Fire Alarm System Inspections & Testing

Posted December 30, 2020 by Koorsen Fire & Security

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Fire alarm systems are everywhere – every business, apartment, hotel, hospital, and school.

Yet, many are unaware of the strict schedule of fire alarm system inspections and testing that must take place to ensure these systems operate effectively and stay up to code.

If you own or manage a building, it is important to know the ins and outs of fire alarm system testing so that you can keep your system compliant and operating to keep your personnel and building safe.

Read on to find answers to most of your fire alarm system inspection questions.

What is Fire Alarm System Testing?

Fire alarm system testing and inspections are essentially the same things. They are required by the NFPA and AHJs and must be carried out by professional fire protection vendors.

These inspections/tests involve checking on and testing all devices that make up a fire alarm system. This includes:

  • Initiating devices: smoke detectors, heat detectors, duct detectors, beam detectors, etc.

  • Notification devices: horn strobes, chime strobes, speaker strobes, mass notification systems, etc.

  • Sensitivity: checking that the sensitivity of the initiating devices is within the manufacturer's design.

  • Fire alarm panel: the panel also undergoes regular inspection and testing.

These regular tests ensure every component of the fire alarm system is where it ought to be and is in proper working condition.

What Tests/Inspections are Required?

In a sense, there are several required tests/inspections that fire alarm systems must undergo. While most are familiar with the annual test where the technician tests the initiating devices, notifying devices, and fire alarm panel to ensure they are operating correctly, here are two other tests that you may not be familiar with:

  • Acceptance test: the acceptance test is required right after the installation of a new system is completed. It is the same as a function test (see below) and ensures that all new system components are working correctly. Every device within the system is tested, whether initiating, notifying, or fire panel.

    The acceptance test is only done once, right after installation and before the building is occupied. The only exception is if the building undergoes renovations, after which the fire alarm system must be acceptance tested again.

  • Sensitivity test: the sensitivity test must be performed within one year after installation.

    This test mostly focuses on the initiating devices and tests them to ensure they activate within the manufacturers' ranges and ratings.

    To do this, technicians have to use a combination of a metering device and their aerosol smoke (or heat element) to activate the initiating device and use a pre-set amount of smoke to make sure the alarm activates within the manufactured range. They then compare their readings with the range stated by the manufacturer of that device. If the device activates within the set range, it passes. 

With "intelligent" systems, the system monitors the devices' sensitivity, and reports can be pulled and presented to the customer.

It generally takes two technicians to carry out testing – one technician monitoring the fire alarm panel while the other is going to each device to test and activate it. Occasionally, at very small locations, one technician may be able to perform the testing on their own.

How Long Does the Average Inspection / Test Take?

How long fire alarm system inspections take depends entirely on the size of the system.

For the average two to three-story office building, the systems can easily be tested within half of a day. Larger buildings will take longer.

Large systems, such as those that protect hospitals and schools, can easily take up to one to two weeks to test the entire system. They are usually done in segments. For instance, the east wing of a hospital may be done one day, and the west wing may be done the next.

Ultimately, how long your fire alarm system testing will take depends on your facility's size and how complex the system is.

Preparations for Fire Alarm System Inspection/Testing

Before your system can be tested, Koorsen, or the fire protection vendor you use, should call your monitoring agency to inform them that a test will be occurring on the system.

The agency will still receive the signals that events are occurring, and they will log them, but they will not respond to them in any way, and emergency authorities will not be notified.

Another way to prepare for your system's test is to think about whether or not you want the notification devices (horns, strobes, etc.) to be tested at the same time and whether you want them tested during work hours or not. This can help you better to schedule the testing for the most convenient time.

What Role do Fire Alarm Panels Play in Fire Alarm System Inspections/Testing?

During your fire alarm system testing, a technician will be monitoring the fire alarm panel to make sure that each of the devices is interacting with the panel correctly and that the panel itself is in good working order.

Along with the tests and inspections already described, the alarm panel's batteries will be checked. And as each device is activated and tested, the technician at the panel will make sure the events are visible on the panel as they ought to be, according to the manufacturer's design.

Besides being tested, the fire alarm panels can also help the whole system's testing process go more smoothly. While conventional panels do not provide too much additional helpful information, addressable panels (which record every single device's specific location in the system) can be extremely helpful.

These addressable panels can pin each device, record its sensitivity, ambient temperature, and determine whether the device is dirty or has some other trouble. It can help technicians find all of the system's devices much more quickly and assist with sensitivity testing.

However, even with these helpful options that some panels have, each device will still need to be individually activated and tested. The addressable panels just help the process go more quickly.

How do Vendors Know if they have Tested Every Device?

Unfortunately, there often is no easy way to tell where all the devices are and that all of them have been checked.

If the system has an addressable panel, the panel does keep an inventory of all of the devices and their specific locations.

If the vendor testing your system is the same one who installed it, then hopefully, they would have made a physical list of all the devices, which is what Koorsen Fire & Security does. This list can then be used to ensure all devices are tested.

But suppose the provider testing your system is different than the one who installed it, and a conventional panel is being used. In that case, the only way to find all of the devices is for the technician to go hunting through every area of the facility. This includes walking every room, lifting up ceiling tiles, checking the exterior, etc.

Fortunately, if Koorsen is your fire protection agency, our technicians are highly trained and know where to look.

What Happens When a Device Fails the Test?

If a device fails its test, a number of potential steps may be taken.

The first and only required step is that the technician and/or company notify you, the owner, of the device(s) that failed.

If only a couple of devices failed and the technician has replacements on hand at the time, the opportunity to pay for and have the item replaced the same day may be available. If that occurs, the new device will immediately be tested to verify it works.

If too many devices fail, you may be offered the opportunity to receive a quote for the equipment that needs to be replaced.

Ultimately, however, the only requirement on the part of the vendor is to notify you within 24 hours of all of the devices that failed the testing process. It will then be up to you to take the next steps to correct/replace the problems. Your vendor, however, should be able to communicate to you what needs to be done.

Need Fire Alarm System Testing?

If your fire alarm system is ready for its annual testing, give the experts at Koorsen Fire & Security a call. We can help ensure your system stays on track and up to code and can help address any questions or concerns you may have.

Call us or visit our website today to get started.

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Topics: Inspection/Testing, Fire Alarm Systems, Fire Safety & Security

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is believed to be reliable, but Koorsen Fire & Security assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. It does not constitute professional advice. The user of this article or the product(s) is responsible for verifying the information's accuracy from all available sources, including the product manufacturer. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.