Category Archives: John Setters

Round Two: Three More Mistakes That Occur During Fire Alarm Design

When I heard that the top Silent Knight blog of 2014 was the one I wrote titled “Fire Alarm System Design: Top Three Mistakes Dealers Make in the Process,” it struck me that we are on to something: dealers are struggling with how to properly design fire alarm systems.

Everybody is trying to figure out why things are going wrong and trying to be more profitable. One mistake that continually gets repeated; however, with fire alarm system design is when the dealers fail to adhere to code. I come across a lot of sales associates and installers who would like to know more about code, but training is not being provided by their companies or by any proper training source.

But codes are not the only thing causing dealers to make mistakes with fire alarm system design. To continue from my earlier blog entry, let’s explore three more mistakes dealers make when they go out to bid the project:

  1. Plenum vs. Non-Plenum Cable: We see a lot of instances where dealers are bidding PVC cables—the cheaper cable on the market—when plenum cable is actually the correct one to install in a lot of instances. For example, you have to use plenum cable when the HVAC system is using the open ceiling above the drop ceiling as a return space. In this scenario, the fire cable has to be nontoxic and nonflammable and, to accomplish that, plenum cable is the correct choice. We will get out on the job site and find that the wrong fire cable is being installed, which means the job gets a whole lot more complicated and costly. I have for years suggested using the NEC Table 760.154(D) Cable Substitution chart. This chart allows for the use of CM (Communication Multi-conductor) listed cable for fire alarm use. By using CMP (Plenum) cable you now can use that same cable not only for fire alarms, but also for security, access control, CCTV and any other source. This helps limit the cable being hauled on your vehicles and stocking space in your warehouse.NEC cable chart
  1. The Plug-and-Play Mentality: In the previous post, I talked about the fact that before we can design a system, dealers need to understand and relay to the designer or engineer the facility’s building use group. This can be complicated at times because dealers form assumptions about a building use group based on one experience with that type of facility. But each fire installation has its own specific requirements. In addition to understanding the client’s building use group, you have to understand if the client, building owner or general contractor wants to go for a variance on the fire alarm system. For instance, the client, building owner or general contractor can go for a variance (chapter 34 in the ICC IBC building code) so they can save costly upgrades for existing structures. Then you have to understand what the variance calls for. For instance, voice evacuation systems, horn strobes and manual pulls, and full smoke detection are the three fire alarm variances that give them points towards their variance. So always verify that a specific project is not under a Variance Order.
  1. Electrical Contractor Relations: On jobs from the EC (Electrical Contractor), that have been bid or about to be bid, lots of times electrical companies will call the alarm company to ask them to bid it, which in most cases is last minute. To make sure your products are specified, you have to be pro-active with your EC, or whomever you get your fire alarm installation leads from. Get to them early; contact them regularly; and make sure you are getting the jobs early enough. The dealers that do this will stand a greater chance of getting their product specified by the architect, and/or engineering firm, as an addendum for the job prior to bid deadline. This then guarantees you an opportunity for securing a project.

With a new year before us, the biggest thing to keep in mind is new codes. We are starting to see a lot of code changes, and adoption of newer codes. One of the areas with the most activity is for residential fire alarm notification and detection requirements. CO2 detection is being adopted by many states for residential use groups, including single family dwellings where fuel-burning HVAC systems are used. Another one of these changes is states adopting the 2010 and 2013 NFPA 72 code, which mandates low-frequency notification. This year we are seeing a lot of jurisdictions adopting these requirements. A lot of these new codes are coming into play for fire alarm systems across the board and it’s up to dealers, designers, architects and engineers to remain up to speed with all these changes. For example, we just had a state adopt the 2010 that was not aware of the low frequency requirement in NFPA 72 2010 18.4.5.3, as of January 1, 2015. They know about it now.

Have a Happy New Year, and be safe; it’s a jungle out there.

About the Author
Jon Setters has been running Design Technology Systems, llc for over seven years. The company has designed and engineered for the big guys, (ADT Security, Tyco Integrated Security, Protection One, Guardian Protective Services, Stanley Security Solutions, Guardian Alarm Company), and numerous Electrical and privately held alarm companies.

3 Most Common Fire Alarm Installation Challenges

A lot of the time, people get into the fire alarm installation business because it’s a career or something to do. They don’t really have the heart or seriousness to think about what they are doing from a liability aspect.

But for me, I have always loved working with fire alarms and have always taken the serious nature of the work into consideration. Doing so has given me the personal satisfaction that I am protecting someone’s life from possibly being lost in a fire. It’s a similar feeling that I would assume a police officer or firefighter experiences.???????????????????????????????

Recently, however, the industry seems to be losing people who have a sense of responsibility and desire to protect peoples’ lives by correctly installing a fire alarm. The chief concern of these new installers appears, instead, to be figuring out how to bid the job cheaper and get the project. They fail to realize, it seems, that if something happens as a result of a faulty fire alarm installation, they are liable. Proper fire alarm installation is more than just a job; it has to be something you feel very passionately about.

So let’s take a look at some of the most common fire alarm challenges:

  1. Lack of Product Knowledge: The one thing I am seeing all too often is that dealers and installers have never been trained on the fire alarm product or are new to selling the product and don’t quite understand how it works and functions. In other words, they are out there trying to sell fire alarms but they have no clue about their product’s features. It would help them to know ahead of time what will be beneficial for the client. Lots of times we’ll see dealers rely on selling one system but the client actually ends up needing something totally different because of the size or nature of the building or how it’s going to be coded.
  2. Not Knowing What Code Is Required: We have a lot of installation companies that are not current on their code knowledge of both NFPA for fire alarm and NEC. The biggest thing I try to stress to all my clients who contact us is that they need to obtain NFPA-72 CODE HANDBOOK, and their locally adopted Code, that is commonly adopted for their area, and they also need to purchase the NEC that their local area is using. There are companies that provide training courses on NFPA-72, NEC, and NICET certification. NICET is a big requirement now by a lot of states in that installation companies have to hire people who are Level 2 or Level 3 NICET certified so that they can actually install fire alarms. We find a lot of companies are not even aware of what their local states require to be in the business.
  3. Installation Procedure Missteps: We have a lot of Companies out there failing to adhere to code requirements or special procedures that you are supposed to follow to correctly install a fire alarm so it stays operational and fault free as long as it can. When we get into some of these businesses, we will find fire alarm cables streamed across ceiling tiles, which is a code violation. They shouldn’t lie on top of the ceiling tiles, but should be suspended independently of their own support. To do that, you have to know what installation product out there will be most beneficial you to use when you are installing that system. Understanding good quality ways of installing a fire alarm system is critical.

These are the biggest problems we are having in the fire alarm industry—most from a lack of knowledge. We don’t have enough knowledgeable people for installation at the moment. Just about every client I have is looking for people who are certified and can successfully install a fire alarm.

If these issues sounds all too familiar to you, I would strongly recommend becoming familiar with NFPA 72 and your local codes; take advantage of training offered by manufacturers; and/or attend NICET certification training courses. You can search the web for NICET and NFPA 72 training to locate a facilitator near you.

About the Author
Jon Setters has been running Design Technology Systems, llc for over seven years. The company has designed and engineered for the big guys, (ADT Security, Tyco Integrated Security, Protection One, Guardian Protective Services, Stanley Security Solutions, Guardian Alarm Company), and numerous Electrical and privately held alarm companies.

Fire Alarm System Design: Top Three Mistakes Dealers Make in the Process

The biggest challenge fire alarm designers face when trying to craft a fire alarm is having the right information beforehand from the dealer. In fact, we remind all dealers/vendors that contact us for system design to get all their ducks in a row and ask the right questions of their clients before bringing the project to us.

All too often, however, when the vendors are out there in front of their clients, they are so eager to make the sale that they fail to ask critical questions, such as: Does the building building-design-assessmenthave sprinkler systems? Do they have duct smokes? Are there going to be any hazardous locations requiring Class 1 or Class 2 type devices? These are questions that often go unanswered, wreaking havoc during the design process.

While we have a cheat sheet online that details the questions we need answered before we can design the fire alarm system, let’s take a few minutes to highlight the common mistakes dealers can make when they go out to bid the project:

#1—Not Finding Out the Building Use Group: Before we can design a system, we need to know whether it’s for a business, factory, or store, for example. Understanding the building use group is critical; it’s going to dictate our design perspective.

For instance, if the facility falls into a business use group, we must consider how many people are on each floor. For residential use groups, we have to know the type (whether R1, R2, R3 or R4), as each comes with different fire alarm design variances. The same goes for the I-institutional use groups; each has its own criteria for fire alarms.

#2—Not Understanding the Occupancy Load: Understanding how many people will occupy a facility is critical when it comes to fire alarm design. Let’s say you have a single-level business and you decide to turn it into a two-story office complex.

For example, having been classified as single floor for Business use and you don’t have more than 500 people occupying the space, you are not even required to install a fire alarm in most cases. But once you add that second floor, code says that if you don’t have the 500 people on the main floor and do have over 100 people on that second floor, then you have to install a fire alarm. Slight variations in regulations like that is where the occupancy load comes into play for several of the use groups.

#3—Not Determining if They Can Even Bid the Project: Dealers can be too quick to close the sale; they don’t realize they can’t even bring the project through to completion do to only certain manufacturers are being specified by the facility owner, architect, or engineering firm. Therefore, if the product the dealer wants to use is not listed, the dealer really can’t sell anything to the client. When bidding the project, dealers must understand exactly what the client, facility owner, architect, or engineering firm is looking to achieve, by referring to the Products section in most bid documents.

As you can see from the list above, perhaps the biggest misstep a dealer/vendor can make is failing to coordinate the fire alarm system design requirements from all the people involved to craft the appropriate system. So, know the questions you need to ask up front, be thorough and make sure you are covering all the bases so that the fire alarm design process can run smoothly and expediently.

About the Author
Jon Setters has been running Design Technology Systems, llc for over seven years. The company has designed and engineered for the big guys, (ADT Security, Tyco Integrated Security, Protection One, Guardian Protective Services, Stanley Security Solutions, Guardian Alarm Company), and numerous Electrical and privately held alarm companies.