fire alarm certified, d) Certified by the state or local authority, e) Trained and qualified personnel employed by an organization listed by a national testing laboratory for the service of fire alarm testing.

What does all this mean? It means that your facility has many types of fire alarm equipment. There are smoke detectors, manual pull stations, sprinkler system waterflow and valve tamper switches. Others may have fire pumps with suction tanks. Fire pumps need pump running and power failure or fire pump controller switch position alarms. These alarms must be tested to assure they will work. If you don’t start your car for 4 months, will it start? Probably not. Yet many alarms are not tested at all. They should be. The testing should be an actual test. Testing of the electronic circuits while not testing the actual device should not be allowed. For example, by opening the waterflow alarm box, a waterflow signal can easily be made to transmit electronically. The alarms should always be tested as they would operate in "real life" situations.

Why is all this important - to let someone know there is an emergency situation. Whether this person is a security guard, an alarm company representative who will notify the public fire department or plant management. Someone is needed to respond to the emergency, even if it isn’t a fire. Suppose your building’s heating system broke down one cold wintry Friday night and water in the sprinkler system piping froze. During the Saturday morning thaw, sprinkler piping would crack. Water would be spraying out of each sprinkler head or broken fitting at an estimated rate of 40 gpm. That’s 40 gpm out of each head or fitting. If your alarm didn’t work properly, one head alone would discharge approximately 115,000 gallons of water (40 gpm per head x 60 minutes/hour x 48 hours) onto your floor. If a fire occurred and your alarms failed to operate, the fire department would be long delayed. It’s easy to see the importance of the fire alarm system. Proper testing and maintenance is critical for reliable operation.

Our goal is to help educate our clients maintain and test their fire protection equipment. Let us help you design a system and test your alarms to assure reliable operation.