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Testing, Inspection & Installation FAQ
 

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“Just the facts please ma’am!”
-- Jack Webb (Detective Joe Friday)
in Dragnet

Here’s where you can get answers to frequently asked questions, some of which are taken from our discussion boards, Internet search phrases, and telephone inquiries from across North America.  Some FAQ subjects have been further categorized to make searching for the answer to your question easier.  We remain committed towards ensuring that our FAQ remains one of the Internet's best and most responsive resources for answers relating to fire protection, fire equipment technology, emergency systems, and building life safety issues. We welcome your suggestions, critiques and comments.  We hope that some of the issues raised here will help spark further discussion.

Please feel free to email us, telephone us, or share your thoughts in our general forum.  Please ensure you read our TERMS OF USE!

Smoke Alarm Test

The Moment of Truth - Sprinkler Head Discharging!

FAQ POLICY & OUR COMMITMENT:

We strive to ensure that all questions and requests for interpretation we receive are answered as completely as possible with specific Code and Standard references provided where appropriate.  For those questions that require common sense answers, our first consideration must always follow best practice (which may exceed the usual casual response one would expect from a non-technical member of the public who may not be involved in the fire protection equipment service industry).  These FAQ will always defer, first and foremost, to LIFE SAFETY.

If you encounter an error (or have a suggestion for improving upon, or amending, a specific answer), please CONTACT US!

IMPORTANT:  LINK CHANGES FOR CITY OF VANCOUVER WEBSITE

The City of Vancouver’s website has recently undergone a major upgrade.  Many links to Bulletins from our website will, as a result, now display a custom error page.  If you happen to come across this, simply type former. (the dot is important) ahead of vancouver in your browser’s address bar, and it should open the proper document.  We’ll endeavour to update all of our links once the COV Web-Minions get finished fixing all of theirs!

 

SPECIAL FEATURES:

This section contains several table bars marked General FAQ, Red Tagging, Elevator Operation, Carbon Monoxide Detectors, Emergency Light Testing FAQ, and Employment Questions.  We’ve also provided handy pointers that highlight information which might be of special interest in the answers we’ve provided.  Look for these symbols in the right hand margin:

Programming Tip

Inspector’s Tip

Technician Tip

Sales Tip

Owner’s Tip

Programming Tip

Inspector's Tip

Technician's Tip

Sales Tip

Owner's Tip

General FAQ

Why are relays in fire alarm control panels and peripheral modules rated for such low current and voltage (in Canada)?

In British Columbia, why do some strata management companies promote and encourage the testing of smoke alarms in townhouses while others do not?

Could an individual be in “non-compliance” if they didn’t know how to arm (operate) the fire alarm system in their building?

Is bypassing a zone on a fire alarm system against the BC (or National) Fire Code?

If the fire alarm in the building activates, is it legal for my employer to insist I remain at my desk/workplace while the bells are ringing?

What’s the maximum allowable volume (sound pressure) for a fire alarm audible notification appliance (horn, bell, speaker, or siren) in Canada?

Will activating the fire drill feature on my Notifier fire alarm panel result in a fire department dispatch?

My (FireLite) addressable heat detector goes into trouble when it’s too cold.  Why?

What procedure should I follow to protect a fire alarm device or sprinkler head from over-spray when painting a hallway or a room?

Why does my fire detector have a label that says “Do Not Paint”?

Our building is a three story walk-up apartment with 38 suites.  The fire alarm system tripped the other night and the fire department responded.  Do we have to let them in, even though we know the reason for the trip?  We had already reset the system and there wasn’t any danger to the residents.  We’re worried that this will count as a false alarm against our building.

I pulled a permit for a water heater installation, and I need to add some smoke detectors.  Do they need to be hard wired?

What’s the maximum time a fire alarm system can be out of service without evacuating the building or providing a fire watch?

Can a fire alarm system employ only speakers (as the local audible component)?

How often must an unsupervised audible alarm (Fire Alarm) be tested (in Canada)?

How do you know if the fire alarm system in your building is illegal (improperly installed)?

How long am I supposed to keep fire alarm and building life safety equipment test reports?

How long is it between a fire alarm sounding and the dispatch of the fire department?

Do fire alarm devices have to be painted RED?

When testing a commercial fire alarm system, is it permissible to bypass (or disconnect) the NAC circuits to keep down the noise?

Will a fire alarm device that’s indicating trouble at the common control still work?

Is there a legal requirement to update a building’s fire alarm bells or sprinklers?

Why must the proper polarity be observed when connecting devices on a fire alarm system?

What does “annual in-suite fire alarm inspection” mean?  What do you suggest I do to prepare?  Can I refuse to have this done?

Is changing the manufacturer supplied lock on a fire alarm panel legal?

If the secondary winding of a fire alarm EVCS speaker transformer goes open would the speaker still work?

Am I liable if dust in my apartment sets off the building's fire alarm?

Is there a fine for pulling (manually initiating) a prank fire alarm?

Who's behind the Fire Technicians Network?

What's your contact information?

Can you use the forms provided here in other Canadian Provinces?

Does the Fire Protection Technicians Network offer any technical training?

Can you use a cable jack for Shaw Digital Phone?

What guidance is available for the routine maintenance of fire protection systems? or Where can I find information regarding the required maintenance of building fire protection equipment?

What's the difference between a supervisory alarm and a trouble signal?

Which floors (or areas) in a high-rise apartment building are required to have CO (Carbon Monoxide) detectors installed?

Can you be grandfathered to work on fire alarms?

When an apartment  fire alarm is pulled, does the alarm stay on?

 

RED Tagging

If a fire alarm system isn’t able to communicate with a monitoring station, does this mean the system needs to be RED tagged?

My sprinkler/fire alarm/generator/emergency light/fire extinguisher has a RED TAG on it.  How long do I have to get it fixed?

What is the correct use of a RED TAG?

How long is a RED TAG good for?

Can a City (or municipal authority) RED TAG fire alarm wiring?

Is a non-functional fire alarm annunciator reason to RED TAG the fire alarm system?

 

Elevator Operation & Fire Alarm System Interconnection

Is a heat detector required in the elevator pit?  (How many heat detectors are required in an elevator pit)?

Can you explain what a Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller is and how it should interface to a building’s fire alarm system?

Can a Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller be a fire alarm panel?

What should be at the top of an elevator shaft - a smoke detector, or a heat detector?

Under what circumstances can a manual pull station initiate an elevator recall?

Where should the Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller be mounted?  Should a remote annunciator be provided and where should it go?

Who has jurisdiction over the installation and commissioning of a Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller?

Our building employs an Edwards Custom 6500.  Our elevators are currently undergoing a modernization.  Can our fire alarm system be made to comply with the requirements of CSA B44-2007?

Can wiring for elevator recall be run inside the elevator shaft?

What are the mounting requirements for an elevator pit heat detector?

 

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

What does the date stamp on the back of my carbon monoxide detector mean?

Where should a carbon monoxide detector be installed?

 

Emergency Light & Generator Testing

What is the correct procedure to use when testing a 347 volt battery pack (emergency light unit)?

Who can certify/test emergency light packs in Vancouver?

What’s the correct way to test an emergency light unit?

Do self-contained exit lights have to be tested, and if so, what’s the procedure?

Do businesses in Vancouver need tags on emergency lights?

Do I need to disconnect the power (AC) when replacing an SLA battery in an exit light?

Are generators for emergency power back-up allowed to be installed in a parkade in British Columbia (or elsewhere in Canada)?

 

Emergency Planning

What’s the procedure when the fire alarm goes off?  (If a fire alarm sounds but you don’t see any sign of a fire, what should you do?)

 

Employment FAQ

Can I be fired if I insist on testing a system in accordance with the Standard?

I work for a national company as an HVAC technician in Vancouver, B.C. We do work for a cellular communications provider that has numerous cell sites on the tops of apartment buildings across the city. Along with the HVAC work, we are also to test the fire alarm systems in these shelters which are monitored by a central control centre in Ontario. I have three questions for you:
1) What kind of personal liability would I take on by performing this work without proper certification?
2) What kind of personal liability would I take on by performing this work with proper certification?
3) What courses are required to do this kind of inspection work in Vancouver?

Is CFAA Certification required anywhere in British Columbia?

If you accidentally hit the fire alarm and got fired as a result, can this hamper you from getting another job?

 

Smoke Alarms FAQ

How do you change batteries in a smoke alarm?

How often should I change the batteries in my smoke alarm?

 

 

Who’s behind the Fire Technicians Network?

My name is Frank Kurz (yes, that’s me in the picture!).  2016 marks my 31st year in the fire prevention and alarm industry.  I've done it all.  Kitchen system installation & inspections (when I started in the business they still had dry chem systems - blechh-h), fire extinguisher recharges, hydro-testing, computer room Halon system installation & inspections, fire alarm service, inspection & verification, security system installations, inspections & service.  I hold one of the lower "P" numbers in the Province of Alberta (0239).  For the last nineteen years, I've been running a fire alarm service/verification company in Surrey, British Columbia.  I sub out my services to electrical contractors and fire prevention companies where my expertise in CCTV, access control, apartment intercom gives them an advantage over single service companies.  I've been on Vancouver's list of approved verification agencies since 2001.  I've mentored a number of outstanding technicians in my day, and I'm grateful to all those individuals that have shared their knowledge with me as well.  I'm always looking for ways to improve on what I do.  I figure if I can help my fellow technicians at the same time, then it's a "win, win" situation. 

I'm a member of the ULC Standards Committee on Fire Alarm and Life Safety Equipment and Services.  I also Chair the "Working Groups" for both the Fire Alarm Inspection and Verification Standards.  New versions of both have now been published (they're officially CAN/ULC-S536-13 and CAN/ULC-S537-13 respectively).  January 2012 marked my debut into the Working Group for CAN/ULC-S524 (Fire Alarm Installation Standard).  I’m a Director of the BC Chapter of CFAA and Chair the Chapter’s Education Committee.

This website is an ongoing project of mine. The goal here is to improve the Standard of Practice by providing a one-stop unbiased resource for technicians engaged in the service, testing, and maintenance of building fire protection and life safety equipment.

The information presented here may also be useful for those in the fire prevention community and local jurisdictional authorities.  The Internet is a powerful tool and I intend to take full advantage of all it has to offer.  One such tool is our new RSS Feed which will help you keep abreast of the latest news and developments.  The technology to host webinars (online learning seminars) will be launching soon!

Some of my fellow technicians both here in the Lower Mainland and elsewhere, have formed a somewhat "less than complimentary" (and that's putting it mildly) opinion of my efforts.  I'm investing a great deal of my own time and financial resources into this project.  I'm not here to throw anyone under the bus (as one individual suggested in the General Forum).  I do want to raise awareness of how important the job of fire protection equipment technician is and to ensure we're all playing on a "level field" when it comes to skill set and knowledge.  This also means raising the bar for inspections, testing, service, and installations.  Some players in the industry will have to refocus their efforts for the better and if they succeed in doing so, then we will all win in the end.  Those that continue to provide substandard, slipshod, or irresponsible service don't belong in this profession and good riddance to them (let's hope the door hits them on the ass on the way out).

 

frank

 

Is changing the manufacturer supplied lock on a fire alarm panel legal?

Perfectly legal with but one proviso though. You better make darn sure a copy of the new key is available for the fire department to use, particularly if your system happens to include an Emergency Voice Communications System (EVCS). They will force the door if they can't open it because their key doesn't work in the lock.

Owner's Tip

 

If the secondary winding of a fire alarm EVCS speaker transformer goes open would the speaker still work?

Chances are no. In fact, if the wiring between the main input terminals and the primary wires going to the transformer taps goes "open", you won't receive a fault indication at the common control. If the wiring from the speaker to the transformer is similarly compromised, a trouble won't show up on common control. This is why it's imperative that you conduct monthly testing of the building's common area signalling devices. You can download the test form HERE. If you happen to manage an apartment or office building which employs EVCS speakers, it is imperative that you inform the tenants/occupants that they cannot tamper with the building's life safety equipment in any way!

 

 

Am I liable if dust in my apartment sets off the building's fire alarm?

This is an interesting question. Are tenants or owners responsible for adverse environmental conditions that could affect a fire alarm system? If so, where does the responsibility begin, and where does it end? I've witnessed many incidents where the tenants of a low or high-rise condominium will open their hallway doors to allow smoke from that turkey burning away in the oven to clear their suite. They're often heedless of the fact that this same smoke impinging on the hallway smoke detector immediately outside of their hall door might result in an activation of the building's fire alarm system. Should they be held responsible for what can only be termed a totally innocent mistake? I don't think so. In fact, I have a hard time calling such an incident a "mistake". Now, if during the course of attempting to clear the smoke from their suite's smoke ALARM (which just might be screeching away like a banshee), and they accidentally knock the centre disk of the adjacent heat detector off (or break the glass bulb in a sprinkler head), that's another matter entirely. In this instance, you should be held responsible and any resulting damage would be covered by your homeowner's liability insurance. This is why you should ensure you have adequate coverage when you purchase or rent a unit in an apartment building.

 

 

Is there a fine for pulling (manually initiating) a prank fire alarm?

Each province and local jurisidiction has formulated their own specific response to what's termed "vandalism" of a fire alarm or life safety system. The fines can vary from $500.00 to as much as $5000.00 and can also include a term of imprisonment for up to ninety (90) days. In addition, you may be liable to receive a fine (or official warning) if you deliberately silence or reset a fire alarm that has activated without receiving permission from the fire department.

 

 

Can you use the forms you can download from this site in other Canadian Provinces?

All our forms are based on current Canadian Standards. They are CAN/ULC-S536-04 (Inspection Standard for Fire Alarm Systems), and CAN/ULC-S537-04 (Verification Standard for Fire Alarm Systems). These standards clearly define the minimum acceptable testing criteria and provide the means to document those tests. What I've done is simply format the reports a little differently and add some key sections based on my experience and the frequent questions I get asked from various jurisdictional authorities. I DO NOT believe that anyone engaged in this profession should have to pay for forms although I understand that it's important to STANDARDIZE on a format to make it easy for a building owner (or fire prevention officer) to determine the exact level of protection that's available which will assist them in developing strategies to help improve a project's life safety systems. We are working with various levels of Government to promote our testing format. Don't be surprised when you're referred to this site to get your forms!

 

Technician's Tip

 

Can you use a cable jack for Shaw Digital Phone?

This relates somewhat to an open TIP we posted regarding fire alarm communicators. Shaw's digital telephone service (as with Rogers "back East") utilizes bandwidth on their cable television signal.  When you order the service, the Shaw/Rogers technician will install a specialized cable modem which he will connect to a cable outlet that is convenient to the main telephone drop. This makes it easy to facilitate connection of all the phone jacks in the premises. Any cable outlet will do. Can you move the service to another location? Yes as long as it's on the same provider's backbone (Shaw modem to Shaw outlet, Rogers modem to Rogers outlet).

NOTE: You should be aware that there is limited phone service available in the event of an extended power failure. The onboard battery (within the cable modem) is only designed to provide backup for a period of four to six hours. If you're using this method as a means to facilitate communication between a fire alarm system and a central monitoring facility, you will NOT meet the code requirement for stand-by capacity. Many jurisdictions will not accept VOIP service for this reason.

Technician's Tip
Inspector's Tip

 

What guidance is available for the routine maintenance of fire protection systems? or Where can I find information regarding the required maintenance of building fire protection equipment?

Check out our Library (it's open to all)! The National Fire Code (in Canada) mandates testing and inspection of a building's life safety equipment at regular intervals. This, in turn, is adopted on a Provincial level. In British Columbia, a monthly inspection and test report is required to be completed. You can review this HERE!

Owner's Tip

 

What's the difference between a supervisory alarm and a trouble signal?

A "trouble" indication on a fire alarm system represents a problem that may adversely affect the operation of the system (as a whole). In most cases, this must be addressed by trained service personnel. Examples of a "trouble" signal are: AC power failure, battery trouble, ground fault, indicating circuit "open", signal circuit "short" or "open".

A "supervisory" signal is an "off normal" indication of a monitored device. In most cases this type of signal doesn't require the response of trained service personnel. Restoring the monitored device to "normal" and resetting the fire alarm system usually clears this type of indication. Examples would be: sprinkler "low air", sprinkler "low water", generator "trouble", fire pump "trouble", movement of a sprinkler valve handle, heat trace power failure (or common trouble), etc.

It is important to remember that a supervisory signal often triggers a relay in the fire alarm's common control that is separate from the "trouble" contact. You must ensure that any off-site monitoring connections take this into account.

 

Technician's Tip

 

Which floors (or areas) in a high-rise apartment building are required to have CO (Carbon Monoxide) detectors installed?

In addition to any enclosed underground parkade, the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) Section 6.4.2 has mandated the installation of Carbon Monoxide detectors in any residential unit ( or apartment) that has a gas fired appliance or fire place. They have to be interconnected, AC Powered, installed inside the bedrooms as well as outside the bedrooms.

Additional requirements are outlined in this FAQ.

NOTE:  Please check with your local jurisdictional authority for any additional requirements!  The Province of Ontario (for instance) has some special rules when it comes to the installation of Carbon Monoxide detectors!

Technician's Tip

 

Can you be grandfathered to work on fire alarms?

Every once in a while I actually have try and figure out what the person that wrote a question like this in their Browser's search bar was actually thinking.  To "work on fire alarms" could have several different meanings.  In Canada, to INSTALL a fire alarm system you have to be a licensed and TQ'd electrician.  To SERVICE and TEST a fire alarm system (in most Canadian jurisdictions) you have to be able to demonstrate to the local jurisdictional authority that you are competent, trained, and familiar with the testing requirements.  Usually valid CFAA certification is all that's required, but it's best to check first.  Many jurisdictions in British Columbia (for instance) uses a different certification model from other provinces.

 

 

What does “annual in-suite fire alarm inspection” mean?  What do you suggest I do to prepare?  Can I refuse to have this done?

Every year (in Canada), Provincial and Territorial Fire Codes mandate that a building’s fire alarm system be tested to something called CAN/ULC-S536 (Canadian Standard for Annual Fire Alarm Testing).  This means that EVERY device that forms part of your building’s fire alarm system must be tested to ensure it will function adequately in an emergency.  If you rent an apartment, your Landlord will provide you with appropriate notification that entry to your unit is required to test the Smoke Alarms, fire alarm audible signal devices (usually a wall-mounted buzzer), and any system fire detectors.  If you happen to own an apartment (or condominium) in a building with a fire alarm system, the devices I mentioned previously must still be tested.  You cannot refuse access to your unit for this test as it is MANDATED by the Fire Code.  To do so will result in a rather unpleasant visit from your local fire department who will ORDER you to comply with the requirements of the Code.

As I mentioned, many apartment tenants and owners are provided with written notification that access will be required.  In order to expedite the testing, it might be prudent for you to leave your unit’s key with a neighbour or friend who will attend the premises and allow the testing agency access to complete the service if you anticipate you might not be home.  If you have pets or young children that might be disturbed, or become anxious, by prolonged exposure to the noise that’s part of a system wide test, it is suggested that you remove them from the building entirely for the duration of the testing. 

NOTE:  If your building employs visual alarm signals (fire strobes), and you, or a loved one, have a nervous disorder (such as epilepsy), please ensure you take the appropriate precautions.  It is extremely important, in this instance, that the buildings’ fire safety plan contains this information in the “Tenants Requiring Assistance” notice so that first responders are aware.

 

Owner's Tip

 

What is the correct use of a RED TAG?

This happens to be the subject of an ongoing discussion in our General Forum. The answer isn't as simple as the requirement stipulated in ASTTBC's Practice Guideline and the reason is that there are two inspection standards in Canada which ASTTBC has now been mandated with, the annual inspection standard (which is CAN/ULC-S536), and the verification standard (which is CAN/ULC-S537). Under the former, a RED TAG should be applied to any system that does not provide an adequate level of protection to the occupants and where the building owner has demonstrated reluctance (or has outright refused) to perform the necessary repairs the local fire department MUST be informed. The exact wording in the Practice Guideline published by ASTTBC is:

    “For major deficiencies red tags shall be used by the FPT to indicate that the fire protection system or piece of equipment was serviced but does not provide the level of protection for which it was originally designed and installed or the system or piece of equipment has deficiencies that may cause it, during activation, not to operate in the manner to which it was intended.

    A red tag shall be used to advise and alert the Owner and AHJ that, although the system has been serviced, there are deficiencies that remain on the system or piece of equipment. The tag shall be defaced using a large (preferably red) ‘X’ across the front and on the back. The FPT shall initiate notification to the Owner immediately of any deficiencies regarding the fire protection system(s) or piece of equipment.

    When major deficiencies exist on the fire protection system(s) or piece of equipment or a combination of major deficiencies are identified by the FPT, and

    The Owner, after being advised by the FPT does not take appropriate action, and

    When in the FPT’s opinion the public is placed in imminent danger,the FPT shall initiate notification to the Local Assistant to the Fire Commissioner by telephone or in person and document that notification in writing.”

Examples of the type of deficiency that would merit immediate attention (or a RED TAG if the building owner refused the repair) would include a non-functional bell circuit, incorrectly terminated AC power, inadequately sized standby batteries, non-functional initiating devices (i.e. smoke detectors, manual stations, heat detectors, flow switches, etc.), a defective battery charger, use of non-cross listed smoke detectors, improperly labelled annunciator.

Under the verification standard however, a RED TAG isn't used on new installations because deficiencies must be corrected (usually by the installing electrical contractor) before a clear Appendix "C" (in some jurisdictions it's still referred to as an "A") can be issued. A RED TAG could be used on an existing system that exhibits violations where you are verifying an upgrade or addition. My "test" for use has always defaulted to the LIFE SAFETY aspect and when put in this context, I believe a RED TAG is the "safer choice".

 

Technician's Tip

 

How long is a RED TAG good for?

A RED TAG applied to any fire protection equipment is a clear indication that its function has been dangerously impaired (or that it may, in fact, not work at all). A RED TAG can only be removed if the equipment has been restored to a fully operational condition.

 

 

Can a City (or local municipal authority) RED TAG fire alarm wiring?

Most definitely, yes! If a wiring fault (or deficiency) is discovered during a routine "pre-cover" electrical inspection, it will have to be rectified by the electrical contractor and could be easily accomplished at this stage of the construction (before the wall-board is put up). If a wiring fault is discovered after the building's electrical permit has been "signed off", it will more than likely be expensive to fix (because wall and ceiling spaces/cavities will have to be re-accessed). The electrical contractor who performed the work will likely be "on the hook" for the repair under the terms of the warranty he must provide the building owner/primary contractor.

Owner's Tip

 

What's the correct procedure to use when testing a 347 volt battery pack (emergency light unit)?

NOTE: This question is featured on ASTTBC's latest "SUPPRESS" newsletter (issue #11). ASTTBC has our full permission for it's use.

This question stems from a discussion I had with another technician recently. WorkSafe BC (and similar organizations in a number of other jurisdictions) stipulate that you may NOT work on live circuitry above 250VAC without their express written consent. In BC, OHS (Occupational Health & Safety) Regulation Section 19.10 (3) states:

    “Work must not be done on energized parts of electrical equipment associated with lighting circuits operating at more than 250 volts-to-ground without the prior written permission of the Board.”

What does this mean? Simple. You cannot work on a 347 volt pack while under power. You must use the circuit disconnecting means (turn OFF the circuit breaker) to initiate the standard thirty minute test. You should not attempt to disconnect one of the live leads as I've seen many techs do. This means you must identify those packs that are part of a 347 Volt circuit, and coordinate with building management to shut down power to those areas which are serviced by the equipment while testing or repair is underway. You may wish to review a bulletin issued by the Electrical Safety Authority in Ontario in December, 2009 located HERE.

What are the consequences of your not following this direction? Your employer may be held liable for any injuries you might suffer in which case WorkSafe BC may levy a very hefty fine. In addition, your claim for any injuries sustained could be adversely affected. The two important things to remember here is:

STAY SAFE!  WORK SAFE!

 

Technician's Tip

 

Who can certify/test emergency light packs (in Vancouver)?

In the Lower Mainland, many communities (including Vancouver) have adopted by-laws which formally require ASTTBC Registered Fire Protection Technicians to service life safety equipment which happens to include emergency light packs.  The current list of municipalities that require ASTTBC technicians can be reviewed HERE.  For municipalities outside of the Lower Mainland (British Columbia), there is no formal certification for testing emergency lighting that we’re aware of.  Please check with your local AHJ (Fire Department) who may be able to point you in the right direction in finding a qualified company.  We review the testing procedure for emergency light packs in this FAQ.

 

 

I work for a national company as an HVAC technician in Vancouver, B.C. We do work for a cellular communications provider that has numerous cell sites on the tops of apartment buildings across the city. Along with the HVAC work, we are also to test the fire alarm systems in these shelters which are monitored by a central control centre in Ontario. I have three questions for you: 1) What kind of personal liability would I take on by performing this work without proper certification? 2) What kind of personal liability would I take on by performing this work with proper certification? 3) What courses are required to do this kind of inspection work in Vancouver?

NOTE: This question was originally posted to the CFAA website but wasn't answered correctly. We've decided to publish the correct answer here. CFAA's Webmaster was informed of the error on June 27th, 2009. The question was REMOVED from their website on September 2, 2010. You may be interested in reading my open letter to CFAA HERE which also happens to feature the answer that had been posted to their site for almost eight years!

To perform annual inspection work (to CAN/ULC-S536-04) on any fire alarm system in Vancouver, you're required to be ASTTBC certified in the FA (Fire Alarm) discipline and utilize the approved forms (more comprehensive, alternate forms can be downloaded from our site - located here). The Vancouver By-Law mandating ASTTBC certification has been in effect since 1996. ASTTBC's Practice Guideline should be reviewed as it clearly defines the issue of "liability" as it relates to your job. In order to obtain ASTTBC certification you are required to meet their registration criteria (also outlined in the above referenced Practice Guideline). The City of Vancouver requires any facility that receives/processes signals from listed fire alarm equipment to be ULC Listed for the purpose AND to be on their list of approved monitoring stations. To perform a Verification Inspection in the City of Vancouver you are required to be an Approved Agency (or individual) and you must follow the procedures established in Bulletin 2000-021-EL.

This question brings up another issue, however. In numerous installations of this type the "fire alarm system" amounts to nothing more than a communicator and connected smoke (or heat) detection devices, is usually installed without proper permits, and as a consequence has not been verified to CAN/ULC-S537-04. In many such installations there is NO PHYSICAL CONNECTION to the building's fire alarm system. This is a major concern as most alarms generated by these cell sites are transmitted to proprietary monitoring centres (as indicated in the original question) that are often NOT ULC Listed either. The typical "response" involves the dispatch of a service technician to "confirm" the alarm with NO NOTIFICATION to the building's occupants until this occurs. Should you pass such a system? NO!! (I would go so far as to suggest you read the FAQ involving RED TAGS!) Should an interconnection to the building's fire alarm system be provided? Most definitely (and in every instance), YES!

 

Technician's Tip

 

Can I be fired if I insist on testing a system in accordance with the Standard?

I think this question stems from some of the new annual inspection requirements in CAN/ULC-S536-04 which I've outlined in this FAQ. The sad truth is that you can be fired for any reason and at any time. Whether or not your employer is acting within the confines of either provincial or state laws is a matter for your local employment standards or labour relations bureau to determine. You have every right to request the reason for your dismissal be given to you in writing. Many provincial and state governments provide guidelines for employers with respect to terminating an employment contract. It's important for you to properly respond to every warning or disciplinary letter you receive so that you can document the chain of events that might lead to your dismissal. Needless to say, it would be extremely difficult for an employer to make a case for dismissing an employee that was following the requirements of an inspection standard or code in the course of their normal work day. This includes refusing to tag off on a system, component or equipment that you know to be installed or serviced incorrectly and for which your employer could be held liable to correct (even though a previous technician may have let it pass).

NOTE: I would be extremely interested if something like this happens to any fire protection equipment technician. Please call or email me with the details!

 

Technician's Tip

 

Is CFAA Certification required anywhere in British Columbia?

At the present time, there are several British Columbia jurisdictions (outside of the Lower Mainland) that may officially recognize CFAA certification for the purpose of testing/inspecting/servicing life safety equipment or fire alarm systems.  Although the training courses (to obtain certification) are accepted by ASTTBC as part of the educational component of their formal registration requirements, many jurisdictions (particularly in the Lower Mainland) will only accept stamped tags from ASTTBC Registered Fire Protection Technicians (RFPT’s).  If you’re CFAA certified, it’s best to check with your local fire department before you proceed with testing any equipment.  You may also wish to explore obtaining the equivalent ASTTBC Registration.  For more information about this, please visit their website!

 

 

What’s the correct way to test an emergency light unit?

Every emergency light pack in service today contains a self-regulated charger, a means to manually “test” the unit, and a battery pack that’s sized to the number of lamps it has to run for the given period of operation required by Code.  The physical testing of an emergency light unit doesn’t start where you might think though.  Many technicians first action involves unplugging the unit (or disconnecting power to it).  What you should be doing first is OPEN YOUR EYES before you touch that pack or the power cord.  If you’re performing the annual testing of a building, you’re going to walk through it and document the locations of all the life safety equipment, right? 

Let’s examine the Code requirements for unit emergency lighting. BCBC 2006 3.2.7.3 is entitled “Emergency Lighting”:

    “1)  Emergency lighting shall be provided to an average level of illumination not less than 10 Lx at floor or tread level in
    a)  exits,
    b) principal routes providing access to exit in open floor areas and in service rooms,
    c)  corridors used by the public,
    d)  corridors serving patients’ sleeping rooms,
    e)  corridors serving classrooms,
    f)  underground walkways,
    g)  public corridors,
    h)  floor areas or parts thereof where the public may congregate

      i)  in Group A, Division 1 occupancies, or
      ii)  in Group A, Division 2 and 3 occupancies having an occupant load of 60 or more,

    i)  floor areas or parts thereof of daycare centres where persons are cared for, and
    j)  food preparation areas in commercial kitchens.”

Before you actually “test” a pack, let’s make sure all of them are installed and positioned properly (this includes any remote heads located in places like stairway landings, corridor junctions, and service rooms).  Many technicians get themselves in trouble right off the bat because their “test” is limited to the devices that are physically present.  They frequently miss the opportunity to demonstrate they are the life safety professionals their employer thought they hired.  Part 9 of the ASTTBC Practice Guideline is entitled Provision of Services and perfectly illustrates the correct attitude with which to approach every site you visit:

Preparation.

The FPT should prepare by reviewing previous inspection, test and maintenance reports; familiarize themselves with the activities/occupancy of the site and prepare a list of items that may need to be investigated or reviewed; and ensure the necessary access to all parts of the building in which the fire protection equipment is installed.

Depending on the discipline, the FPT should observe all conditions in the building, which affect the proper and safe operation of the fire protection equipment and systems. This includes, but is not limited to…

    Fire separation doors and walls are in place and that they work properly;
    Proper location and accessibility to fire protection equipment;
    Any new occupancy, which could change the level of protection;
    New walls or separations that might have been constructed and for which fire protection equipment has not been properly installed;
    Obstructions to the fire protection equipment;
    Anything else that might affect the proper functioning of the fire protection systems or compromise public health and safety.”

Okay.  Now that we’ve progressed through the previous annual test report and site review, let’s look at Section 3.2.7.4 of BCBC 2006.  This Section is called “Emergency Power for Lighting” and reads:

    “1)  An emergency power supply shall be

    a)  provided to maintain the emergency lighting required by this Subsection from a power source such as batteries or generators that will continue to supply power in the event that the regular power supply to the building is interrupted, and
    b)  so designed and installed that upon failure of the regular power it will assume the electrical load automatically for a period of

      i)    2 h for a building within the scope of Subsection 3.2.6.,
      ii)   1 h for a building of Group B major occupancy classification that is not
            within the scope of Subsection 3.2.6., and
      iii)   30 min for a building of any other occupancy.

    (See Appendix A.)”

The light pack itself is a pretty simple unit.  It will have a label affixed to it identifying the input voltage, output voltage and it’s capacity (usually expressed in watts).  If (on the input side, the unit is marked as being connected to 347 volts), you’ll have to adjust your physical test routine to compensate (please review this FAQ before you proceed!).  Sometimes the pack will be equipped with a power cord that plugs in to an outlet normally positioned on the adjacent wall or ceiling (usually within a couple of feet of the unit).  Examine the power cord and plug for cuts, abrasions, and cracks in the insulation.  If the unit doesn’t have one, open the cover of the unit.

The AC supply is easily identifiable on most packs.  The manufacturer’s colour code the output and battery connections differently (and usually the associated wiring is kept separated from the high-voltage by clips or tie-wraps).  Look at the battery.  How many lamps are connected to it?  If it’s a straight 6 volt 36 watt pack, then the only ones connected to it should be mounted on the pack.  Make sure!  There will be a “replace battery by” date somewhere on the unit.  I never actually go by that (the “best before” date on milk doesn’t mean it expires on the date indicated either), but it’s a good thing to check anyway because it’ll alert you to the possibility that the battery might not be able to power the lights for the required time mandated by code.  A general “rule of thumb” I recommend is turf the sucker if it’s reached four years of age (and it’s a sealed lead-acid type battery).  If the battery is “bulging” or showing obvious signs of distress (like cracked case or severely corroded terminals), don’t even bother to initiate the power off test.  Replace the battery, and proceed to your charger inspection.  If everything checks out and the unit functions correctly during the charger test cycle, then you won’t need to perform the full discharge test.

Let’s assume the battery looks fine (and is within the four years from the date code stamped on the battery or the “in service date”).  Take your voltmeter and measure the charging voltage.  For a 6 volt pack, it should be around 6.9 - 7.2 VDC, for a 12 volt pack it should read between 13.6 and 14.0 VDC.  You can trim some chargers (on the older type packs) to fall within this range.  On the newer ones, you’re only confirming that the required charging current is present.  Exercise the “test” button or switch and observe the voltage drop.  If it’s excessive (the voltage falls off rapidly), the pack is either overloaded or the battery is due for replacement.  If every thing’s normal, then the battery will stabilize at some place close to its nominal voltage and all of the attached remote heads and exit lights should be “on” and bright.  Take your clamp-on ammeter and place the negative lead from the battery in the clamp.  Write down the current reading, multiply by the battery voltage and you’ll be able to determine the wattage being drawn from the pack.  If it exceeds the capacity on the label, you can fail the unit immediately.  If it’s within the rated wattage, you can now proceed to the power off test.

The power off test means you have to physically disconnect the AC power (wedging a piece of balled up tape in the test switch is NOT the proper way to do this!).  Start your timer.  Walk around and check each remote head and exit light that might be connected to the pack.  At the end of the test period, observe the brightness of all the connected lamps.  If they’re still bright (and providing the required illumination), then take another reading of the battery with your voltmeter.  The battery should still be above 85% of its initial power off voltage.  Reconnect your AC and allow the charger to stabilize for a minute or so.  Observe the voltage reading across the battery.  It should be around the upper limit mentioned earlier.  This means the charger is working.  You can replace the cover, and tag off on the unit as having passed the annual test.

 

Technician's Tip

 

Do self-contained exit lights have to be tested, and if so, what’s the procedure?

Yes, they do.  Furthermore, they have to be individually tagged as well.  Modern self-powered exit signs commonly incorporate a small (usually lithium-ion) standby battery,  charger board, LED lights to provide illumination for regular power and a separate LED string (usually comprising fewer lights) for emergency standby.  The problem is, the battery pack is usually equipped with pigtail leads and a small plastic plug that is connected to the charger board.  You can’t readily test the battery (or the charger) as we illustrated in the previous FAQ.  So, how do you test these types of units?

Well, here’s the way to do it.  You’ll have to purchase a terminal strip from any electronics wholesaler (typically the leads you’re going to be working with are 18 or 20 AWG, so buy one that will readily accept the smaller wire).  I normally carry a few different sizes with me.  I like the ones that come in units of twelve terminals.  They’re plastic and easy to separate (cut) into pairs.  The terminal screws are also shielded by high plastic guards.  Disconnect the battery from the charger board.  You’ll have to cut the pigtail lead about half the distance between the plug and the battery.  Next, carefully strip about a quarter inch from each lead and insert them into the terminals.  Please be careful to separate the wires so you don’t short them when you’re cutting or stripping them.  You now have a convenient test point for your voltmeter leads and can follow the same testing procedures as in the previous FAQ!  We’ve illustrated what the final result should look like.  The terminal strip should present no problem to tuck away.

Self Powered Exit Test Point

 

NOTE:  You won’t have to do this with a new battery or exit unit.  In fact, if the exit light is new, you may even void the unit’s warranty.  This will be needed at the next annual inspection, however.

 

Technician's Tip

 

When an apartment  fire alarm is pulled, does the alarm stay on?

Not necessarily.  Depending on the age your your apartment, your fire alarm system may be nothing more than a large relay in a box with a 12 volt “hot shot” battery as a backup.  In the late ‘50’s and much of the ‘60’s (right around the time that some refer to as the “heyday” of the North American muscle car), many apartment blocks were wired with a “three-wire” fire alarm system.  These consisted of manual stations strategically positioned on each floor which were wired to a big red box in the basement electrical room.  The pull stations were essentially red switches that turned the alarm on or off (on some three wire systems there was no reset switch, that function was controlled by the pull station).

Modern alarm systems employ circuits that will latch into alarm, which means the bells will sound until someone opens the common control and pushes the “signal silence” button.  The bells will usually start up again if another fire alarm is initiated in another zone (with some addressable type panels, this could also occur in the same zone which caused the initial alarm).

 

Owner's Tip

 

Do businesses in Vancouver need tags on newly installed emergency lights?

In Vancouver, yes, but usually new installations won’t require testing and tagging (it’s best to check with the local AHJ though).  Following the first year in service, arrangements should be made to test the packs.  In fact, I would strongly suggest that, if you own the business the new lights were installed in, you should arrange to have the required testing done BEFORE the official warranty expires.  Some of the cheaper light packs I’ve seen FAIL the annual test because the charger is defective or non-functional.

Owner's Tip

 

Why must the proper polarity be observed when connecting devices on a fire alarm system?

Many smoke detectors won’t function if you connect them incorrectly (particularly the analogue type).  Signalling devices (bells, horns, buzzers, and strobes) employ diodes which allows the fire alarm control to pass through a supervisory voltage.  This will be blocked if you reverse the polarity which will have one of two results:  the buzzer or horn will start to sound (usually much weaker than the full alarm tone because the supervisory voltage is so low), or the panel will display a zone fault trouble.  ALWAYS observe the correct polarity for any field device you connect to a fire alarm system.  The only exception to the rule are conventional heat detectors, manual stations, sprinkler flow and tamper switches which are all contact type devices and are NOT polarity sensitive.

 

 

Do I need to disconnect the power (AC) when replacing an SLA battery in an exit light?

Typically no.  Keep in mind that if the exit light is powered by three phase 347 VAC, then you must exercise the appropriate cautions outlined HERE!

 

 

Is a heat detector required in the elevator pit?  (How many heat detectors are required in an elevator pit)?

Typically no, but there are scenarios where it may be desirable to employ one.  If a fire were to start in an elevator pit, and the car was located two (or more) floors above it, it is doubtful that the heat from the fire would ever reach the (typically) wall mounted heat detector.  Heat rises and doesn’t travel horizontally until it reaches a ceiling or other closed overhead structure (like a mezzanine floor or the bottom of the elevator cab).  This having been said, if the lower level of the building also happened to be the lowest point of elevator travel, it may be prudent to install a heat detector in the pit so that if a fire did develop while the car was on the ground floor, it would home to the next level and make it easier for first responders to deal with.

NOTE:  Please refer to our Fire Alarm Device Installation Guide for more information on this topic.

 

 

Can you explain what a Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller (DDRC) is and how it should interface to a building’s fire alarm system?

Modern elevators employ emergency telephones, as well as a special indicator and audible tone which is designed to alert passengers (or fire fighters) to a condition that might impair or limit its operation, or indicate a potentially dangerous condition in either the hoistway or machine room.  This is accomplished through the use of spot area smoke detectors located in the lobbies of every floor which the elevator serves, automatic detection at the top of the hoistway, and smoke detectors in the machine room all of which are part of a fire alarm system.  When that system serves an existing structure and is unable to provide the special functions required (because it’s either incapable of producing the required outputs or supporting spot-type smoke detectors), allowance has been made for the installation of a special interface controller.  The Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller (DDRC) employs fire alarm devices like smoke detectors and heat detectors in order to sense a fire condition and ensures the appropriate responses are triggered at the elevator controller.  It will also employ the means to annunciate a fire condition on the specific floor, in the hoistway, and in the machine room. 

In buildings where automatic detection in the common areas is notably absent or limited to heat detectors (as is often the case with older structures), it is recommended that the DDRC output an alarm condition, from the smoke detectors required to be installed in accordance with the new Code, to the existing fire alarm control.  DDRC’s are often addressable fire alarm controls and it would be fairly simple to incorporate a “reset” function with the building’s fire alarm system, in this instance.

Technician's Tip
Inspector's Tip

 

Can a Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller be a fire alarm panel?

The DDRC can only be a fire alarm control panel (an addressable one is normally specified).  Smoke detectors and wiring methods must comply with the Canadian Electrical Code and the Canadian Fire Alarm Installation Standard (CAN/ULC-S524).  The installation must then be verified to CAN/ULC-S537.  Typically, wiring for the DDRC can be run in the elevator hoistway as it’s not considered a fire alarm system, however, in existing structures where the owners (or building management) may be contemplating upgrading the fire alarm system at some future time, it may be prudent to consider installing the wiring for the DDRC as you would for a fire alarm system.

 

 

What should be at the top of an elevator shaft - a smoke detector, or a heat detector?

The requirement of the Code is for automatic detection.  It does not specify which type of detector you should use.  Many high rise structures employ high-speed elevators which tend to displace large amounts of air as they move through the hoistway.  In this instance, heat detectors are often specified because the velocity of the air moving through a system smoke detector might exceed the manufacturer’s specifications and could result in false alarms being generated.  Not-with-standing, the cheapest form of automatic detection is a heat detector.

 

 

Under what circumstances can a manual pull station initiate an elevator recall under CSA B44-2007?

Activation of the recall functions cannot be initiated by a fire alarm’s manual station.  Older conventionally wired supervised systems often do not have the means to differentiate general (or common) alarm outputs.  In this instance, you must note the deviation from the code requirement in your submittal drawings.  The local authority may require you to install a DDRC in this instance.

 

 

Where should the Elevator Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller be located?  Should a remote annunciator be provided and where should it go?

It is recommended that the DDRC be located in the building’s electrical room and next to the fire alarm control panel.  This will often facilitate connection to dedicated primary power as well as an interconnection to the building’s fire alarm system should it become necessary (some older buildings may not have automatic fire detectors on the floor and the additional “life safety” component a DDRC provides is often welcomed by the local authority). 

In many existing structures, the fire alarm common control may be located in the main lobby (as is often the case with older supervised systems that employ Emergency Voice Communication Systems).  Locating the DDRC in the elevator machine room may be a viable alternative as long as a dedicated source of power is available for its use.  Where provision for separate annunciation of the individual floor’s smoke detectors cannot be made as part of the building’s fire alarm annunciator, locating a separate annunciator adjacent to it is desirable.

 

 

Who has jurisdiction over the installation and commissioning of an Elevator Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller?

The answer to this question would depend heavily on how your local civic authority processes permit applications.  In some centres, a separate building and electrical permit is required (in addition to the permits required by the elevator contractor).  Keep in mind that the installation itself is subject to a Verification in accordance with CAN/ULC-S537-04.

 

 

Our building employs an Edwards Custom 6500.  Our elevators are currently undergoing a modernization.  Can our fire alarm system be made to comply with the requirements of CSA B44-2007?

Most conventional fire alarm systems cannot be made to differentiate between an input signal from a manual station or one from a common area smoke detector (or sprinkler flow switch).  If however, your system annunciates the manual stations, smoke detectors, heat detectors, and flow switches separately on each floor, the addition of a relay matrix is possible (parts are still available).  The Edwards 6500, Mirtone 790 & QX series can be hard wired to do this, but it would require an Edwards trained technician to properly make up the wire harnesses and (as I just learned recently) that expertise has a very finite existence.  In Vancouver (at least) it’s down to one “old school” technician still in the employ of the local office (and that makes him worth his weight in gold!).

 

 

Is there a legal requirement to update a building’s fire alarm bells or sprinklers?

There is a legal requirement in the Canadian National Fire Code (emulated in Provincial and Territorial Fire Codes as well) to MAINTAIN a fire alarm and sprinkler system in an operational condition.  Part of this requirement mandates periodic testing in accordance with the Annual Fire Alarm Testing Standard (CAN/ULC-S536) as well as  sprinkler testing outlined in NFPA 25.  We actually review these requirements in our May Editorial.  Updating fire bells to units that are ULC Listed is probably a good idea (for buildings that may employ AC or unsupervised DC systems), but isn’t a stipulated requirement.  Functional testing of a fire alarm bell is part of the testing Standard, while replacing one that doesn’t meet the performance criteria of the Standard actually falls under the previously mentioned maintenance requirement of your Province’s/Territory’s Fire Code.  There may also be a Bylaw (or other equally important directive) in effect in your jurisdiction.  It would be prudent for you to check with your AHJ.

 

 

Can wiring for elevator recall be run inside the elevator shaft?

This depends largely on what’s controlling the recall functions.  If it’s a Dedicated Detection and Recall Controller (DDRC) used as an alternative to the building’s fire alarm system, then most definitely YES.  In this instance, the DDRC is considered part of the Elevator Control Assembly.  If, however, you’re using a fire alarm system as the means to provide emergency elevator fire functions, then only the wiring that provides those functions in the shaft (the pit heat and top of shaft detector), and dry contact wiring for the those detectors which provide general alarm and alternate floor homing can be run in the shaft.  You can’t use the elevator shaft to provide a riser for the buildings fire alarm data loop or signalling circuits.  Only those conventional (or addressable) circuits providing shaft fire detection can be run IN the shaft.

 

 

If you accidentally hit the fire alarm and got fired as a result, can this hamper you from getting another job?

The first thought that came to my mind when I read this question was here’s a perfect example of a case of unlawful dismissal!  Accidents happen.  I’ve never heard of someone getting fired from their job for accidentally causing a fire alarm.  As for being hampered from getting another job because of this, that depends largely on a number of other factors (like the kind of reference you can expect from your former employer).

 

 

Will a fire alarm device that’s indicating trouble on the common control still work?

If a circuit or device trouble is indicated on the common control, then there is a very real possibility that the devices in that zone (or circuit) may not be functioning.  If an actual device trouble is present, the display may also indicate what’s wrong with that device.  Common trouble displays for controls that employ addressable type devices may include “device missing” (in which case it’s not reporting to the panel and isn’t working), “dirty” (in the case of smoke detectors the sensing chamber is contaminated and may be prone to false alarms), “open (or short) circuit trouble” (in which case the field addressable devices on the loop may be operating in a degraded mode).  You can review additional trouble signals and their meanings HERE

NOTE:  All fire alarm system trouble signals should be investigated and rectified by a trained technician!

 

Owner's Tip

 

When testing a commercial fire alarm system, is it permissible to bypass (or disconnect) the NAC circuits to keep down the noise?

Most definitely and by all means do so!  The Testing Standard actually requires that you test at least one device in every zone with the output circuits (includes notification appliances) connected.  The rest of the devices on the zone can be tested with the outputs and signals bypassed.  On larger buildings (including shopping malls), it may be prudent to ring the bells (perform your audibility and functional testing) at a specific time (usually early in the morning, late in the day, or even outside of normal business hours) so as to limit the nuisance factor for patrons and tenants alike.  It is important that appropriate Alternative Measures (as identified in the Appendix to the Testing Standard) are employed in order to notify tenants, patrons, and the public in the event of an actual emergency!  You don’t want to get caught up in a mistake like this!  Additional information in the latest version of the Canadian Testing Standard can be found in this FAQ.

 

 

What does the date stamp on the back of my carbon monoxide detector mean?

This represents the date of manufacture.  This is important to know because carbon monoxide detectors (including those that may be part of a combination type detector) have a limited service life.  This is normally seven years from the date stamped (or imprinted) on the unit.  Most stand-alone residential carbon monoxide detectors have an end-of-life audible alert feature to let you know when it’s time to replace the detector.

 

 

Where should a carbon monoxide detector be installed?

Typically, they should be installed in homes that employ gas burning appliances and in enclosed parking areas.  In the latter instance the detector usually employs a stand-alone control panel that will activate ventilation and exhaust fans to maintain a safe, breathable environment. 

The new National Building Code now requires installation of carbon monoxide detectors within 5 meters of any sleeping room and inside each bedroom in a residential occupancy.  They must also be interconnected to each other as well as to the required hard wired smoke alarms which serve each level.  This ensures there are adequate sound pressure levels to awaken most people and will allow occupants with hearing impairments the opportunity to quickly adapt the room for the addition of appropriate visual signals as well.

Depending upon the type of unit you’re contemplating using, some sensors are ceiling mounted and some are wall mounted.  Follow the installation instructions provided by the manufacturer to ensure optimal performance.

 

 

Do fire alarm devices have to be painted RED?

No.  Many fire alarm devices actually come in a choice of designer colours (tongue firmly planted in cheek):  Red, white, beige and ivory.  Insuite buzzers can be red, but are most often white (or ivory).  Horns and strobes are red or white.  If they’re white they will also usually have red FIRE stickers you can apply (and it’s considered a good idea that you do, so some painting contractor doesn’t accidentally decide to colourize the unit to match the surrounding wall).  Manual stations are always RED, smoke detectors are usually white (and sometimes tend towards an icky beigey-yellow appearance depending on their age and if they’re mounted in a hallway or foyer near a window).

NOTE to painting contractors:  NEVER paint a fire alarm device!

 

Owner's Tip

 

What are the mounting requirements for an elevator pit heat detector?

Both the 2001 and 2006 versions of The Canadian Fire Alarm Installation Standard (CAN/ULC-S524) are silent on the subject of installing heat detectors in elevator pits (and for a number of good reasons, one of which is explored in a previous FAQ).  It is illegal to mount a heat detector on a wall. Pit detectors (by their nature) must be wall mounted. Most designers shy away from locating heat detectors in the pit.  If, however, your designer insists that a pit heat detector is required, then I would suggest that it should be located on the wall 300mm below the lowest point of travel for the floor of the elevator car.

Check out our Fire Alarm Field Device Installation Guide for more information!

 

 

How long is it between a fire alarm sounding and the dispatch of the fire department?

Interesting question.  This actually has a couple of answers.

  1. On a monitored alarm, regardless of whether you have a single stage or two stage fire alarm system, Canadian Codes mandate the alarm signal is communicated to the ULC Listed Station IMMEDIATELY upon activation.  Dispatch of the fire department must occur within 30 seconds (depending on the signal traffic in the station and the number of personnel on duty at the time, this could take a little longer, but CAN/ULC-S561-13 actually requires 30 seconds).
  2. If the fire alarm system happens to be a local alarm, the dispatch will occur as soon as someone picks up their telephone and dials “911”.

While we’re on the subject of #2, it’s pretty important for the testing technician to call BOTH the monitoring station and the local fire department dispatch centre before you commence ringing bells on an annual inspection (or verification).  There will always be people in every multi-tenanted building that are just itching for an excuse to call those tall handsome fire-fighters.  You may have put the system on test at the monitoring station, but those trucks will still roll if someone calls “911” to report a building alarm.  And don’t forget to call back when the testing’s done!

 

Technician's Tip

 

What’s the procedure when the fire alarm goes off?

EVACUATE!  Proceed to the nearest safe exit and away from the building until you are told that it is safe to re-enter the building.

The most common (and easy to remember) word is RACE.  Short for:

Rescue anyone in immediate danger of the fire (this applies to persons with physical or cognitive impairments, and young children),

Activate the nearest fire alarm pull station and call 9-1-1.  Identify yourself to the operator and provide the address and nature of the emergency,

Confine the fire by closing doors as you evacuate in an orderly manner,

Evacuate to an area of refuge (preferably outside).  When a fire is on your floor, leave by the nearest exit stairway.  You should never go UP (unless you happen to be on a level below grade such as in a parkade).

Do not use elevators!

 

Owner's Tip

 

How long am I supposed to keep fire alarm and building life safety equipment test reports (in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, etc.)?

The answer to this question resides in Division C - Part 2 of the Provincial Fire Code and reads:

    Section 2.2.1.2.     Records

    1)  Where this code requires that tests, inspections, maintenance or operational procedures be performed on a fire safety system, records shall be made and the original or a copy shall be retained at the premises for examination by the authority having jurisdiction.

    2)  The initial verification or test reports for each system shall be retained throughout the life of the systems.

    3)  Records of tests, inspections, maintenance or operational procedures undertaken after the initial tests referred to in Sentence (2) shall be retained so that at least the current and the immediately preceding records are available.

    4)  Notwithstanding the conditions stated in Sentence (3), no record shall be destroyed within two years of being prepared.”

 

Owner's Tip

 

How do you know if the fire alarm system in your building is illegal (improperly installed)?

In Canada, you would definitely know that the equipment in your building is compliant with the Standards and the Fire Code because it must be tested ANNUALLY.  If even this basic requirement isn’t being met, then I would suggest contacting your local fire department and request a review (before an inspector pays you a random visit).

 

 

How often must an unsupervised audible alarm (Fire Alarm) be tested (in Canada)?

The rules for periodic testing and inspecting fire alarm systems (whether they’re supervised or not) are outlined in the Provincial Fire Code and reference the Canadian Standard CAN/ULC-S536.  We explain the required testing regimen in this FAQ.

 

 

My sprinkler/fire alarm/generator/emergency light/fire extinguisher has a RED TAG on it.  How long do I have to get it fixed?

A RED TAG affixed to any fire or life safety equipment means that its ability to function correctly IN AN EMERGENCY is impaired to the point where it is not capable of operating, it may operate at a significantly reduced capacity, or its operation could present a hazard to the building’s occupants.  It must be repaired IMMEDIATELY. The technician that has RED TAGGED your system (or equipment) must also report this action to the local AHJ for follow-up.

Owner's Tip

 

Can a fire alarm system employ only speakers (as the local audible component)?

Most definitely YES.  Speakers often form part of what’s called an Emergency Voice Communications System (EVCS or EVAC) which is also part of a building fire alarm system.  Its deployed in large office or residential towers (termed “high buildings” in the Building Code), hospitals, care and detention facilities, schools, community centres and shopping malls (any building or indoor type venue were a large group of people can gather at one time or that, by Code, requires a two stage fire alarm system).

 

 

What’s the maximum time a fire alarm system can be out of service without evacuating the building or providing a fire watch?

If your fire alarm system is out of service (for any reason), a fire watch must be instituted IMMEDIATELY.  A non-functional fire alarm system won’t require you to evacuate your building unless there’s actually been a fire that has compromised the fire alarm or sprinkler system (in which case the local Jurisdictional Authority may impose some additional requirements before allowing you to reoccupy the building).  An approved and properly monitored fire watch is designed to address a temporary interruption of the building's life safety systems.

 

 

If a fire alarm system isn’t able to communicate with a monitoring station, does this mean the system needs to be RED tagged?

A fire alarm system is designed to notify the building’s occupants of an emergency condition by way of a locally sounding alarm (see the definition in our Glossary).  Normally this will trigger a “911” call to First Responders (and, has been demonstrated on many occasions in the past, there are a number of building occupants just “itching” to make that call).  A non-functional communicator employing a passive means of communications should result in a trouble call from the monitoring station within twenty-four (24) hours (a daily test must be generated by both communication channels).  A system that employs an active communications method will report a fault almost immediately (which will also result in a trouble call from the monitoring centre).  Failure to act on such a call could result in the local Fire Department being notified.  It’s not, however, a RED tag issue, unless the communicator happens to be part of the actual fire alarm system (a UDACT), in which case this could point to a more critical failure.

NOTE:  An inoperative communicator must be noted as a deficiency on your test report.

 

Technician's Tip

 

I pulled a permit for a water heater installation, and I need to add some smoke detectors.  Do they need to be hard wired?

This depends on your local jurisdiction’s requirements.  If you’re installing a GAS fired hot water heater, then you’ll likely be required to install carbon monoxide detectors as well (or combination carbon monoxide/smoke alarms).  Pay your municipal hall a visit and get the clarification you need straight from the people in the building construction/permit’s office.

 

 

Our building is a three story walk-up apartment with 38 suites.  The fire alarm system tripped the other night and the fire department responded.  Do we have to let them in, even though we know the reason for the trip?  We had already reset the system and there wasn’t any danger to the residents.  We’re worried that this will count as a false alarm against our building.

You most definitely must allow them access to the building regardless of whether-or-not an alarm has taken place (false or not).  They are legally obligated to “clear” (read check) the building to ensure the safety of the occupants is not compromised.  These guys are the experts.  Let them do their job.

As for having the false alarm count against your building, I would suggest that adopting a non-cooperative attitude is probably the dumbest thing you can do to make an already stressful situation even worse.  Chances are good that regardless of what you do, a dispatch on a known false alarm is going to count against you.  Remaining cooperative, obeying any direct order from the Fire Captain, and responding positively to any suggestion he might put forward will only serve to mitigate the circumstances.

Jim Croce offered up some very sage advice in one of his more famous songs: “Don’t tug on Superman’s cape, don’t spit into the wind”.

 

Owner's Tip

 

How do you change batteries in a smoke alarm?

Modern smoke alarms have either front, side, or rear mounted battery compartments.  The front (or side) mounted units are designed to make it easier to change the stand-by battery without actually removing the detector from its base.  There are several videos available on “youtube” that, while helpful in demonstrating the technique involved in removing the detector from the ceiling, fall short when it comes to the proper procedure to follow when changing the battery(ies).  In every case, you should remove the detector from its base. 

So let’s proceed: 

1.  To remove the detector from the base, you twist it either clock-wise or counter clock-wise.  It will only move in one direction, so exercise some discretion as to how much force you use.  Don’t let go of it as it comes off.  Pull it gently away from the base.

2.  With the detector removed from the base, you’ll notice it has a small plastic plug on the back with three wires coming out (usually black, white, and a third wire that can be either orange, red, or yellow).  Squeeze the two tabs on either side of the plug together and pull it free of the detector. 

3.  Open the battery compartment and remove the old battery.  Check the date code on the back of the detector and make sure it’s within ten (10) years from manufacture.  If it’s over ten years old, you should replace the unit.  Let’s assume the detector is within the ten year cycle. 

4.  With the soft brush attachment use your vacuum to thoroughly clean all around the vents of the detector.  NEVER USE CANNED OR COMPRESSED AIR TO BLOW OUT THE UNIT.  If the unit has been beeping the “low battery” alert, leave it unpowered for at least five (5) minutes. 

5.  Insert a new, current dated, high quality alkaline type battery (Duracell or Energizer).  Make sure that you position the red lever (if one has popped up when you removed the old battery) so that it’s depressed as you insert the new one. 

6.  Close the battery compartment and push the “test” button until the unit sounds.  (This is the step on most of the videos I’ve seen actually miss doing).  It’s an important one as it tests whether the alarm responds on battery power.  If it fails to sound, you’ve either mis-aligned the batteries or the terminals inside the compartment aren’t making adequate contact.  Open the compartment and make the necessary adjustments.

7.  Once you’ve completed the battery test, you can plug the unit back in.  The plug will only go in one way (it’s keyed).  The green “power on” light should illuminate. 

8.  Relocate the detector back onto its base, and push the “test” button once more until the unit responds.  This ensures it’s functioning on normal household power.

 

Owner's Tip

 

How often should I change the batteries in my smoke alarm?

Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions and follow their recommendations.  If in doubt (or you no longer have the instructions), you can usually download a PDF version of them from the manufacturer’s web site.  Some fire departments actually recommend you change the batteries twice a year (if you’ve been experiencing  frequent power failures or brown-outs then perhaps such an accelerated regimen is worth adopting).  The most frequently recommended time to change them is when you change your clocks to (or from) daylight savings time.  Some new detectors have “permanent” batteries installed with a supposed ten (10) life, but if you’re located in an area that has frequent power “brown outs” and failures, we wouldn’t suggest installing one of these units.

 

 

Why does my fire detector have a label that says “Do Not Paint”?

Painting the detector (or a sprinkler head) may adversely affect the device’s performance (or worse, it’s ability to detect an actual fire).  All ULC or UL Certified fire alarm components are rigorously tested to ensure they perform as the manufacturer intended (and the applicable Standard requires).  Paint applied after installation is NOT part of the device’s certification criteria.

 

 

What procedure should I follow to protect a fire alarm device or sprinkler head from over-spray when painting a hallway or a room?

First off, always ensure you post notices informing the occupants of what you’re doing.  Second, call the monitoring station to let them know that you’re going to be painting in areas that have active fire alarm devices.  Put the system on test!  Third, call the fire department’s non-emergency number and let them know as well.  If a detector is accidentally tripped, you don’t want the trucks dispatched by an over-eager tenant or resident. 

There are several complicated methods that involve the temporary removal of the affected fire alarm device (which requires the services of a trained technician), and then there’s a really simple one I’ve seen used.  Plastic sandwich bags work the best on sprinkler heads.  If you get the cheap “no name” variety, the plastic is thin enough it won’t significantly interfere with the head’s operation (if you forget to remove it, you’re not going to compromise the system).  Some fire detectors have plastic covers they ship with, but unless you have a fool-proof method of storing them, chances are they won’t be there when you actually need them.  If you’re going to cover a smoke or heat detector with plastic, please ensure you remove the bag when you’re done painting in the area, and don’t leave before you do.  You are the equivalent of a “fire watch” for the area until the detector is restored to normal operation.

Lastly, don’t forget to call the fire department and monitoring centre to let them know to put the system back into service!

 

 

My (FireLite) addressable heat detector goes into trouble when it’s too cold.  Why?

The H355 series heat detectors are designed to operate down to -20 degrees Celsius (according to the specification sheet).  The problem is that in areas of high humidity you may wind up with problems due to condensation.  My advice would be to first find out how cold “too cold” really is.  If it’s below the rated temperature of the detector, then you will have to find another solution to your problem.

 

 

Will activating the fire drill feature on my Notifier fire alarm panel result in a fire department dispatch?

Unless specifically programmed not to, all relay functions will trigger when you depress and hold (for two seconds) the FIRE DRILL button.  Even if you have bypassed the relay functions, a dispatch could still result from a source beyond your immediate control.  A resident or tenant may decide to dial “911” when they hear the alarm bells ringing.  It’s important to contact the local fire department’s dispatch line to advise them that you’re testing your fire alarm system.  Don’t forget to call them back and let them know when you’ve completed the testing!

Owner's Tip

 

What’s the maximum allowable volume of a fire alarm audible notification appliance (horn, bell, speaker, or siren)?

This is actually referenced in NBCC in Section 3.2.4.19. Entitled “Audibility of Alarm Systems”.  Sentence (4) states:

    “The fire alarm signal sound pressure level shall be not more than 110 dBA in any normally occupied area.   (See Appendix “A”.)”

 

 

If the fire alarm in the building activates, is it legal for my employer to insist I remain at my desk/workplace while the bells are ringing?

Wow.  First of all, you have the absolute right to ensure your personal safety is not threatened or your life endangered.  I’m tempted to side with the guy that said “every man for himself”, however, there may be procedures in place at your workplace that ensures a calm, orderly evacuation of the floor area (or building) only proceeds when a threat to worker safety has been verified.  These days, we hear a lot about “sheltering in place” and securing your area so it’s important for you to review and practice the various emergency procedures outlined in your employer’s fire safety and evacuation plan.  When it comes time to respond to an actual emergency, you want to ensure everyone knows what to do so there’s no panic that could lead to an even worse situation.

 

 

Is bypassing a zone on a fire alarm system against the BC (or National) Fire Code?

It’s not against the Fire Code to bypass a zone (or device) that’s part of a fire alarm system (in Canada).  Doing so does impact the functionality of the system, however.  In order to answer this question properly, we should understand Clause 6.1.1.2 of NFC 2010 which stipulates to the building owner’s obligation to maintain fire protection installations in an operational condition.  A non-functional fire alarm system (or portion thereof) could very well trigger the requirement for a Fire Watch.  Keep in mind that a zone or device that has become problematic due to repeated false alarms (for instance) could be temporarily bypassed without affecting the functionality of rest of the fire alarm system.  If, for instance, the zone (or device) happens to be a programmed supervisory circuit (like a sprinkler valve or low air switch), a full blown Fire Watch may not be required (in the event of a low air trouble, for instance, frequent checks of the compressor would ensure that appropriate pressures are being maintained).  If the bypassed zone was an entire floor of a building, then the Fire Watch could be restricted to just the affected area (and not the whole building).  You’ll have to discuss the ramifications with your local Authority.  In a recent service call that involved bypassing a flooded elevator pit heat detector, a Fire Watch was deemed unnecessary because the area was still protected by the REQUIRED automatic fire detector at the top of the shaft (there is no requirement in either the National Building Code or the CSA Standard for Elevators for automatic detection in the pit).

 

Owner's Tip

 

Could an individual be in “non-compliance” if they didn’t know how to arm (operate) the fire alarm system in their building?

The answer to this question is actually one that involves a double jeopardy type response.  As the person IN CHARGE of the building, you should know how to operate the fire alarm system to some extent as you should be performing daily and monthly tests of the system.  If you’re IN CHARGE of the building (a concierge, maintenance person, appointed Fire Safety Director or Deputy Fire Safety Director), you’re automatically assumed to be able to perform some basic additional functions like:

  • silencing fire alarm signals (this should only be done on the advice or under the direction of the fire department)
  • resetting the system (and restoring ancillary operations like elevator function)
  • acknowledging trouble signals and silencing them
  • calling for service
  • performing a Fire Watch (or be able to direct others in how to do so)
  • communicating with the fire alarm monitoring centre
  • liaising with local representatives of the fire department
  • arranging for corrective action to be taken when deficiencies that could adversely impact the proper function of the building’s life safety equipment and systems are identified
  • performing routine inspections of the building and identifying potential hazards like blocked fire doors, broken exit signs and non-functional lighting.

You see what I mean by double jeopardy?

 

Owner's Tip

 

Is a non-functional fire alarm annunciator reason to RED TAG the fire alarm system?

There are two types of annunciator displays that could be part of a fire alarm system.  One is called an ancillary display.  The other is the required annunciator (the one mandated to be installed by the National Building Code).  The latter could also be part of a Command and Control Facility.  There are many reasons an annunciator or ancillary display would be considered deficient.  Missing (or incorrect) zone labels, non-functional indicator lights, communication issues, and faulty LCD displays are amoung the reasons you should RED TAG the unit.  If the annunciator is part of the fire alarm control, a primary display (i.e. the required annunciator) or the CACF the system must be RED TAGGED.  An ancillary display is considered a convenience item for local building services or operations staff and even though it isn’t REQUIRED, it’s a good idea to have any localized trouble with the display investigated and corrected as soon as possible!

 

 

In British Columbia, why do some strata management companies promote and encourage the testing of smoke alarms in townhouses while others do not?

Many Stratas and building owners employ property management firms in order to professionally manage the more complex issues regarding the operation of their project (i.e. the financial records, meeting minutes, maintenance, and special reports, etc.).  Some property managers are more conversant with the Fire Code requirements while others depend on the fire protection equipment service companies they’ve often formed a relationship with to ensure the proper testing and inspection is performed.  It comes down to the fire equipment service provider to KNOW what testing is required in each jurisdiction and to comply with those requirements.  Competitive pressures are the drivers of Code divergence.  The Strata (as the building owner) has the ultimate responsibility to ensure ALL Fire Code mandated testing is being performed.  Here’s the “how-to” towards ensuring you don’t get caught short:

  1. Contact your local Fire Prevention Officer by calling the non-emergency number for your Fire Department, and obtain the list of items they expect to see included in the annual building life safety test and inspection reports (they may even suggest an acceptable report format);
  2. Have your property manager review the documentation submitted by their chosen service provider and ensure it complies with the required format;
  3. Check out the service provider with your local Better Business Bureau and obtain references from other customers.  KNOW who you’re dealing with!
  4. Make sure that appropriate notices are posted well in advance of the testing date and arrange appropriate access to owner (or tenant) occupied areas and spaces;
  5. Make sure that the service provider can arrange appropriate access to the projects elevators (coordinating the annual life safety testing with the monthly elevator inspection will often prove more economical than scheduling an actual service call);
  6. Review the inspection and test reports (examples of reports are available on our FORMS page or at ASTTBC’s website).  Make sure they comply with one of these formats and are properly completed.  ASK QUESTIONS if you’re not clear about a section or don’t recognize the format from previous reports.
  7. If there are deficiencies noted, obtain competitive quotes for their repair.  You wouldn’t take the word of a guy working at one of those quick-oil-change-shops, when it comes to a potentially expensive car repair, without consulting with another mechanic, would you?
  8. Make sure you retain all testing records on site (if you can, append the pages to the fire safety plan binder).

Note:  Even though your local Fire Prevention Officer isn’t supposed to recommend a fire equipment service company, he may have had experiences with a few you don’t want to deal with.  If you have misgivings over the reports your service provider has submitted, ASK!

 

Owner's Tip

 

Are generators for emergency power back-up allowed to be installed in a parkade in British Columbia (or elsewhere in Canada)?

Most definitely.  They should be installed in a secure, fire resistive room (or vault), properly vented with adequate fresh air and furnished with a means to ensure the engine exhaust is directed safely away from any potentially occupied spaces (outside is preferable).  If the generator employs an integral fuel tank, some additional requirements may also come into play (to protect against fuel leaks or explosion hazards associated with liquid combustibles).  We would suggest you consult with your local jurisdictional authority if you’re contemplating the installation of a generator into an existing structure.

 

 

Why are relays in fire alarm control panels and peripheral modules rated for such low current and voltage (in Canada)?

It has to do with several considerations.  First, most manufacturers don’t want you mixing high voltage and low voltage (or different voltages like “AC” and “DC”) in the same back-box or enclosure.  Allowing high currents on the traces of a circuit board can also be problematic.  High current produces heat.  And heat is anathema to most board mounted components.  Lets face it.  There isn’t a whole lot of available real estate on a common control mother-board and the move toward more SMD (Surface Mounted Devices) technology is reducing that even more.

Then there’s the subject of “Arc Flash”.  Higher currents means there’s a greater risk of this kind of event.  Thermal damage resulting from the electrical currents that could be produced in a short circuit event would be catastrophic and could render a building’s life safety system completely inoperative.

 

 

 

 

 

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