Sunday, February 12, 2017

Relationships with Your Local AHJ

In the fire alarm industry we have National Codes and Standards as well as Local Ordinances to follow.  To name a few, the National Codes/Standards are the IBC (International Building Code), IFC (International Fire Code), NFPA 72, and NEC (National Electrical Code).  Now, while some of the literature in these references may be crystal clear, others are often clear as MUD!  This is why you always hear the term "Up for Interpretation".  This is an easy way for local AHJs (Authority having Jurisdiction)  to put their own spin on these references.  If you have been in the fire alarm industry long enough, then you will understand that it can get very frustrating when dealing with an AHJ that is out of line.  In these situations you must be a courteous professional that knows the codes and can stand their ground.

If you are in the fire alarm business and directly handle the design of systems, then you will more than likely deal with an AHJ on multiple occasions.  I suggest being prepared.  If you are submitting a system for review, make sure you bring the National Code references pertaining to your design. Also it is very wise to research the City's local ordinances to see if they have adopted any codes that may be more stringent than the National codes we base our systems on.  A while back when I first started designing systems, I came across a medium sized office building with a large warehouse used by a landscaping company.  With a B type occupancy and over 20 sprinkler heads, the National Code required a dedicated function sprinkler monitoring system.  I should also mention that there were less than 100 persons on floors other than the level of main egress with a total occupant load of less than 500.  With that said, only one horn would be required near the FACU.  Now the City where this building was located, had a local ordinance to require full occupant notification throughout for any B occupancy structure containing more than 100 sprinkler heads.  This was my fault for not checking with the City prior to my design.

I strongly believe that we learn from our mistakes and this particular one has taught me to really research all aspects of the design criteria before presenting a finished product to the client, FPE or AHJ.

Now in some cases, the AHJs are just plain out of line.  Fire officials typically have the attitude that more is better and in some cases they are correct.  Coming from the contracting side of the industry, I would love to see more stringent codes enforced that mandate additional equipment.  However, I also understand that money talks.  To the fire department, money is not the driving factor of their decisions.  Their job is not to help save the end-user money rather it is to instruct them on what their buildings require in the event of a fire emergency.  Us as the designers and contractors are the middle man for the clients.  It is our job to perform value engineering and get the customer a top notch system that meets all National and Local codes all without breaking the bank.  If you ever come across a hard nosed fire prevention plan checker or inspector, don't lose your cool!  This will only make matters worse and in no way help you achieve a signature on your ROC (record of completion) or permit.  In these cases I always like to ask the inspector or plan checker the following: "Can you please reference your requirement in the code so that I can apply it to my next design?".  In more cases than not, they will have to get back to you because they don't have the answer.  This is the easiest way to get them to back off.  By asking for this information, you don't sound like you are second guessing them and that you are actually relying on them for assistance.  Once they realize their requirement is not in the National or Local codes, you should be on the correct path to moving past any discrepancies.

Another great practice when designing systems for your clients is to hold pre-application meetings at the fire prevention office.  This is an excellent opportunity to lay all of your cards on the table.  Make sure to represent your clients concerns and make sure to document everything.  This makes sure that everyone is on the same playing field and shows your client that you are looking out for their best interests.

Designing fire alarm systems can be very fun and rewarding if you know what you are doing.  Make sure to become familiar with all applicable codes and regularly attend code seminars to stay ahead of the curve.

Friday, February 3, 2017

NFPA 72 Tabs for NICET Exam

NFPA 72 2013 Code Book with NICET TabsPreparing for the NICET exam can be frustrating, intimidating and exhausting.  When you are feeling the pressure to pass this exam, keep one major thing in mind, "It's not necessarily what you know or how much you can store in memory.".  The key to NICET along with any other timed test is time management.  If you can learn a few time saving tricks, this can drastically help reduce anxiety during the examination as well as assist you in gaining additional confidence to push forward.  Since NICET allows you to bring your own references into the testing facility, you have a huge advantage on your side!  You can use preemptive measures to prepare your books weeks before you even step foot into the facility on exam day.  

NICET Insider tip:  Keep in mind that all reference materials brought into the NICET testing facility MUST meet the criteria found on NICET's website.  The NFPA Handbook is NOT an acceptable alternative to the allowable references!

As stated above, its not what you can remember rather how well you can prepare for this exam by learning to properly navigate the reference material and turn to the correct pages to locate the needed information as quickly as possible.  Now obviously there are going to be answers you know off the top of your head and that's great!  These immediate responses will allow you to ultimately bank additional time for the questions you do not know so well.  The goal of this technique is to rapidly respond to any given question with the knowledge and confidence to grab the right reference and turn to the correct page without any delays.   Tabbing your code references is essential to success.  Remember that NICET does not allow any non-permanent tabbing of your personal code books.  This means that your code book tabs will need to be permanently attached via tape or glue.  You cannot use loose sticky notes.  They will be removed once you enter the NICET testing facility.
NFPA Code Book Tabs
These are the Sticky Tabs we Recommend

How and where to tab your NFPA 72 code book

A lot of future NICET exam students ask me where to place the tabs to give them the best advantage.  To be honest the tabs are completely up to you as well as what NICET level you are testing for.  What I can tell you is there are a few tabs that are in my opinion necessary and applicable to all levels and exams.  These tabs would include each chapter, the different Annex sections and tables.  I also provide tabs for Annex "A" chapters 17 and 18 as there is a lot of valuable information in the Annex for Notification Appliances as well as Initiating Devices.

The tabs themselves are not exactly large enough to descriptively write out what they represent so its up to you to come up with a system that works for you.  I recommend just using numbers for the chapters, letters for the Annex, T for tables along with some sort of numeric or alphabetic system for what it represents and TOC for the table of contents.     Below is a breakdown of the reference tabs I recommend for your NFPA 72 2013 edition during the NICET exam:

  • TOC - Table of Contents page 14
  • DEF or 3 - Definitions found in Chapter 3 page 19
  • DOC or 7 - Documentation page 33
  • FUN or 10 - Fundamentals page 65
  • CKTS or 12 - Circuits and pathways page 73
  • TEST or 14 - Inspection, Testing and Maintenance page 75
    • T-I(vis) - Table for VISUAL Inspection Frequencies page 77
    • T-I(fun) - Table for FUNCTIONAL Inspection Frequencies page 81
  • INIT or 17 - Initiating Devices page 94
    • HD - Heat Sensing Detectors page 95
    • SD - Smoke Sensing Detectors page 97
    • AIR - Air Sampling Detectors page 99
    • DOOR - SD for Door Releasing Service page 100
  • NAC or 18 - Notification Appliances page 106
    • AUD - Audible Characteristics page 107
    • VIS - Visual Characteristics page 109
    • T-VIS - Table for Visual Spacing page 110
  • CONT or 21 - Emergency Control Function Interfaces page 112
  • PPFAS or 23 - Protected Premises Fire Alarm Systems page 116
  • ECS or 24 - Emergency Communication Systems page 124
  • SUPER or 26 - Supervising Station Alarm Systems page 137
  • PUBLIC or 27 - Public Emergency Alarm Reporting Systems page 151
  • HOUSE or 29 - Single and Multiple Station Alarms and Household FAS page 162
  • A - Annex A page 169
    • A17 - Annex for Chapter 17 page 201
      • T-SD/HD - Tables for Detector Spacing page 205
    • A18 - Annex for Chapter 18 page 219
  • B - Annex B page 271
  • C - Annex C page 310
  • D - Annex D page 311
  • INDEX - Document Index page 334
NFPA 72 2013 Code Tabs for ChaptersPicture of NFPA 72 2013 with Tabs for NICET ExamNow this is very important!  The placement of tabs in your NFPA 72 code reference is everything.  I recommend placing the chapter and Annex tabs along the right edge of the document in a staggered order so they are easy to read and access at any time during the exam.  The tables and other tabs are highly recommended to run along the top border of the document.  This will reduce clutter and increase efficiency though organization.  

Lastly if you must include additional tabs for individual section support, I highly recommend placing the tab along the edge of the document that is closest to the needed text.  This way when you open the code book to that section, the tab will quickly guide you directly to where you need to be.  

If you need additional help with the NICET exam process I suggest you join our Facebook group or you can purchase our NICET practice exams.