Fire alarm systems are just one of many critical components to ensuring the life safety of building occupants as well as property protection to the structure and its contents. As an active fire protection system, design professionals and installers must not only ensure compliance with the applicable codes and standards, but also ensure the fire alarm aligns with the client/end-user’s goals and the building fire strategy.

The applicable building and fire codes define when a fire alarm system is required to be installed and identifies the applicable edition of NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Once it is established that the fire alarm is required, NFPA 72 outlines how to design, install, test and maintain the system. It is important to note that the changes discussed here are not final and may be revised as the standards development process progresses.

Why should fire protection engineers be concerned about 2022 edition when building and fire codes are still referencing much older editions? On some projects, the authority having jurisdiction may elect to apply the most current codes/standards or the design professionals may seek approval from the AHJ to apply the most current if there is a technology or application that was not addressed by the older editions. The most current edition may also help clarify requirements from previous editions.

Where in the standards development process is the 2022 edition? In short, closing out step two (of four). The NFPA standards development process is about a three-year process that consists of:

  • Step 1: Public input.
  • Step 2: Public comment.
  • Step 3: NFPA technical meeting.
  • Step 4: Council appeals/issue of document.

The second draft report was posted in January, and the closing date for the notice of intent to make a motion was February. Certified notices will be reviewed by the NFPA membership at the NFPA Technical Meeting, taking place digitally in 2021.

Chapter 3: Definitions

Why are definitions important in NFPA 72? To describe terminology used in the context of the code. In the next edition, expect the following new definitions: authorized personnel, one-way radio communications, two-way radio communications, constantly attended, control equipment, cybersecurity, emergency personnel, minimum hearing distance, observation, remote access, signaling system, supervised notification appliance control circuit and surge protective device.

Also, the term “energy storage systems” has been updated to “stored-energy emergency power supply systems” to be consistent with the reference standard NFPA 111: Standard on Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems.

Chapter 7: Documentation

How can a contractor know the performance level a circuit is intended to achieve? The 2022 edition will help clarify any potential uncertainty by requiring the design documents to indicate the pathway class and survivability level. Also, the record of completion and record of inspection and testing forms will incorporate minor revisions to reflect the term revision of stored-energy emergency power supply systems.

Chapter 10: Fundamentals

For many editions of NFPA 72, an automatic detector has been required at the location of each control unit, notification appliance circuit power extender and supervising station transmitting equipment when the area is not continuously occupied. This has not changed; however, the next edition adds language that permits the detector to be eliminated where a risk analysis shows it is not required and where acceptable to the AHJ.

Have you ever seen nonfunctional equipment installed in buildings? The 2022 edition will require abandoned fire alarm equipment to be removed and be marked “not in service” while it remains installed.

Also new, the capacity of batteries will require an additional 5% capacity, changing from 20% safety margin to 25% to account for battery degradation over the life of a battery. The installer will be required to label the battery with a replacement date that does not exceed four years from the date of installation. Effective Jan. 1, 2024, any rechargeable batteries used for secondary power will be required to be listed or recognized by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.

Chapter 11: Cybersecurity

Chapter 11 has been titled cybersecurity and references the associated Annex J to address cybersecurity guidance. Given the complex nature of the subject and the rapid rate at which this field is progressing, specific requirements have not been added in the enforceable body section of the code.

Chapter 12 and 24: Circuits and Pathways and Emergency Communications Systems

The survivability requirements have undergone a major update this cycle. The task group has spent hours meeting to understand the history, potential failures, material installation requirements and revising the current requirement. Primarily institutional occupancies including health care facilities and high-rise building’s use relocation and partial evacuation strategies. These buildings can be constructed with no fire resistance or more than two hours. The fire alarm system must be able to evacuate occupants that are not notified during the initial alarm.

For a fire alarm cable system to be survivable from fire, the cable must be attached to a structure that can withstand a fire at least equal to the fire rating of the cable. With cable manufacturers introducing a one-hour fire rated cable, the 2022 edition added a pathway survivability level 4. For buildings with a fire resistance rating that is at least one-hour and less than two hours, the new level 4 pathway survivability would be allowed.

Fire alarm systems have the capability to communicate through redundant pathways (Class N and X), however NFPA 72 has not recognized these capabilities regarding survivability until the 2016 edition. When the outgoing and return circuits are separated by one-third the diagonal of the compartment, cable in conduit (Level 1) is permitted in a sprinklered building. This separation is difficult to maintain in the core of high-rise buildings and fire-rated cable or enclosures would be required when the cables are within one-third the diagonal.

Figure 1: NFPA 72 will permit the detector at the location of each control unit, notification appliance circuit power extender and supervising station transmitting equipment to be eliminated where a risk analysis shows it is not required and where acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction. Courtesy: Arup

In buildings using relocation and partial evacuation, the fire alarm equipment is required to be located within a two-hour rated enclosure, but the communication between these rooms must be maintained during a fire. In a sprinklered building, the proposed language in the 2022 edition would allow cable in conduit if the redundant communications are separated by a floor assembly, a minimum of one-hour construction or at least one-third the maximum diagonal of the notification zone.

For example, in a high-rise building where we typically evacuate the floor in alarm plus the floor below and the floor above, the fire alarm equipment would be located within a two-hour rated room on every third floor. This equipment serves the notification appliances on the floor above and below this room. Nonrated fire alarm cable in conduit would be permitted for the communication between these rooms, however special attention must be made for the return or redundant communication pathway.

For the fire alarm room on the highest level, the primary communication pathway could enter from the floor below then the redundant pathway could be routed along this floor to the location where the redundant path would return through the building. The vertical return would need to be separated by one-third the maximum diagonal of the floor or located in dissimilar spaces that are separated by a minimum of one-hour fire-rated construction.

A short on a communication circuit is a common failure when the insulation melts, allowing the conductors to touch and prevent all communication from occurring between all devices on that circuit. Isolation devices detect a short circuit between conductors and open the circuit to allow communications to remain operational except for the segment between isolation devices where the short is present. Therefore, it is important that isolation is provided either before the first and after last device within the rated room containing fire alarm equipment for communication to remain operational. Stand-alone isolation modules are not required if integral isolation is provided that provides similar functionality. Class N and X circuits are required to operate during an open, ground fault and short condition.

Figure 2: Language has been added to NFPA 72 to require abandoned fire alarm equipment to be marked “not in service” while it remains installed. Courtesy: Arup

As a designer or engineer of a fire alarm system, how do we know the installed fire alarm system operates with this new approach? To test the redundant communication for metallic conductors, individually initiate an open and ground fault on each individual conductor and a short between the conductors. While maintaining the fault condition, confirm the speakers and strobes activate and the voice message is broadcast.

The requirements for area of refuge and elevator landing two-way communication systems also were updated to follow the same requirements for fire alarm systems using relocation and partial evacuation. New survivability requirements for occupant evacuation elevators lobby two-way emergency communication system are now required to be a pathway survivability of level 3. Occupant evacuation elevators are only permitted to be installed in sprinklered buildings therefore only one survivability level is permitted. In addition, the system must function so that a single open, ground fault or short circuit fault does not affect communication to any other lobby.

Since the introduction of prescriptive requirements for mass notification systems in the 2010 edition, a new UL listing has been developed for control units for mass notification systems and most fire alarm systems have now been cross listed to the new standard. Therefore, it is no longer necessary to permit UL 864 for new installations, the standard for control units and accessories for fire alarm systems to be used for mass notification system control units.

The requirements found in NFPA 72 Section 24.10 for rescue assistance have undergone a title change and major revision. These systems are required to be listed to the new UL 2525 standard. Rescue assistance systems would be required to operate for 24 hours under quiescent load followed by four hours with all remote call stations activated and master control stations annunciating calls. If these systems call an off-site location, a verbal message is provided to identify the building location before connecting to the remote call station. The master control station is required to display at least 8 unanswered calls that are prioritized.

Figure 3: The 2022 edition of NFPA 72 will require initiating devices to be supported independently of their attachment to circuit conductors. Courtesy: Arup

Chapter 14: Inspection, Testing and Maintenance

In today’s virtual world, the days of remote (off-site) programming of control equipment is coming. A requirement has been added clarify that when remote programming is undertaken, a qualified representative must be on-site at the protected premise to undertake the reacceptance testing following the site-specific software revision.

Chapter 17: Initiating Devices

Are initiating devices required to be supported independently of their attachment to circuit conductors? Yes, the 2022 of NFPA 72 edition adds this requirement back into the code after deletion during the last cycle. Also, remote alarm and supervisory indicators will be required to be labeled to identify their function as well as any equipment that is associated with the initiating device.

Chapter 18: Notification Appliances

NFPA 72 has long required that notifications appliances used for notifying occupants of non-fire events shall not have the word “fire” visible to the public. This requirement remains unchanged; however, flexibility has been added to the code in permitting field modifications to the marking as long as it is completed as per the manufacturer’s published instructions or a permanent sign is placed adjacent to the notification appliance to indicate multipurpose use of the appliance.

Chapter 21: Emergency Control Function Interfaces

A requirement to permit the installation of automatic fire detection in non-sprinklered elevator hoistways for the activation of smoke relief equipment was added to align with ASME A17.1/CSA B44: Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators. The requirement also clarifies that the detection is to initiate elevator phase I emergency recall.

Chapter 23: Protected Premises Alarm and Signaling Systems

Similar to Chapter 14 requirements on remote programming, there are new requirements related to remote access to fire alarm or signaling systems. These outline stipulations for permitting remote access to complete testing, maintenance, diagnostics and software upgrades. With the exception of remote diagnostics, the other aforementioned activities will require qualified personnel on-site.

Also, are there performance requirements related to the low-power radio (wireless) systems pathways? Similar to wire pathways, performance requirements for designating these pathways as Class A or Class B have now been defined in Chapter 23.

Figure 4: The 2022 edition of NFPA 72 will require a label to identify the indicator function as well as any equipment that is associated with the initiating device. Courtesy: Arup

Chapter 26: Supervising Station Alarm Systems

The remote programming requirements are rounded out in the next edition by identifying new requirements relative to remote programming of protected premises transmission technologies. A qualified person is required to be on-site at all times during remote programming. Also, notifications need to be made and a test plan in place as per the requirements outlined in Chapter 14.

Chapter 29: Single- and Multiple-Station Alarms and Household Signaling Systems

Regarding the placement of smoke alarms and smoke detectors near cooking appliances, smoke alarms or smoke detectors installed between 10 and 20 feet along a horizontal flow path from a stationary or fixed cooking appliance must have a transition period before the requirement for implementation of the latest technology. Before May 1, 2022, these alarms and detectors are required to be equipped with alarm silencing means, use photoelectric detection or be listed for resistance to cooking nuisance alarms.

Effective May 1, 2022, the smoke alarms and smoke detectors will be required to be listed for resistance to cooking nuisance alarms. Similarly, for smoke alarms and smoke detectors installed between 6 and 10 feet radially from the cooking appliance, a transition period applies. Before May 1, 2022, the devices must use photoelectric detection or be listed for resistance to cooking nuisance alarms and on/after May 1, 2022, must comply with the latter.

Figure 5: Requirements were added to NFPA 72 to permit field modifications to the marking on the notification appliance as long as it is completed as per the manufacturer’s published instructions or a permanent sign is placed adjacent to the notification appliance to indicate multipurpose use of the appliance. Courtesy: Arup

Annex I: Color Coded Tagging Program

A new annex has been added to provide recommendations for color-coded system status tagging programs in an effort to establish a level of consistency where these programs are required by local jurisdictions. The recommendations span tagging for installation, service, inspection and testing, deficiencies and impairments. As with all appendices, the material is not part of the enforceable code requirements (unless modified by local jurisdictions) but are included for informational purposes.

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