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2016 Edition, January 1, 2016

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National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code Handbook

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Product Details:

  • Revision: 2016 Edition, January 1, 2016
  • Published Date: January 2016
  • Status: Active, Most Current
  • Document Language: English
  • Published By: National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  • Page Count: 1152
  • ANSI Approved: No
  • DoD Adopted: No

Description / Abstract:

How can users of NFPA codes and standards know if they are researching the right code when attempting to answer a code-related question?

Each NFPA code or standard begins with the Scope, a statement that clearly explains the extent of influence that the document has on its title’s subject. In the case of NFPA 72, the Scope clearly spells out the many items (application, installation, location, testing, and maintenance, among others) related to a fire alarm system, supervising station alarm system, public emergency alarm reporting system, fire warning equipment, emergency communications system, and their components that are covered within the Code.

NFPA 72 covers the application, installation, location, performance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire alarm systems, supervising station alarm systems, public emergency alarm reporting systems, fire warning equipment and emergency communications systems (ECS), and their components.

NFPA 72 provides the minimum installation, inspection, testing, maintenance, and performance requirements for fire alarm systems used in any application. Requirements address the application, location, and limitations of fire alarm system components, such as manual fire alarm boxes, automatic fire detectors, and notification appliances. The Code also provides the minimum requirements for fire warning equipment, which includes single- and multiple-station alarms and household fire alarm systems addressed in Chapter 29.

The organization of the Code facilitates the application of requirements common to both fire systems and emergency signaling systems. There is a need to clearly present requirements for fire alarm systems while addressing many other emergency signaling conditions. These occur often in conjunction with a fire alarm system, but at other times, they do not.

The organization of the Code places its content into four common groupings: administrative chapters, support chapters, system chapters, and usability annexes. Commentary Table 1.1 outlines the chapters that belong with each grouping.

Does NFPA 72 require the installation of a fire alarm system or other emergency system?

NFPA 72 does not mandate the installation of a fire alarm system, fire warning equipment, or emergency communications systems. The need for the installation of these systems or equipment is established through a framework of higher level mandates established through the requirements of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code®; NFPA 1, Fire Code; other building codes; federal, state, or local ordinances; insurance company requirements; military design criteria; corporate policies; other organizational policies (both private and public); and the individual needs of the property owner or occupant. NFPA 72 provides the requirements for how to install this equipment regardless of the reason it is installed. See 1.2.4 and related annex material in A.1.2.4.

The provisions of this chapter apply throughout the Code unless otherwise noted. Chapter 1 provides a foundation from which to apply the requirements of the Code. These administrative requirements apply throughout the Code but can be modified by the special requirements set forth in the subsequent chapters. As an example, Section 1.4 indicates that the requirements are not intended to be retroactively applied.

The commentary following 1.4.1 elaborates on provisions of the Code as they specifically apply to new and existing systems. References are made in 7.1.1 and 7.1.2 for documentation and to the requirements of inspection, testing, and maintenance of systems as noted in 14.1.4.

In order to provide a consistent framework for users, all NFPA documents follow a standardized format, which is specified in the Manual of Style for NFPA Technical Committee Documents. This format is particularly specific for the administrative requirements in Chapter 1.


Fire alarm systems intended for life safety should be designed, installed, and maintained to provide indication and warning of abnormal fire conditions. The system should alert building occupants and summon appropriate aid in adequate time to allow for occupants to travel to a safe place and for rescue operations to occur. The fire alarm system should be part of a life safety plan that also includes a combination of prevention, protection, egress, and other features particular to that occupancy.

The purpose of this Code is to define the means of signal initiation, transmission, notification, and annunciation; the levels of performance; and the reliability of the various types of fire alarm systems, supervising station alarm systems, public emergency alarm reporting systems, fire warning equipment, emergency communications systems, and their components.

The Code describes the various types of alarm and supervisory initiating devices as well as alarm, supervisory, and trouble audible and visible notification appliances for fire alarm and other emergency systems. Requirements for how these devices and appliances must be installed and used and how they must perform are provided. The types of systems, the methods of signal transmission, and the features that determine system reliability and performance are also described. However, the Code is not an installation specification, an approval guide, or a training manual.

This Code defines the features associated with these systems and also provides information necessary to modify or upgrade an existing system to meet the requirements of a particular system classification.

Whenever a system is modified or updated, it is vital that the system designer have a thorough understanding of the existing equipment, including its capabilities and the system’s wiring (i.e., circuit class, type, and configuration). Where applicable, the software and firmware of existing systems need to be examined to verify compatibility with the new equipment. Often, the existing equipment is too old to interface easily with the newer technology used in the planned additional equipment. The existing equipment may or may not be able to be modified to conform to current Code requirements. In some cases, the most prudent choice may be to install a new fire alarm system.

This Code establishes minimum required levels of performance, extent of redundancy, and quality of installation but does not establish the only methods by which these requirements are to be achieved.

NFPA 72 provides a minimum set of requirements. A designer may choose to exceed the requirements, based upon a risk assessment of the premises in which the system is to be installed. The requirements apply to voluntary installations as well as mandated installations.

This Code shall not be interpreted to require a level of protection that is greater than that which would otherwise be required by the applicable building or fire code.

The intent of this paragraph is to make it clear that the protection requirements are derived from the applicable building or fire code, not from NFPA 72.

As noted in the FAQ following 1.1.1, the need for a fire alarm system, fire warning equipment, or an emergency communications system is established outside the requirements of NFPA 72. The level of protection required is also established outside of NFPA 72 and varies, depending on factors such as the type of occupancy (Use Group), building height, and its occupancy load. Variations can include the following:

■ The type of detection (manual, automatic, or both)

■ The extent of detection coverage [total (complete), partial, or selective]

■ The need for occupant notification (audible, visible, or both)

■ The need to monitor manual and automatic fire suppression systems and features

■ The need for a particular type of emergency communications system

■ The need for emergency forces notification (including automatic transmission of alarm signals to an off-site location)

NFPA 72 will normally be the referenced alarm system document included within the specified requirements, and the need for compliance with the Code is often clearly stated.

Once the need for a fire alarm system, other fire warning equipment, or an emergency communications system has been established, the protection features have been specified, and NFPA 72 has been referenced, the system and equipment must conform to all the applicable requirements of the Code. For instance, NFPA 72 includes numerous minimum requirements common to all systems to ensure the reliability and performance of the system, such as requirements for monitoring the integrity of circuits and power supplies. In other cases, minimum requirements are included for specific features such as survivability of audible and visible notification appliance circuits when systems are used for partial evacuation or relocation of occupants or other emergency communications purposes. Although these items may not be discussed within the framework of other codes, standards, and jurisdictional documents, once NFPA 72 is referenced, the minimum installation requirements of NFPA 72 must be followed for a Code-compliant installation.

When conflicts exist between the various codes, standards, and other jurisdictional documents, it is important to understand the order in which codes are enforced. Typically, when NFPA 72 is referenced by another document and that document provides a requirement that conflicts (is either more or less stringent) with NFPA 72, the user must first follow the requirements in the document referencing NFPA 72. Fortunately, many of the building and fire code alarm system equipment requirements, and those in NFPA 72, are identical, but instances may occur where this is not the case. FAQ

Where the required system features are not specified through a framework of higher level mandates, who must determine the needs and features?

Many of the requirements of NFPA 72 are stated in conditional terms such as “Where required. . . .” Where the needs and features of the system are not specified by other codes, standards, or jurisdictional documents, they still need to be determined. The system designer in conjunction with the authority having jurisdiction and the system owner must establish these needs and features as a part of the basis of the system design. This collaboration is especially necessary for systems that are installed voluntarily (nonrequired systems). The requirements of NFPA 72 also apply to the installation of nonrequired systems. See 1.1.1.