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Fire Alarm Service & Programming FAQ:

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FIRE ALARM PROGRAMMING:

Does valid programming certification allow a technician to program a system that is no longer being produced and which his current training/certification didn’t specifically address?  (The real question submitted was:  Can a technician with prior experience with Notifier fire alarm systems program an AIM-200?)

How do I program a detector on my EST-3 fire alarm panel?

Is it permissible to reset a fire alarm system from an off-site location (through downloading or other remote access)?

What part of a network configuration limits the number of valid addresses?

 

FIRE ALARM SERVICING:

Does changing the type of fire detector on an addressable loop affect the system?

Can a building’s fire alarm system be activated if a heat detector is damaged?

Will Notifier devices work with an Edwards EST-3?  Also:  Can you use any conventional fire alarm device on an addressable fire alarm system?

Why won't my addressable fire alarm panel restore properly after the smoke detector has been cleaned? It continues to show that the detector is dirty (or obscured).

It is my understanding that the BC Safety Authority quite clearly allows only certain qualified persons to perform work on electrical systems. In your opinion, how can an ASTT registered technician even touch electrical equipment? My understanding is that they are inspectors and inspectors only, and can not physically touch electrical components or conductors according to the authority. Does ASTTBC have anything to say about this? Comments?

What causes a common trouble fault on an Edwards EST-3 panel?

Do I have to be CFAA certified to work on a fire alarm system?

How do I connect a disconnected fire alarm speaker in my apartment?

What does it mean when a fire alarm system is operating in "degraded mode"?

Is there anything illegal about replacing components in an existing fire alarm system with previously used parts? (What's ULC's position about repairing fire alarm systems with used parts?)

If you're replacing a smoke detector in a residential apartment, would you recommend staying with the original ionization type or go with the compatible photo-electric one?

Is it permissible to use a UL® listed fire alarm device on a Canadian system even if they're both made by the same manufacturer?

Is it illegal for someone without any certification to service a fire alarm system?

Does the replacement of a fire alarm control panel require a building permit?

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Al Colombo

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ULC Smoke Detector Compatibility Index
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Is it permissible to reset a fire alarm system from an off-site location (through downloading or other means of remote access)?

Most definitely NOT! Some fire alarm systems employ the ability to remotely download an activity log (to aid in troubleshooting a problem) or make changes (or additions) to the configuration software. In the latter instance, the download must be initiated while a qualified technician is on site (to initiate the communication between the fire alarm panel and the remote site). Once the downloaded changes have been completed, the onsite technician's responsibilities include resetting the system and ensuring the panel's operation is properly tested/verified.

What part of a network configuration limits the number of valid addresses?

The number of valid addresses on a data communication loop is determined by the capacity of the control panel's loop controller. Some manufacturers (like Mircom and Potter for instance) have a 99 address limit. That means you can program 99 points into each DCL (or SLC) loop. FireLite and Notifier have panels that can handle up to 199 addresses on each loop controller (the MS-9600 can be configured to handle over 600 points).

In large scale network configurations, you're limited by the total number of "Nodes" (or panels) the software can handle and the system has been designed for (with each Node supporting a fixed number of addressable points).

 

Why won't my addressable fire alarm panel restore properly after the smoke detector has been cleaned? It continues to show that the detector is dirty (or obscured).

There are a number of reasons why the obscuration level of a smoke detector will remain on the high side (even after a cleaning). Residue on the transmitter (or receiver) or in a portion of the sensing chamber may not have been properly removed (or missed). The sensor itself could be faulty. Some systems may require you to reboot the software and not just perform a RESET. Consult your system's operations manual.

It is my understanding that the BC Safety Authority quite clearly allows only certain qualified persons to perform work on electrical systems. In your opinion, how can an ASTT registered technician even touch electrical equipment? My understanding is that they are inspectors and inspectors only, and can not physically touch electrical components or conductors according to the authority. Does ASTTBC have anything to say about this? Comments?

You are correct in the way you interpret the rules and regulations. When it comes to fire alarm system service, the BC Safety Authority (as do other provincial regulators) recognizes the difference between "installation" and "repair" (BCSA are also formulating plans to create a special class of FSR for individuals performing testing and verification of fire alarm systems). When that repair comprises a simple "replacement" of a LOW VOLTAGE fire alarm component, I don't think there is anyone more qualified than a properly trained fire alarm technician to facilitate the necessary troubleshooting and carry out the needed repair. When that technician also happens to be factory trained, he should be more than qualified to replace actual components in the fire alarm panel over that of someone with an electrical TQ and no formal training on the equipment (or access to the software if additional programming should become necessary as part of the replacement process).

Notice how I've limited my answer to "replacement" and "repair" of existing components. If new wiring is to be installed (to replace a damaged run, for instance), or additional components are needed, then that would require employing a qualified electrical contractor and obtaining the proper permit(s). Replacement should also be limited to "like for like" (i.e. a smoke for a smoke, a pull station for a pull station, etc.). I draw the line at a physical control panel replacement if it involves replacement of the entire common control and the associated back box (which would probably entail re-routing of existing wiring).

There are many qualified electrical contractors, some of whom work almost exclusively on fire alarm systems. There are also a greater number of contractors who would have difficulty in performing some of the more complex terminations and interconnections required in, say, a Simplex 4100U with full evac (and then only the very foolish would take on the risk of blowing components through an accidental crossed connection). Simplex, Edwards, Notifier, and Mircom all render technical assistance in these endeavours that I don't believe the Safety Authority would question. Granted, in this last example, such an installation would be completed under the supervision of a licensed electrical trades person which would also involve an electrical permit. CFAA obtained a ruling in Ontario that I believe should form the basis of nationwide common practice when it comes to actual service on fire alarm equipment. Right or wrong, it's something that no one here (in BC) has really bothered to challenge.

For a more specific interpretation, you should contact Dave Burgess at ASTTBC directly.

What causes a common trouble fault on an Edwards EST-3 panel?

The Chubb Edwards EST-3 is a fully addressable fire alarm control that employs an LCD display (I think you'll find this is a common feature of addressable systems). When a "trouble" is indicated, a glance at the main display will more than likely identify the source. If the green "AC" power light is not illuminated, chances are power has been interrupted to the panel. A system "ground fault" will illuminate a dedicated LED on the main display as well as provide an indication on the LCD screen. For other "troubles", use the up and down "scroll" buttons to the right of the display to view individually identified "troubles" on the system. Keep in mind that a "trouble" indication is a very serious condition and that certain key elements of the life safety system could be compromised. Please ensure you notify appropriate service personnel to deal with the situation.  You can view a list of common trouble indications HERE!

Do you have to be CFAA certified to work on a fire alarm system?

That depends on what kind of "work" you're performing. To service, maintain, install, or repair a fire alarm system, you should be qualified if you are a licensed electrical contractor with a valid Provincial TQ. Some jurisdictions will insist that individuals servicing (specifically programming) fire alarm systems be "manufacturer trained" (or employed) to do so (and some require valid CFAA registration). Ontario will allow CFAA Certified Technicians to service and repair fire alarm equipment as long as the work doesn't involve running new (or replacing) cable and the system they're working on meets the definition of "low voltage". Alberta is still issuing "P" numbers and many jurisdictions there require a valid "P" ticket, AFSA or CFAA Membership in order to perform service or repair. Most provincial jurisdictions require valid CFAA membership, while many in the Lower Mainland (B. C.) have adopted By-Laws that require only ASTTBC registered technicians, to perform annual testing of fire alarm systems and related life safety equipment.

My best answer? Check with your local AHJ before you commence any "work" on fire alarm or life safety equipment!

How do I connect a disconnected fire alarm speaker in my apartment?

You don't! Unless you're a trained fire alarm technician capable of performing the required Verification on the affected circuit, you cannot perform service of any kind on a life safety system. While the hookup might appear "easy", it's best to contact the building's fire equipment service provider through your property or building manager. If you happen to be the individual that disconnected the speaker in the first place, you could face some very serious repercussions. Tampering with life safety equipment could result in criminal charges or a hefty fine (depending on the mood of the local authority). At the very least, the building's management could require you to pay the cost of repairing the equipment.

What does it mean when a fire alarm system is operating in "degraded mode"?

This refers to when the interconnection between the individual fire alarm panels on a networked system is broken (or interrupted) so that the panels are functioning in "stand alone" mode. This is a key test to ensure that the fire alarm panel servicing an area of the building will still perform its programmed functions (sound local signals, home elevators, shut down fans, etc.) should an interruption of the intercommunications loop occur. If a Class "A" circuit is employed this test will ensure that the individual fire alarm panels on the network are still able to communicate with each other on "both sides" of the loop.

Is there anything illegal about replacing components in an existing fire alarm system with previously used parts? (What's ULC's position about repairing fire alarm systems with used parts?)

I can't speak to the second question because I don't represent ULC, but I can speak to the issue of employing parts harvested from a fire alarm panel for use in another (of similar model and manufacture). There are several provisos that we must address in order to properly answer this question. First of all, you must realize that it is illegal for anyone other than manufacturer trained personnel to make board level repairs. In other words you cannot under any circumstances replace soldered components that form (or make up) a common control mother board or any plug-in modules, rail expanders, or chassis. Such repairs can only be conducted at the factory under the strictest supervision and control. There are many instances where fire service providers can successfully harvest plug-in modules and circuit boards from an old system for re-use in another - the most obvious being where a building owner has elected to upgrade to a new system and scrap the existing unit. Many plug in modules may in fact still function adequately and the prudent service provider will stockpile those parts. The difficulty here is that replacing one non-functional part with a previously used FUNCTIONAL module could also entail providing the customer with a warranty on the repair (this is where YOU assume some risk as well). How much of one and what cost to charge is often predicated on what a new (or factory reconditioned) part is worth. You certainly can't charge the cost of a new part for an old! In some instances, failure of one module on an old system will often be followed by more and at some time the service agency must make a determination as to what's in the customer's best interests. Remember also, that replacement of a module (whether it's old or new) often entails other expenses that might involve additional labour for Verification and related testing.

NOTE: If you suspect that a common control board has been repaired, you must ensure that this has been done by the manufacturer before you can tag off on the system. The building owner should be able to provide you with documentation that will verify the board's (or plug-in component's) pedigree. If that doesn't satisfy these conditions, you must make appropriate remarks in your report and on your service tag.

If you're replacing a smoke detector in a residential apartment, would you recommend staying with the original ionization type or go with the compatible photo-electric one?

The debate over smoke detector technologies continues to rage, but in most instances at the time the building is constructed it all comes down to one thing. Ionization detectors are the most prevalent ones you'll find because, historically, they've been the cheaper alternative that meet the requirement of the Building Code for "automatic detection". Are they always the best choice? I don't believe so, and the evidence that supports this opinion is almost overwhelming.

To provide the "best practice" answer, however, there are several things to consider that will help you to make an informed decision as to which technology to choose. You have to be familiar with the building's construction. You have to survey the interior fittings and finishing in order to be able to determine what kind of smoke particulate is going to be generated in a potential fire situation. That means you're going to have to be pretty knowledgeable about the "chemistry" of a fire and how the two detection technologies cope with the vastly different products of combustion.

Now, if, after careful consideration, you've determined the best choice is "photo-electric" and the predominant technology in the building is "ionization", the building owner may be looking at expending considerable financial resources for the kind of "upgrade" you're proposing. Even doing it piecemeal (replacing one or two detectors at a time) may not be an option because you also have to keep in mind that many fire alarm manufacturers specify that you can't mix technologies on the same conventional input circuit.

On a system which employs addressable type field devices, swapping detection technologies could entail altering the programming of the common control to reflect the change in detector type.

NOTE: What should you do if you feel the protection provided by the technology choice that's in the building you're servicing is inadequate? Note it on your inspection report or work order, ensure you make the appropriate WRITTEN recommendation to the building owner, and provide a copy to your local fire department's fire prevention office. If you're involved in Verifying new construction, you have a good deal more input into which technology is being utilized. Hopefully you'll be in on the project early enough to make the appropriate recommendation to the design engineer and electrical contractor.

Is it permissible to use a UL® listed fire alarm device on a Canadian system even if they're both made by the same manufacturer?

In Canada, you can only use ULC® listed devices on a ULC® listed fire alarm panel. Conversely, you can't use a ULC® listed device on a UL® listed fire alarm panel in the United States. The "cUL®" mark is the only one that is recognized as having "no barrier" for use in either country. Using a non-listed device on a listed fire alarm panel is strictly forbidden and would invalidate the ULC® (or UL®) listing.

CAN/ULC-S524-06 (Installation of Fire Alarm Systems) states in Section 3.1.3: "Devices and equipment used in a fire alarm system , and the interconnection to the fire signal receiving centre, shall comply with the following Standards:

  • CAN/ULC-S525, Audible Signal Devices for Fire Alarm Systems, Including Accessories;
  • CAN/ULC-S526, Visible Signal Devices for Fire Alarm Systems, Including Accessories;
  • ULC-S527, Control Units for Fire Alarm Systems;
  • CAN/ULC-S528, Manual Stations for Fire Alarm Systems, Including Accessories;
  • CAN/ULC-S529, Smoke Detectors for Fire Alarm Systems;
  • ULC-S530, Heat Actuated Fire detectors for Fire Alarm Systems;
  • ULC-S533, Standard for Egress Door Securing and Releasing Devices;
  • CAN/ULC-S541, Speakers for Fire Alarm Systems, Including Accessories;
  • ULC-S548, Standard for Alarm Initiating and Supervisory Devices for Water Type Extinguishing Systems; and
  • CAN/ULC-S561, Installation and Services for Fire Signal Receiving Centres and Systems."

Tech TIP: If your employer is sourcing fire alarm product from an agency outside of your country's testing jurisdiction for use on a listed fire alarm panel, you cannot install it, and you cannot validate such an installation by accepting (or passing) it.

Is it illegal for someone without any certification to service a fire alarm system?

In Canada, the suitability of an individual to perform “work” on (or service of) a fire alarm system isn’t as tightly regulated as you might think.  If you happen to work for a manufacturer, it’s widely accepted that you have received training sufficient to enable you to identify a defective component and replace it.  “Certification” by some jurisdictional authorities may be required as a means to help identify an individual as having met certain educational and experience levels and demonstrate a professional association with an organization that maintains technical oversight over a recognized Standard of Practice.  If you can’t demonstrate suitable technical ability, it’s best to check with your local AHJ before commencing any service on a fire alarm system.

Does the replacement of a fire alarm control panel require a building permit?

In most jurisdictions (in Canada), replacing a building’s common control falls into two categories.  The complete replacement of one common control with another usually involves installing a new back-box and re-routing system wiring to comply with the manufacturer’s specifications (for wire entry and separation, etc.).  In most cases, this requires an electrical permit and the work must be done by a properly licensed electrical contractor.  The second category involves replacing components of an existing fire alarm system (which may require programming and some wiring termination).  The latter is better categorized as a “repair” or “service”.

Will Notifier devices work with an Edwards EST-3?  Or:  Can you use any conventional fire alarm device on an addressable fire alarm system?

In Canada, any fire alarm device connected to a supervised circuit of a Listed fire alarm control must be ULC Listed for the purpose (reference this FAQ for a complete list).  Conventional devices that derive power from the control panel in order to function properly (ie. smoke detectors, beam type combination smoke and heat detectors, and flame detectors) must be cross-listed to the specific control panel model as well.  On an analogue type system, such as the Chubb-Edwards EST-3 which is the subject of this question, you can interface conventional devices to various initiating modules, but where a conventional smoke detector is involved, it must still meet the cross-listing requirement for the module being used.  You cannot, however, use a Notifier analogue module (or active field device) on another manufacturer’s control, even though they may share the same communication protocol as one Surrey based service provider accidentally discovered (and decided to exploit primarily because the Mircom modules were cheaper than those available from the local Notifier rep).

Can a building’s fire alarm system be activated if a heat detector is damaged?

Most definitely, yes.  If you accidentally knock off the centre disk, you could break the solder that holds the fixed element in place.  This will activate the fire alarm system.

How do I program a detector on my EST-3 fire alarm panel?

In Canada, you can’t (unless you happen to be a Chubb-Edwards certified technician and you have both the programming key and the software handy)!

Does changing the type of fire detector on an addressable loop affect the system?

Most definitely!  An analogue (addressable) system will recognize when the wrong type of fire alarm device is installed down to the type of smoke detector, relay and input module that was originally programmed to work with the system.  Changing the device type will require reprogramming the system!

Does current programming certification allow a manufacturer’s technician to program a system that is no longer being produced and which his current training/certification didn't specifically address?  (The real question submitted was:  Can a technician with prior experience with Notifier fire alarm systems program an AIM-200?)

Interesting question, and one that came up recently on a job in which an electrical contractor is adding an addressable relay module to an existing (and long obsolete) Notifier 5000 that happens to employ an AIM-200 addressable control module.  The good news is that there are a few of us old Dinosaurs still alive and programming (believe it or not).  The straight answer is that current manufacturer training does not automatically qualify you to program a panel which you've never worked on (let alone seen).  Some manufacturers reps will tell you differently, but from my perspective an affirmative answer would then have to work both ways (i.e.  if you have training on the older systems you should be able to program the newer ones as well - something I would definitely disagree with).  If you’ve never seen an AIM-200 (and never worked on one), you would be in the same category as any other uncertified technician and shouldn’t touch it!

In the case of many of the Notifier products there are so many similarities between the various panels they've produced over the years it makes programming the older stuff a snap.  In another example, some Edwards products are so radically different that many current trained and certified techs won’t be able to program an older system.  In some cases, they physically cannot because the equipment employs a DOS based program that will require a pre-Windows XP computer to run it on, or the CPU chip has to be reprogrammed at the factory (in the case of the Edwards 8500).

On many older panels that may require programming changes, the building owner is likely looking at upgrading the equipment to something a little more current unless he happens to know an “old Dinosaur” willing to take it on.

 

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