PROFESSIONAL ANSWERS TO THE FIRE ALARM DRAWING ISSUE FROM THE MAY 25, 2016 ARTICLE
This is a great question [see original question and KK's response below] and reveals an issue which could use clarification. There are at least two stages of fire alarm system design.
1. Creation of the bid documents – Licensed and registered architects/engineers many times specify device locations and performance requirements for the system (to achieve code compliance, etc). When prepared and signed by a professional engineer, these documents are limited to the above. What is not always included are specific model and part numbers to be used to provide the system. This is obviously because the installation contract award typically comes after this stage.
2. Shop drawings for submission to the AHJ – This stage (after the award of the contract) takes the general (scope) or specific design requirements of the bid documents and adds the details of the system to be installed. These details outlined in NFPA 72 include wiring requirements, NAC calculations, battery calculations, detailed connection drawings, etc., all of which are manufacturer and installation-specific. It is for this reason that many AHJs want to see a NICET or PE seal on the shop drawings.
3. Design-Build -There is, of course, the “design-build” scenario where the installing contractor does not have PE-prepared bid documents to work with. Here the installer cannot pass the burden of risk for code compliance to anyone else and therefore must assume that.
As you would expect, there are many variations of the above. I hope this explanation helps.
August Conte, President
Kildeer, IL 60047
got CAD drawing deadlines?
Each project is completely different and can vary by who the people on the project actually are, too. The nut of the questions can be answered by reading what the requirements of the construction specifications are for the project. The thing to note here is that often times it is the FPE who wrote the construction specifications for the fire alarm system. He or she can put the responsibility of the drawings on whoever they choose when writing the specifications.
The drawings provided by most FPEs/EEs are only design intent drawings, meaning the drawings only show intended device placement based upon a pre-established design basis and usually some equipment locations to indicate which electrical rooms are designated for installation of the fire alarm system equipment. These drawings are NOT considered shop drawings or installation drawings, and are not usually accepted for permitting. The manufacturer of the equipment is not usually specified nor are calculations provided. These type of drawings are typically used to gain initial approval of construction and design intent between the stakeholders and the AHJ, and then distributed for bidding purposes to award the work to the FAC.
The FAC develops the shop drawings, performs the calculations, and furnishes submittal documents based upon the bid documents (schematic design drawings and specifications) provided. The shop drawings provide information to the installers for the system to be installed and to the AHJ to review the installation for accuracy, method of operation, and code compliance. Ultimately, the AHJ has to approve the permit and installation before the structure will be provided with a Certificate of Occupancy. Most of the time, the AHJ is only looking at the documents that are submitted with the permit application.
The most important thing to consider is what the specifications actually indicate. In a new construction large apartment building I did last year, the specifications specifically stated that the FAC must gain permit approval prior to submitting the drawings to the Architect. This puts the risk on the FAC as no one wanted to see the drawings until after the permit was approved.
In the vast majority of specifications I have worked from, the “risk” was specifically transferred to the FAC in the Performance Requirements by statements such as “The basic equipment and device locations have been shown on the contract drawings. Specific wiring between equipment/devices has not been shown. It is the contractor’s responsibility to submit for approval the complete engineered system configuration and layout showing all devices, wiring, conduit, and locations along with other required information as specified herein.” Or “Delegated Design-These specifications and the accompanying drawings define the intent of the fire alarm system to be provided. Delegated Design Submittal-For the fire alarm system, signed and sealed by the qualified professional responsible for their preparation.”
When I worked as a senior fire protection consultant for a premier fire protection engineering firm, we used the statement “The Fire Alarm Contractor is fully responsible to completely plan the fire alarm system and certify the submittals meet the applicable codes and standards.” This was purposefully included in our specifications to limit our risk and to convey the responsibility onto the FAC. Another benefit for transferring this risk to the FAC was we had some degree of protection when discovering accidental omissions from the schematic design. If we missed something or left something out of the drawings, the FAC was still required by contract to provide it, even if not included in the bid documents.
Next to what the specifications indicate, the second most important thing to consider is what is the FPE/EE’s role in the project after work has begun? Is the FPE merely acting as Owner’s Representative or a Consultant? If so, their role is usually limited to looking after the Owner’s interest in determining that the FAC is complying with the contract and providing recommendations. If the FPE is directing the FAC of how to design the system, where to place, add, or remove devices, etc. then that is deemed taking a more active role in the design process, and therefore if the FAC is being forced to accommodate the direction of the FPE, the FPE shares in the risk as well. The FPE can’t expect to be risk-free when providing specific direction to the FAC of how to design and install the fire alarm system. As the FPE consultant on a project, I have made recommendations for changes that the FAC should make and was overruled by the Owner when the FAC defended their position. With our specifications putting the responsibility of the drawings on the FAC, we could only provide recommendations to the Owner, and in some cases, they chose to agree with the FAC.
As a designer for Tracker Fire, I have submitted shop drawings to a customer, only to have the FPE on the project provide comment for changes. Some of the changes I have successfully defended while others I didn’t. Two things I look to when defending my drawings are what is in the specifications for responsibility of the drawings and what is the code basis of design. If the specifications do not explicitly state that I, as the NICET certified designer, am responsible for a fully code compliant fire alarm system that meets the contractual requirements, then I am at the mercy of the stakeholders on the project to gain acceptance of my shop drawings. All of the stakeholders have a shared liability for the shop drawings because everyone can have a say. If I can point to a code basis to defend my design, the drawings are usually accepted. Sometimes, the Owner just wants additional protection, and as a designer, if the changes don’t violate any code or contract requirements, I make the changes as requested.
To summarize, he who writes the specifications for the project have the strongest position for determining who holds the most responsibility, and therefore risk, of the project drawings. The specifications almost always indicate that the requirements of the specification take precedence over the drawings. If the FPE/EE who initially signed and sealed the schematic design drawings choose to involve themselves with the development of shop drawings by doing more than affirming their conformance to the contract, the argument can be made that they are in effect agreeing to take on more of that liability. This involvement can be written into the specifications or by action during the review process. If the FAC makes changes to their shop drawings based upon direction from the FPE/EE, then the risk of those changes are shared between the FAC and FPE/EE at best, or if strongly documented and defended, the risk may be mostly on the FPE/EE who directed the changes.
Lastly, if a fire happens years later, you can be reasonably assured that any victims of the event will be attempting to sue anyone involved in the life safety systems who might be able to compensate them, no matter what might have actually been written into the specifications or acted upon during the installation. Ultimately, everyone involved in the project will be called into the litigation.
Traci L. Imhoff, CT, CET, Fire Alarm Consultant
Cell (678) 975-2261
Thanks for the opportunity to shed some light on the fire alarm documentation process. I am most familiar with areas in NY State, so we'll cover that first (we'll discuss NYC separately-another country). Most jurisdictions require the fire alarm contractor to "pull a permit" before doing any work. Some AHJ's will issue a "pre-wire permit" allowing the wiring to be placed in advance of plan approval. If they do, it is an informal arrangement and they are doing you (installer-contractor) a big favor, allowing you to get your wiring in place before the walls are closed. The permit process is important, since it allows the municipality to track the installation and perform a final inspection and functional test upon completion. In order to get a permit, there are "submittal documents" which must be provided to the AHJ (plan reviewer). They are called out in the Fire Code of NY State (2010) (soon to be replaced by the IFC International Fire Code 2015) as follows (excerpt)
907.1.1 Construction documents. Construction documents for fire alarm systems shall be submitted for review and approval prior to system installation. Construction documents shall include, but not be limited to, all of the following:
1. A floor plan which indicates the use of all rooms.
2. Locations of alarm-initiating and notification appliances (newer version requires candela rating for strobes).
3. Alarm control and trouble signaling equipment.
5. Power connection.
6. Battery calculations.
7. Conductor type and sizes.
8. Voltage drop calculations.
9. Manufacturers, model numbers and listing information for equipment, devices and materials.
10. Details of ceiling height and construction.
11. The interface of fire safety control functions.
The newer version (which will go into effect on October 3, 2016) has some changes and additions, but the versions are substantially the same and for the purposes of the discussion, let's work with the existing code. All of the above requirements are important for the plan reviewer to be able to determine if the system will meet applicable codes and will operate properly (enough voltage at notification devices).
Plans can be prepared by a contractor, installer, architect or engineer, but the plans must be signed and sealed by any one of three entities (RA-Registered Architect, PE-Professional Engineer and DON'T LAUGH LS-Land Surveyor-not sure how that got into the law, but it is right there). The NY State Education Law, section 7209 states as follows:
§ 7209. Special provisions. 1. Every architect, professional engineer and every land surveyor shall have a seal, approved by the board, which shall contain the name of the professional engineer and the words "Licensed Professional Engineer" or the name of the land surveyor and the words "Licensed Land Surveyor" and such other words or figures as the board may deem necessary. All plans, specifications, plats and reports relating to the construction or alteration of buildings or structures prepared by such professional engineer and all plans, specifications, plats and reports prepared by such land surveyor or by a full-time or part-time subordinate under his supervision, shall be stamped with such seal and shall also be signed, on the original with the personal signature of such professional engineer or land surveyor when filed with public officials. No official of this state, or of any city, county, town or village therein, charged with the enforcement of laws, ordinances or regulations shall accept or approve any plans or specifications that are not stamped:
I know that not all AHJ's enforce the above, and some allow less than the law requires, but that fact does not relieve us of obeying the law, because as Mr. Kirshenbaum can tell us, having the paperwork in place is important when a loss occurs and the lawsuits start flying. Besides, installing a system where there are engineered plans helps shift the legal responsibility from the installer to the engineer/architect.
So, for most jurisdictions in NY State (again, we are not including NYC-to be continued) you will need stamped and signed plans, submitted to the AHJ for approval and then a permit issued before starting any work. Caution here, some AHJ's will see it as a personal insult if you install the system and then get plans because you were caught. Don't risk it.
Other states and some special localities have other requirements. For example, some Western states only allow NICET Level IV fire alarm designers to sign and seal fire alarm plans. Not architects or PE's (since most are not fire alarm specialists) or land surveyors.
Joseph Hayes, CPP, PSP, SET
When designing, recommending, installing, servicing, inspecting, and maintaining a fire alarm system, an alarm company should never do anything which could foreseeably endanger any subscriber and/or any of the occupants of the home. Against the foregoing backdrop, I have investigated cases and claims nationally since 1980 whereby the alarm contractor took dangerous and reckless liberties in gross deviation to the equipment manufacturer’s specifications, UL Standards, NFPA Standards and Nationally Recognized Industry Standards and Best Practices. Having said that, while OLINS law is a good start as to understand the criticality of our actions and/or inactions, we also have to be fully cognizant of the fact that subscribers are relying on their fire alarm system to help save their family and themselves in the event of a life safety emergency. Coming full circle, part of a security survey is to not only identify risks and vulnerabilities, but to also educate the prospective subscriber that there is no such thing as installing one smoke detector in the best location] of a home or any premises. I vote for all alarm contractors to recommend fire alarm systems which intentionally exceed the code, versus just installing code mandated fire alarm systems which are only required to meet minimum codes and standards. In other words, if a subscriber knew that there was going to be a fire in their home tonight, and that their family was at risk of serious personal injury and/or death, in my opinion, this customer would do everything thing in their power to help protect their family and themselves. With this in mind, educate your subscribers and help them make the right choices now, because late warning fire alarm systems have no place in the professional fire alarm industry.
Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, FASI&T, MBAT, President
IDS Research & Development, Incorporated
Tenafly, New Jersey 07670
ORIGINAL QUESTION AND MY RESPONSE - THANK YOU TO THE EXPERTS WHO ARE SHARING THEIR KNOWLEDGE
FIRE ALARM DESIGN RISK MITIGATION
We would like to clarify a few things with regard to fire alarm system design. On larger projects the Architect or Engineer firm hires an electrical or fire protection engineer to put together FA plans. So, in essence, they appear to be the designer of record and stamp and sealing the drawings. Now, if the specification calls for the fire alarm contractor to produce their drawings and have a NICET level IV or an engineer sign the drawings as well, we have a case where we have two engineers stamping potentially two different designs. Who is bearing the burden of the risk? Who is the engineer or record? Does anything change if the original designer of the owner has to approve the FA contractors design? The A/E-DOR team is calling it a delegated design.
I have to defer to the fire alarm experts to answer this one. There are at least 3 companies listed in The Alarm Exchange under the Technical Support category that specialize in fire alarm drawings.
Fire alarm plans and specifications need to be filed with the AHJ. Each jurisdiction specifies the credentials needed to sign off on the plans and specifications [P&S]. In some states it's an architect or engineer, and in other states the alarm company can sign off. There is only one AHJ accepted P&S. If for any reason the P&S have to change then there would be an amendment to the original P&S filed with the AHJ. I am not clear on why a contractor would have to produce drawings signed by a NICET Level IV or engineer.
Another issue, at least I think it's another issue, is perhaps comparing approved P&S with actual built to plans. How can this happen? The AHJ thinks the approved P&S were not adhered to and requires a built to P&S and if they don't match there is a problem. What if the FM or building inspector tells you to do something other than what's on the P&S? Better get it in writing.
Hopefully one or more the fire experts will assist with this issue.