What are the impacts of NFPA 72-2016?

Although the revision process is not yet complete for NFPA 72-2016, this highlights some of the more significant changes that may be included in the 2016 edition.

By William E. Koffel, PE, FSFPE, Koffel Associates Inc., Columbia, Md. July 27, 2015

Learning objectives

The revision process for NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code is approaching the final phases in the development of the 2016 edition. The technical committees and a correlating committee met and developed revisions in two phases. The results of these activities were published in what are referred to as the first draft and second draft. Both documents are available at www.nfpa.org/72. However, there are still a few steps that remain before the 2016 edition is finalized.

If someone had suggestions about the document as published in the second draft, they had until March 6, 2015, to submit a Notice of Intent to Make a Motion (NITMAM) to NFPA. The number of NITMAMs and the changes are to be addressed recently became available as the Motions Committee Report containing the Certified Amending Motions (CAM) was posted online. The NFPA membership voted on the CAMs during the NFPA Conference and Expo in June. Final action regarding the 2016 edition occurs during the NFPA Standards Council meeting in August.

As such, this article cannot state with any degree of certainty the provisions that will be in the 2016 edition of NFPA 72. However, some of the more significant proposed changes will be explored, which should be of interest to design professionals in preparation for any votes during the NFPA Conference and Expo. These proposed changes also indicate the direction the technical committees think is appropriate for the document. Most likely, if the proposed change is not addressed in the sidebar, the committee action will stand without modification.

Chapter 7: documentation

Chapter 7 was new to NFPA 72-2013 and was included to consolidate the requirements regarding documentation that were previously distributed throughout the document. There are some proposed revisions to the documentation requirements; two changes of particular interest to design professionals are related to existing systems and site-specific software.

The committee recognizes that work is often performed on existing systems for which all of the documentation may not be available. The design professional, owner, and contractor doing the work should not be required to create all of the documentation that might be required for the entire system, including the previously existing system. Therefore, an annex note (A.7.2.1) is proposed to be added that permits the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) to limit the application of the documentation requirements to the new work being performed. The proposed annex note refers to a temporary school building and that the documentation required in Section 7.2 could be limited to the new subpanel and the interfaces to the existing school fire alarm system. The proposed annex note uses a temporary school building as an example and indicates that the documentation required by the AHJ could be limited to the new subpanel and the interfaces to the existing school fire alarm system.

Although NFPA 72 currently requires that site-specific software be provided (7.5.3), it seems that on many projects the software is either not provided or it is provided with some resistance from the vendor. The proposed changes to the 2016 edition require not only that the site-specific software be provided, but also that a user passcode must be provided in addition to either a system programming password or specific instructions on how to obtain the programming password. The intent of the changes is to ensure that the system owner is able to obtain the applicable access credentials, thereby allowing the owner to determine who will conduct future system programming.

Chapter 10: fundamentals

With respect to the primary power supply for the fire alarm system, a change was proposed during the second revision to re-insert the language “or equivalent” as an alternative to an engine-driven generator. The reference to “or equivalent” was deleted in the first draft. The committee recognizes that Chapter 1 permits equivalencies, but in this instance it was deemed appropriate to reinforce the issue. Without the language, and especially since it was proposed to be removed from the 2013 edition, one might think the committee was saying that there are no other choices.

Chapter 12: circuits and pathways

A new pathway designation, Class N, has been proposed. The new pathway was defined to address issues with the use of Ethernet and other non-fire mass notification system (MNS) networks. A Class N pathway is to have the same physical installation requirements as Class A and Class X circuits regarding separation of primary and redundant circuit paths.

With respect to survivability, the reference to a 2-hour performance alternative for Levels 2 and 3 has been revised by deleting the reference to “2-hour” and simply referring to a performance alternative. A new annex note (A.12.4.3(4)) has been proposed indicating that strategic application of Class A, Class X, or Class N segments and also wireless communication pathways may be acceptable performance alternatives, without demonstrating a 2-hour fire resistance.

Chapter 17: initiating devices

In the past, the need for remote indication for detectors in concealed locations or where the device’s indicator is not visible could be interpreted as only applied to smoke detectors. As proposed, the requirement will be clarified to include all fire detectors (17.4.7). The committee perceives this to be a clarification, although the previous text in some paragraphs only referred to smoke detectors.

Chapter 21: emergency control function interfaces

The first draft report contained a new paragraph requiring that smoke detectors installed in an elevator hoistway be accessible for repair, service, testing, and maintenance from outside the elevator hoistway. It should be noted that this proposed new paragraph is now being proposed to be deleted in the second draft report to resolve potential conflicts with building and construction code requirements.

Chapter 23: protected premises fire alarm systems

In the past, a single fault on a signaling line circuit connected to addressable devices was not permitted to cause the loss of more than 50 addressable devices. This has been revised to say that the single fault shall not cause the loss of the devices in more than one zone. The proposed change continues by stating that for purposes of this requirement, each floor of a building shall be considered a separate zone. If the floor is subdivided into multiple zones by fire/smoke barriers and the fire emergency plan allows for the relocation of the occupants (such as in a hospital), each smoke compartment on each floor shall be considered a separate zone.

Chapter 24: emergency communication systems

A new section has been added (24.3.1) that requires the content of the emergency messages be appropriate for the intended message recipients, and to focus on the protective actions that the intended message recipients are to take. For example, during a recent survey of a hospital it was determined that the message told people to evacuate when, in fact, the protective actions for portions of the hospital are to “defend in place.”

A risk analysis for MNS has been a requirement in NFPA 72. Proposed changes to the 2016 edition clarify that the detail and complexity of the risk analysis shall be commensurate with the complexity of the facility for which the system is being designed ( Language has also been proposed to clarify that the risk analysis is permitted to be limited in scope to address the communications requirements of an existing emergency response plan (

In the past, NFPA 72 contained a section addressing two-way radio communications enhancement systems. During the second draft, the correlating committee deleted all requirements for two-way radio communications enhancements systems except for a general requirement referring the user to NFPA 1221: Standard for the Installation, Maintenance and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems.

Chapter 26: supervising station alarm systems

In the past, Chapter 26 required that the supervising station notify the communications center that a fire alarm signal has been received where required by the responsible fire department. The proposed change deletes the “where required by the responsible fire department” and, as such, requires the signals to be transmitted to the communications center. There appears to be some concern about eliminating the language about “where required by the fire responsible fire department” so a NITMAM, and possibly a CAM, is likely on this issue.

William E. Koffel is president of Koffel Associates. He is chair of the NFPA Correlating Committee on Life Safety and a member of numerous NFPA technical committees. He is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.