Starting with fire drills in schools, and eventually in the workplace, blaring alarms and flashing lights are often the clearest indicator of a fire emergency and the signal for evacuation procedures. As such, commercial fire alarm systems need to be properly maintained and regularly inspected in order to keep all building personnel and visitors safe.
Fire alarm inspections and tests are necessary to ensure that all existing alarms are compliant with NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. These inspections may also reveal areas of a building’s fire signaling system in need of repairs or replacement.
Additionally, by properly maintaining the system as a whole, businesses can protect themselves in the aftermath of a fire by proving their system aligns with their insurance provider’s fire protection requirements.
Fire alarm system inspections are essential to the safety of the building’s occupants, as well as the integrity of the business’s physical assets. So what exactly happens during a fire alarm inspection?
What You Need to Know About Fire Alarm Inspections
Fire alarm inspections may not be on top of the priority list when running a business, but the time taken and momentary disruption this procedure may cause is nothing compared to the consequences of a malfunctioning system during an emergency.
In order to be better prepared for a fire alarm inspection, property managers may wonder:
- What happens during the inspection?
- How long does it take?
- What do my employees need to know?
- How often does it need to happen?
What Happens During the Fire Alarm Inspection and Test?
The first step in any inspection occurs before the fire safety technicians even step foot in the building. They must first make the local fire department aware of any tests to avoid provoking a false alarm.
Once on site, the fire safety technicians will conduct tests to ensure that all components of the system are in working order, including everything from fire alarm panels and strobes to fire doors and elevators.
More specifically, items to be inspected and tested include:
- Smoke and heat detectors
- Annunciators and zones
- Output relays and activations
- Flow switches, tamper switch, and low-pressure alarms
- Supervised control valves and switches
Running through the appropriate tests will ensure that all NFPA services and conditions are met, and will help identify any potential problem areas that might compromise the function of components in the overall system. Smoke detectors are cleaned, heat-actuating devices are tested, and devices are tagged as required for record-keeping.
How Long Does a Fire Alarm Inspection and Test Take?
The inspection process entirely depends on the size of the facility in question. Smaller systems over a contained area may take as little as an hour, whereas larger facilities with multiple buildings and complex systems may take up to a few days.
These inspections and tests must be thorough, and should not be rushed.
What Should Employees Know about the Inspection?
Employees should be familiar with the building’s fire drill procedures and should be made aware that testing will be occurring in the building. While the alarms, strobes, and other disruptive elements of the system must be tested for functionality, they should only last a few minutes at a time to ensure everything is working correctly.
How Often Do Inspections and Tests Need to Take Place?
Regular fire alarm inspections are an important part of maintaining a safe, NFPA-compliant facility. Every year, fire safety technicians must test fire alarm control panels, initiating devices, alarm communication equipment, and remote annunciators. This presents the bulk of the inspection process.
Every two years, fire alarm inspections should also include sensitivity tests for smoke detection devices as well as function tests.
Keeping Your Workplace Safe
Fire alarms are often the most effective and immediate way to let everyone in the building know that there is an emergency and they must evacuate. Fire alarm systems, including alarms, strobe lights, and smoke detectors, can save lives and should be regularly maintained to ensure their continued reliability and proper functionality.
These tests should be conducted by fire safety technicians, who must update tagged devices and provide a thorough overview of the inspection for the record.