New edition of NFPA 72 to be more user friendly

The 2013 version won’t contain the dramatic revisions of 2010, but should make life easier for dealers, installers
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

YARMOUTH, Maine—Come this fall, you won’t have to flip through the several hundred pages of NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, to find documentation requirements. Now, in the new 2013 edition, you’ll find the requirements all laid out for you in one chapter.

“There is one significant new chapter in the 2013 edition, a chapter on documentation requirements,” Lee Richardson, National Fire Protection Association staff liaison for NFPA 72, told Security Systems News. “Some of the material in that chapter is new, but most of it is taken from existing requirements and compiled into a location where you can more quickly find” the requirements.

Such changes in the code—pending any amendments introduced—are due to be voted on at the NFPA Conference & Expo, to be held June 11-14 in Las Vegas, and then sent to the NFPA Standards Council for final approval in August. And while the 2013 edition won’t contain the dramatic revisions the current 2010 edition has, it is expected to contain organizational and technical changes designed to clarify requirements in the document and make it more helpful for users, according to experts familiar with the document.

The Quincy, Mass.-based NFPA described the 2010 edition as the code’s most extensive revision since 1993. It said that edition “expanded beyond the core focus on fire alarm systems to also include requirements for mass notification systems used for weather emergencies; terrorist events; biological, chemical and nuclear emergencies; and other threats.” In fact, the code got a new name to reflect its broader coverage: the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

The 2013 version will benefit from some of the groundwork done for that edition, Richardson said.

“One of the things that happened in the 2010 edition, which was a fairly landmark edition, was we pretty much revised the entire document, the structure of it, the order of the chapters and to some extent the content of the chapters, and there were some new chapters put in,” he said. “… This time there’s a little bit less of that, but they’re still taking advantage of the reorganization of 2010.”

One example is Chapter 7, the new chapter on documentation. It is a collection point for information previously contained in other chapters, Richardson said.

Carter Rierson, president of Best Defense Security & Fire Protection, based in Waunakee, Wis., said that although he has not seen the proposals regarding documentation changes, “I think moving [documentation requirements] to a single chapter makes perfect sense.”

Rierson, who has a NICET IV under his belt, continued: “I can definitely say that this is an area of the code where better organization is needed. While studying and testing for the NICET exams, the documentation questions were always the most enlightening. I can’t tell you how many times I looked up a documentation question, found the answer after searching several chapters and then nearly said out loud, ‘Really?’ There are so many things that we’re required to provide for documentation on submittals, acceptance testing, as-builts, records of completion, and annual testing that this is a challenging task without the fact that the requirements are spread across three separate chapters.”

Richardson said the new chapter also will make it easier for an AHJ (authority having jurisdiction) to “know what’s expected in terms of documentation requirements.”

For example, he said, there now is a list of 14 minimum requirements, “things that [previously] were sort of recommended or suggested in annex material that are now actually written into the actual requirements.” Among the items required are a written narrative of the system and a sequence of operations, he said.

Shane Clary, vice president of codes and standards at Pacheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co., who will give a presentation on Chapter 7 at the upcoming show, said the minimum-requirement language was added “to sort of limit what’s required.”

He said that without that definitive list, “you get a zealous AHJ and he says, ‘[NFPA] 72 requires this, so I want all this stuff.’” Suddenly, Clary said, instead of what could have been done on two sheets of plans, you’ve got “a 10-page set of drawings that costs the end user $10,000, more than the system.”

He advised dealers and installers to be ready to point out the new list to AHJs and others. “My one concern,” Clary said, “is that until you get educated, a few plan checkers are just going to say, ‘I want it all.’ So dealers and distributors should be aware of this change and be ready to understand what it actually says as opposed to what someone may be thinking that it says.”

Richardson said another change in the documentation chapter is a repackaging of two forms that installers must fill out: the record of completion and inspection form and the testing and maintenance form.

In the current edition, Richardson said, the forms are lengthy—up to 12 pages long. He said the forms “covered everything from soup to nuts that could possibly be involved in a fire alarm or emergency communications system, but what they realized is that’s just kind of cumbersome for somebody that’s just dealing with a normal typical small to midsized fire alarm system to have to fill out 12 pages of stuff when only maybe a third of it applies.”

So in the 2013 edition, he said, “what they’ve done is repackage those forms so that there’s a basic form for some of your bread-and-butter types of systems” and then additional forms you would fill out for more complex systems.

Mark Popkowski, president and owner of Modern System Concepts, a fire and security company based in Katy, Texas, said he agrees with the new change. “There is no reason to have to go through the whole completion form when only certain areas apply,” he said.

Clary said language also has been added that, when approved by the AHJ, the record of completion may be filed electronically. “The code is trying to go green,” he said.

Another significant change in the code is in the testing and maintenance chapter. It’s designed to address complaints that tables on visual inspection and testing were not well coordinated and perhaps needed some beefing up, Richardson said.

In the 2013 edition, he said, “they’ve done quite a bit of extensive work with those tables.” He said the three tables relating to inspection have been condensed to two, but also have been “expanded to include not only the visual inspection sequences but the inspection methods, so there’s a whole new level of detail provided in terms of inspection methods that up until now didn’t exist.”

Also, the two testing tables in the current edition are now one table. “You can see the test method and the frequency all in one place,” Richardson said. In addition, “they’ve tried to correlate the order of the listing of the components between the inspection table and the testing table so they’re more closely aligned. That should be helpful.”

There also is a significant change in the supervising station chapter that has to do with transmission technologies to the supervising station, Richardson said.

“One of the pieces of [that chapter] has historically been the different methods used to transmit signals from on location to another,” he said. He said the code previously included a wide variety of methods, but “half of them were no longer being installed and many of them are no longer being used, so one of the things they did in 2013 is they took out the requirements for those methods and kind of streamlined the requirements a bit.”

Of course, all of the changes will be discussed in much greater detail at the show.
Opportunities to learn more about NFPA 72 changes will include three panel discussions and a post-conference seminar.

And, although the proposed changes are not yet final and still could be amended, Richardson said that “probably 90 percent” of what has been proposed will make it through the vote in June and to the standards council this summer, and then to the final document to be published this fall.