Replacement of fire alarm systems

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      Darren ZettlerDarren Zettler

      Good afternoon:
      Something to think about:

      I realize we are not building inspectors and do not deal directly with the OBC (indirectly we do many times), but I am going to present a situation for your opinions. Perhaps those of you that have friends or comrades in your local building department can see what they think as well.
      Let’s say John Doe owns a building that was built in 1963 and it required a fire alarm system and was built with one. In the 1980s, John’s panel became old and obsolete and he replaced it ‘legally’ in your community (whatever that means for your building and fire departments). In 1998, he again replaced the entire control panel. In 2003, he got all new devices (every pull station, smoke detector, heat detector, bell etc.). In 2007, his electrician told him that the wiring was starting to degrade and it was causing ground faults and open circuits. He then gets the electrician to replace all of the wiring completely.
      So John Doe now has a completely new fire alarm system with zero components of his original system. He took out whatever permits (building, electrical) that were required each time and believed he stayed entirely ‘legal’.
      But John still has a fire alarm system that does not adhere to any version of the building code. Has no smoke detectors in his stairwells. His control panel, although capable of much more, is programmed very simply and has no ‘modern features’ activated. Coverage of devices is very limited and basic. Audibility may be marginal (was never tested for actual dB readings). The system is not monitored although if built under today’s building code, it would required monitoring.
      The building department in John’s town issued each building permit under Part 11 (Renovations) and told all of his contractors that they only needed to provide equal performance to the existing system each time an upgrade was done.
      In my eyes, John has completed replaced his ENTIRE fire alarm system and has not complied with any modern OBC requirements.
      Do you think this is correct? Is John’s system fully compliant? Is this a way around meeting today’s building code? What if I do the panel in January under one permit, then the wiring in April on another and finally the devices in December each on a different permit?
      Would you care as an FPO? Would you just put it down to ‘building department’s problem, not mine’?
      I am interested in your opinions and if possible what other building inspectors might have to say.
      Thanks, I hope it makes you think. If not, get back to work and forget what you just read 🙂

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