How to Design Your Fire Emergency Plan – Reviewing the Plan 101

Learn how to prevent your plan from being a bottleneck in your project.

room use is necessary, because conference rooms will require visible signaling, and elevator lobbies will require smoke detection.

Successful Projects Start with Good Planning

Many fire alarm system designers have experienced rejection of plans and submittals. It is usually because of inadequate planning and research of local codes and amendments. Additionally, a lack of understanding of codes will result in a design that is likely to be rejected. Many designers, including the author of this article have experienced plan rejection by the AHJ. But it doesn’t always need to be that way. The old adage “There is no substitute for hard work” still holds true.

Before designing any system, we must start with a basis of design.  The basis of design is the road map we use to determine:

(1) Applicable codes and standards
(2) Local amendments
(3) Occupancy Type/Use Group
(4) Fire protection system requirements (type and coverage of systems)
(5) High-rise requirements
(6) Special hazard requirements
(7) Additional user/stakeholder requirements

The basis of design must be developed before starting any system design because it defines all fire protection system requirements. Developing the basis of design forces the designer to focus on what is actually required. From the basis of design, the designer can then, and only then, develop the project specifications and drawings.

Keep in mind that specifications frequently contain additional requirements (beyond code) that must be followed, such as use of certain materials or methods. However, specifications are not developed in a vacuum. Other parties, such as the AHJ, must be consulted when developing a basis of design.

The AHJ is just one of the stakeholders, and he or she must be consulted in order to avoid wasting time by heading in the wrong direction. Working with the AHJ will definitely help matters. This doesn’t mean the designer has to give in on every issue. Respect all parties, understand the codes, ask questions, and work toward a compromise when there is disagreement. There can be many authorities having jurisdiction. These may include, but not be limited to the fire marshal, electrical inspector, building code official, insurance interests and building owner.

The system owner must also be consulted and the designer must explain all options so he or she can make an educated decision on matters concerning the system. Most building owners want to simply meet code. It is the designer’s job to educate the owner so they understand this may not be in their best interest. However, some owners are proactive and will listen to suggestions. They may even have special requirements of their own.

Good communication is critical to obtaining approvals. Most AHJs and other stakeholders will be more than happy to spend a few minutes on the phone or in person discussing your project approach. They can offer insight on local requirements that you may not know about. It is recommended that minutes be recorded during each meeting, and copies must be provided to all attendees. Doing this extra bit of homework will help grease the ways for reviews and acceptance of plans and submittals.

Plans and submittals must conform to project specifications and applicable codes and standards. NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code contains requirements for design documents and for those developing design documents. Specifically, Chapter 7 of the 2013 edition contains new requirements for shop drawings. Chapter 7 supplements other codes, such as the International Building Code, which contains a number of requirements for fire alarm shop drawings. However, NFPA 72 is not a design manual for untrained persons. Consult a trained fire protection design professional as needed. They can save time and can offer advice.  Most good fire alarm designers can save the cost of their fees on any given project.

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