Get to know this critical code official
You can easily expand your repertoire from security to fire alarms when you have good manufacturer partners, training and the right ‘people’ skills. Adding fire alarms is a natural for those in the security business, especially as the proliferation of integrated, converged systems continues. If you decide to become a fire alarm designer, one of the people you need to get to know as soon as possible is the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
You don’t have to approach those three letters with dread; instead, you can look at it as an opportunity to reach the top of your game in providing best-in-class life safety solutions.
The AHJ is the official representative and enforcer of the building code and NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. According to NFPA 72 the term AHJ is used “in a broad manner, since jurisdictions and approval agencies vary, as do their responsibilities. Where public safety is primary, the AHJ may be a federal, state, local, or other regional department of individual such as a fire chief, fire marshal, chief of a fire prevention bureau, labor department or health department, building official, electrical inspector or others having statutory authority.” In addition, in the course of plans, reviews or an installation, there may be several AHJs as the local fire inspector is your personal contact. You may also have a state electrical inspector, a state fire marshal and a state building inspector – all of whom have a hand in code enforcement.
Before you begin the design and specification of a fire alarm system, find out who the AHJ is — your grass-roots definition means the person having statutory authority or the authority to enforce code. Once you investigate this by calling or visiting the local city or town in which you are doing business, find out what version of the fire alarm code they reference. Some may be following the latest released code (2013), but others may be referencing earlier versions. All it takes is a quick introduction to the AHJ, a mutual discussion and a few key questions. Let them know you are interested in making sure everything meets or exceeds codes, and the journey will start off on the right foot.
Now that you know what code version the AHJ is following, get to know its nuances. You need to know if the end-user is asking for something that deviates from code – and you need to have the ability to reference pertinent portions to illustrate to the customer that their design specification or request may not be up to speed and they may be opening themselves up to obstacles along the way. The better path is to convince the customer to follow the code closely to avoid any potential problems with AHJ approval and final sign off.
While adopted codes require you to comply with rules, you may also have to adhere to the requests of others, such as the fire department. The fire department may provide the approval for location of annunciator(s); zoning descriptions and other items – even the location of inspection reports if not at the fire alarm control panel. Again, make yourself known to the fire department official and work together with them – not against – to ensure the system solution meets all necessary codes and requirements.
Fire alarm designers need to be credentialed, thorough and knowledgeable. Take advantage of manufacturer-sponsored training and education to be certain your knowledge base is up to speed. But once you have proven yourself to the AHJ and your customers, you’ll open up new streams of profitable business revenue.
About the Author
Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist specializing in the burglar and fire alarm and systems integration industries and the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago.