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Design to the Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 72-2007 - An Audio Course

Thomas Mason, P.E.

Course Outline

This three hour online course discusses the concepts, equipment selection and graphic representation of typical life-safety fire alarm systems for stores, churches, apartment houses, schools, institutions and factories, except high-hazard. The key principles are the basic guidelines of the Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72-2007) for normal applications and some warning in cases that require special attention. New material since the 2002 Code is incorporated, and, in some cases, highlighted. This course does not replace a NICET certificate or a PE license. The course does not address residential fire alarms.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course, the student will:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for professional engineers, architects and contractors. It will also be of value to persons with technical background who wish to extend their knowledge into new realms. It does not replace a NICET certificate or a PE license. Some topics are presented only in brief reference. Correct technical terms are used so that an internet search will produces many sources for further information.

Benefit to the Audience

Fire alarm systems are life-safety systems. It is of critical importance that the building owner, the lead design persons, the detailed design persons, the suppliers, the installers and maintenance persons know the right way to do the job. Everyone involved need not be an expert but everyone must know the basic rules. A person who studies this material closely will be able to competently review a proposed fire alarm design. He will be able to create a reasonable scheme to be detailed into a complete fire alarm design. Further work by the detail designer will be required to perform the required battery sizing, voltage drop calculations, circuit loadings and select particular device part numbers. These tasks are not addressed in this course.

Course Introduction

Fire alarms save people's lives. They are required by State building Codes in almost all facilities. Design of fire alarm systems is done by installing contractors, vendors, NICET technicians and Professional Engineers. This three hour online course discusses the rules for design and graphic representation of typical commercial fire alarm systems. Key principles are required devices, required locations of devices and requirements for wiring of devices. This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Fire alarm systems are intended to notify persons on-site to evacuate. Early identification of fire situations and notification aids in complete evacuation and early arrival of fire fighting equipment aids greatly in reducing property losses.

The Code includes fire alarm systems intended for property protection, which may not include notification devices. The same rules for detector spacing apply, however. There are special rules for jails, hospitals and nursing homes where evacuation is not appropriate. These special cases are not addressed in this course.

The field of study of Fire Science has advanced remarkably in the last 100 years. Today we know many different ways that fires start and spread. This course stops at this step to apply the knowledge to fire alarm sensing devices, but the field of fire science also contributes to building standards, fire suppression design and fire fighting equipment and techniques. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) has become a key tool in research on smoke characteristics - as most deaths result from the smoke, not the fire.

This course will spend considerable time discussing available smoke and heat detectors. First, however, we will look at the overall system and features of each component that are necessary to provide reliable notification after the detector does its job.

We will spend some time on stand-alone smoke detectors, small hard-wired systems, and interconnection between stand-alone residential detectors and building evacuation fire alarms. Our main focus, however, will be large systems, with schools used in many examples. The principles directly apply to stores, factories, institutions, apartments and multi-family dwellings. Exceptions associated with different occupancies will be noted.

Of special interest are the interconnection between the fire alarm system and the sprinkler system, between the fire alarm system and the elevator and between the fire alarm system and the HVAC system. Underlying concepts and examples will be presented.

A special rule which is not well understood is that ANY fire alarm must comply with NFPA 72. You CANNOT hook up a smoke detector to a plant SCADA system. If you want fire alarm notification, you must use UL-approved devices THROUGHOUT the system. A SCADA system is NOT a UL-approved life-safety system. People keep trying to convince themselves that property protection does not require an NFPA system Wrong! The law says it does.


Course Content

This audio course consists of the following nine (9) modules (files) in MP3 format. You may click on and listen to each module online using Microsoft Windows Media Player (free download) or RealPlayer (free download). You may also download these files to your computer or save them to an audio CD for personal use. The audio CD can be played in any CD player capable of playing MP3. A copy of the lecture notes is also available below in PDF format.

0. Introduction of Author (MP3 2MB)

1. Part 1 of 8 (MP3 28MB)

2. Part 2 of 8 (MP3 32MB)

3. Part 3 of 8 (MP3 33MB)

4. Part 4 of 8 (MP3 28MB)

5. Part 5 of 8 (MP3 30MB)

6. Part 6 of 8 (MP3 17MB)

7. Part 7 of 8 (MP3 28MB)

8. Part 8 of 8 (MP3 24MB)

The lecture notes for this course are contained in the following formats. You may open or download this document for reference and further study - for personal use only.

Design to the Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 72-2007 (PDF File)

Please click on the above underlined hypertext to view, download or print the document for your study. Because of the large file size, we recommend that you first save the file to your computer by right clicking the mouse and choosing "Save Target As ...", and then open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you still experience any difficulty in downloading or opening this file, you may need to close some applications or reboot your computer to free up some memory.

You may need to download Acrobat Reader to view and print the document.

Course Summary

This course is intended as a guide and aid in using the National Fire Alarm Code, NFPA 72-2007. The concepts and rules-of-thumb are adequate for preliminary design and cost estimates but not adequate for construction documents without detailed study of the project and relevant sections of the source Code and review by an experienced fire alarm designer. Questions of interpretation should be addressed to the local Authority Having Jurisdiction. It is almost certain that a question during design will also come up during Plans Review. The right answer is the answer of the Authority Having Jurisdiction. Early consultation can save a lot of money over having the same question come up during construction.

Related Links

For additional technical information related to this subject, please visit the following websites or web pages:
Fire and Arson Statistics
Fire-Lite (Honeywell) Fire Alarm Control Panels
Notifier (Honeywell) Fire Alarm Products
local codes
Silent Knight Fire Alarm Products
NICET (NSPE Technician Level) Certification
Fire Alarms in Space
General Electric Fire Alarm Products
Underwriters Laboratories Inc Fire Alarm Systems Training
City of Denver, LCD annunciators only with LEDs; no combined systems
Simplex-Grinnell (Tyco International) Fire Alarm Products
Canadian Introduction to Fire Alarms
Street Corner Pull Stations in New York City
Fire Alarms in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
Amazon Books on Design of Fire Alarm Systems
Underwriters Laboratories Inc Fire Alarm System Certification
Siemens Fire Alarm System Products
Princeton University Procedures for Fire Alarms
Raychem Internals of Fire Alarms and Overvoltage Protection
Collecting Fire Alarms
Low Voltage Wiring for Fire Alarms - book
Hazards associated with installing Fire Alarms
New and Used Books on Fire Alarms
Online Course for Fire Alarm System Design
Fire Alarm Code Technical Training
National Institute of Standards and Technology - Integrating Fire Alarms with Building Automation
Online Canadian Fire Alarm Code


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

Take a Quiz

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.