These pitfalls are fairly common, but they can interfere with your fire protection system’s ability to do what it was designed to do –
protect your building and its occupants during a fire.
Do any of these sound familiar?
1) Duct smoke detectors in air handlers.
This is one area that Rodger Reiswig, vice president of industry
relations for Johnson Controls, sees can become an issue if it’s not in-
spected or maintained properly.
“A lot of our customers have big air handling units that are required
to have smoke detectors in the duct system that detect smoke from
the fans, filters and motors,” he says. “As you can imagine, there’s a
lot of air moving and if filters aren’t changed properly, dust and dirt
can contaminate these devices pretty quickly. They’re usually up high,
concealed and hard to get to, and sometimes the person they hired
might not be able to do due diligence. If someone says ‘I tested everything else but I couldn’t get to your duct detectors,’ find somebody
2) Blocked pull stations.
Manual alarm pull stations are common in hospitality venues and
are frequently blocked by planters or racks of brochures, Reiswig
says. “Sometimes people will block them without realizing they’re doing it. They’ll put a banner or a flyer right over top of the lever to tell
people there’s an event.”
3) Air diffusers that are too close to smoke detectors.
This commonly crops up after an HVAC renovation changes the
diffusers’ original location, Reiswig explains. If they’re too close to
smoke detectors, they’ll blow dust and dirt right onto the detector
and contaminate it, which can result in false alarms.
4) Only part of the fire protection system is inspected.
Find out exactly what your contractor is and isn’t testing, because
the regular protocol may only include part of your fire protection
Many owners own a sprinkler system from one vendor and a
detection and alarm system from another, and not clarifying who is
responsible for testing what may lead to a partially untested system
or a disagreement between vendors over who is supposed to test
“When you get your contract proposal from the inspection com-
pany, ask if there’s anything in the system they won’t be testing. You
should know that up front,” Reiswig says.
5) Dead batteries.
Older control units often have a battery backup. Even if you also
have generators for redundancy, if batteries are an option, you need
to replace them.
6) Blocked exits.
“Keeping the exits clear and open is a fundamental thing,” says
Robert Solomon, division director (building/life safety codes and
systems) for the National Fire Protection Association. “In restaurants,
it seems like a lot of times there will be a table and chairs right in front
of the secondary exit door, or you’ll go into a big box store and they’ll
be restocking and have the forklift parked in front of one of the many
exit doors along the perimeter wall.
“Even in an office building, I’ve seen contractors pull up in front of
our building and try to stage the Sheetrock in the exit stair. I understand it’s only going to be there for 30 to 45 minutes, but the codes
are very strict about not using those exit stair enclosures for storage
10 Ways Your FIRE PROTECTION System Might Violate Code
one has vandalized it recently. The
records must be readily available
to the authority having jurisdiction
(AHJ) over your area.
"If you want to keep everything in
a single location in your desk draw-
er, that needs to meet minimum
requirements," Solomon states.
“A good practice is to keep a
physical set in the office you work
in and another set in a companion
building at a different location.
Another trend is keeping a set of
records in the cloud. If the building
gets wiped out by a fire, earthquake
or tornado you can still have access
to them,” he says.
"The NFPA requirement is that
whenever the AHJ comes in, the
inspection, testing and maintenance
records have to be readily available.
If you can reach in your desk drawer
and say, 'Here are the reports for last
year,' that meets our requirements. If
you give the AHJ a login to go look at
reports in the cloud, that also meets
If you use a third-party service
for testing and maintenance, review
their records periodically to make
sure they're documenting everything
they're supposed to, Reiswig adds.
2) Install extra detection.
You can go above and beyond
with installing extra equipment
as long as all of it meets minimum
requirements, Reiswig says.
"People often do that because
there's a certain floor or area where
they store important things. If
there's even an inkling of a fire,
you might want smoke detectors in
some areas that don't require them,"
Reiswig explains. "But you've got to
be careful with the codes because
the codes say if you put in voluntary
equipment, it all has to conform to
the code. If you want to put smoke
detectors in the corner of your warehouse because you keep important
stuff over there, you can do that, but
you have to install them in the whole
3) Upgrade to better equipment.
The voice alarm for a high-rise
building can provide extra value if it
also incorporates a mass notification
system, adds Solomon. The voice
component is mandatory but a mass
notification system could deploy
messages in multiple formats so that
people who can't hear the alarm can
also receive instructions.
Some systems can capture