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Can the Fire Alarm System use the Building Management Network Wiring?

By Douglas Krantz | Life-Safety | 5 minutes of reading

The building management system can be combined with a fire alarm system, provided that the two together have been tested as a fire alarm system by a laboratory like UL, ULC, CE, FM, etc., and are on the testing laboratory's list of systems that work as a fire alarm systems.

Can the Fire Alarm System use the Building Management Network Wiring?


Greetings Douglas,

I would like to know whether NFPA 72 permits the fire alarm panel network to be combined with building management system network?

In a project I have four buildings where they have a existing network for building management and access control systems. The facility owner is requesting me to use the same network system for the fire alarm system. When I checked NFPA 72 I couldn't find any objection. Could you please clarify this?

Thank you, YF

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is into performance criteria (like a fire alarm system will detect fire and warn people of the fire), and not really into the function of what equipment can and cannot be used together (like how, electronically, a fire alarm system will detect and warn). Function, they leave up to the manufacturer. The manufacturer designs the equipment, and does their own internal testing. But before the systems or equipment can be sold or used, someone else has to also test it to first and verify that it will work (List It for Use).

Bottom line, all systems and all equipment have to be tested and listed by a third party, nationally known testing facility like UL, FM, ULC, CE, CCC, Etc. If everything passes the tests, and then is put on the testing facility's list of systems that can be used for fire alarm systems, then the systems can be used for fire alarm systems.

Then, and only then, the system can be sold and installed.

If two systems, the fire alarm system and the building management and access control system, are combined, they have to be tested together. If they have been placed on the list (listed) by the testing laboratory as working together, then they are "Compatible" with each other.

Almost always, compared to the building management system, the protocol, the voltages, the currents, the baud rates, and even the wiring used will be different on a fire alarm system. Unless all of these are exactly the same, electronically the two systems cannot work together, and they are not compatible with each other.

With fire alarm systems, the system is not just tested to make sure it won't start its own fire or electrocute someone, but it's also tested to make sure it does what its supposed to do. This testing is for the combined systems when the systems are combined. Electronically, when the two systems are made by different manufacturers, once the testing is done, the two manufactured systems have to be shown to work together (compatible).

The NFPA says that fire alarm systems are required to be tested and listed. The testing is obtained by the manufacturer(s), and paid for by the manufacturer(s). The question that you need to ask of the fire alarm system manufacturer is whether or not their fire alarm system can be used with the particular building management and access control system.

Who To Talk To

The first people to talk to is the technical support people at the fire alarm manufacturer you are going to use. They can let you know a lot about what can and cannot be done.

The next people to talk to is the technical support people at the building management and access control system manufacturer. They need to be asked if all their equipment has been tested and listed for use with the other manufacturer's a fire alarm system.

This includes:
  • All auxiliary power supplies and all Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)
  • All Routers and Switchers
  • The Server
  • The type of Wiring
  • Any other Network Equipment

If the systems are to be combined, but any part of the building network doesn't actually say it is tested and "listed for use" in the fire alarm system, it's not been tested and needs to be replaced with listed equipment.

The local fire marshal also should be consulted about doing this combination because the fire marshal is concerned about fire safety; the fire marshal may not allow the systems to be combined. It's important to know that the NFPA specifically permits the fire marshal (Authority Having Jurisdiction or AHJ) to be more stringent than the NFPA. (Also remember, the NFPA 72 Code is only the publication of a non-profit organization, the fire marshal represents the law.)

Watch Out for Down Time

Keep in mind, also, that if the fire alarm system is combined into it, the building management and access control system has become part of the fire alarm system. If the building management system is down, the fire alarm system is down; if the building management system is being worked on, the fire alarm system is being worked on. The building management system becomes elevated from an environmental control and security system to a life-safety system, it is now more critical that the building management and access control system always be fully operational.



Douglas Krantz

facpdoug@douglaskrantz.com
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