Just Who Is the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)?
The fire marshal or fire inspector is who is the most interested in fire safety. Others that have a say in a fire alarm system are the other inspectors, insurance representative, even the building owner. Any of these can require more than the NFPA requires.
By Douglas Krantz
According to the National Fire Protection Association in the NFPA 72 Code 2016 Edition, under the heading "3.2 NFPA Official Definitions":
"3.2.2* Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
An organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, an installation, or a procedure."
Ok, that's a little vague. Let's look at the Official Annex in the NFPA 72 Code:
"A.3.2.2 Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).
The phrase "authority having jurisdiction," or its acronym AHJ, is used in NFPA documents in a broad manner, since jurisdictions and approval agencies vary, as do their responsibilities. Where public safety is primary, the authority having jurisdiction may be a federal, state, local, or other regional department or individual such as a fire chief; fire marshal; chief of a fire prevention bureau, labor department, or health department; building official; electrical inspector; or others having statutory authority. For insurance purposes, an insurance inspection department, rating bureau, or other insurance company representative may be the authority having jurisdiction. In many circumstances, the property owner or his or her designated agent assumes the role of the authority having jurisdiction; at government installations, the commanding officer or departmental official may be the authority having jurisdiction."
According the NFPA 72's Annex, there are a lot of authorities that are able to have a say in the design, installation, servicing, and testing of a fire alarm system. These AHJs don't just include the fire marshal or fire inspector, but the AHJs also include any government inspector, insurance company's representative, and even the building owner or representative seems to be an AHJ that can make decisions about a particular fire alarm system.
How does the NFPA Code fit into what the AHJs can say? The writers and editors of the NFPA 72 Code have provided commentary to better explain what they mean in the code. These comments are not official opinions, official opinions require a whole process, but the commentary is published in the NFPA's "National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code Handbook 2016 Edition". This handbook includes the complete NFPA 72 Code, along with commentary. The commentary, by the way, also has pictures and helpful drawings.
The commentary, from the writers and editors of the NFPA Code, goes this way:
"Any given physical property may have multiple authorities having jurisdiction, who may be concerned with life safety, property protection, mission continuity, heritage preservation, and environmental protection. Some authorities having jurisdiction may impose additional requirements beyond those of the Code. If requirements for the installation of a specific fire alarm system conflict, the installer must follow the most stringent requirements."
In essence, the NFPA is saying that the NFPA 72 Code is the final authority, except
if any of the above AHJs say to do something more rigorously, then we, as fire alarm designers, installers, servicers, and testers, have to do what the AHJ says.
Of course, pointing out exactly what the NFPA 72 Code says may help change the mind of the AHJ, and the AHJ may then decide to go with the NFPA 72 Code. However, in the final analysis and according to the NFPA, if the AHJ has a better idea, the AHJ can overrule the NFPA Code.
Real Life Example
This happened quite a few years ago, but this is an example of a fire marshal (AHJ) overriding NFPA Code. This also was still in keeping to the NFPA's own definition of what an AHJ is - the one who has authority over fire protection.
This was a new building, with a wet fire suppression system for the range hood. The fire suppression system for the range hood had been Tested by UL, Listed by UL, and Labeled as tested and listed. At the time, though, the gatevalve tamper switch inside the suppression system control box was not required by either the NFPA nor UL to shunt the gas or electricity under the range hood if the gatevalve was closed.
The fire marshal, knowing that this was a potential source of a problem, did not accept (read the NFPA's definition of the word Accept) the suppression system, the fire marshal had a more stringent requirement than the NFPA.
With modification to the Tested, Listed, and Labeled suppression system, the system was finally accepted by the AHJ to be used for the fire suppression system.
The NFPA's code has since been updated to include that shunting; the fire marshal was just ahead of the code.