American Alarms Blog

What's the elevator got to do with it?

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022

Again today we got to the end of a project and sure enough, the installing electricians had zero notice from the general contractor that there would need to be an elevator inspection for fire alarm function.  In the state of Iowa, there is a totally separate elevator inspection done by the state.  These inspectors focus only on the elevator function, elevator safety, and related safety issues.  This may not be the case in all states.  The fire alarm is supposed to control the following functions:


Primary Floor Recall

Secondary/Alternate Floor Recall

Shunt Trip

"Hat" light in car

Smoke Damper (many AHJs also want this to have manual override)


These may not all be required in all jurisdictions, but most want all 5.  These functions are only triggered by the elevator lobby smoke detectors, which are required to be within 21' of the elevator door (center) in the same smoke cavity/space.  So if there are fire doors that separate a corridor from the elevator lobby, you can't use the hallway smoke as your elevator lobby smoke because the header is likely more than 12".


Just remember, think about the elevator when you plan the project.  You'll need extra parts and extra time to make sure this important people transport is as safe as can be.




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Des Moines adopting new fire codes soon

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022
I went to the Des Moines Fire Dept this morning to see what will be coming down the road for new codes.  Here's summary of what they expect.
IFC and IBC 2018 - Central Iowa Code Consortium expects to receive all comments and requests for amendments by mid-August.  New codes, with local amendments will be sent to local governments for approval by December.  Early adopters (including Des Moines) will approve by March 2019
All CICC jurisdictions must approve by December 2019.
Pella is newest member of the CICC, which is now 18 communities.
Other sections with notable updates:
sec 510 - Emergency Responder Radio Coverage - Des Moines is still accepting fire fighter phones where their radios don't work, but may soon require RF boosters (DAS systems) in areas where they can't get 95% reliable coverage.
Sec 901 - Integrated systems must be tested TOGETHER at least once every 10 years.  Fire alarm plus suppression, wet sprinkler, HVAC, etc.
Spaces under grandstands/bleachers that are at least 1000 square feet and enclosed, must have full sprinkler coverage.
Sec 903. - Attics intended for living space or storage - sprinkler required. also where eave of roof is 55ft or more above egress level and made of combustible materials
Residential cooking appliances (see UL 300)
Sec 907.2.1 - Group A fire alarm requirements - 300 total occupancy OR if any level ABOVE the egress level has occupancy of 100 or more.
Sec 1010 - Locking arrangements in Group E and Group B occupancy, delayed egress
Chapter 11 - Existing buildings
Sec 1103 - Bars (drinking establishments) that hold more than 300 people
Sec 1103.9 - CO detection requirements
Call American Alarms if you have any questions about what is required in your building.

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Fire protection in restaurants

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022

Here's some good information from our insurance friends at Markel for restaurant owners and managers:


Restaurants have some special requirements for fire protection.  Be sure you know what they are for your area, and have your systems inspected regularly so they work when you need them!

Most insurance companies offer discounts for properly maintained fire protection systems - range hoods with fire suppression, portable fire extinguishers, fire alarm, wet fire sprinklers, etc.




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Iowa Passes Carbon Monoxide Legislation

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022


Iowa Senate File 2219 was approved by a 37-11 vote on Monday.  This legislation requires all apartment buildings and private homes to have carbon monoxide detectors if constructed after July 1, 2018.  The only exempt buildings are ones without any fuel-fired appliances (heaters, stoves, dryers, etc.) or attached garages.
Here are some highlights of the new code.
- New apartment buildings (built after July 1, 2018) will need to have some type of CO detection in each unit's sleeping areas.  Exact placement may vary slightly based on manufacturer's installation instructions.  The legislation does not specify that these detectors must be system-type detectors connected to a monitored panel.  They can be AC-powered, battery-powered, or part of a fire alarm system.
- Hearing-impaired tenants can request a CO detector with visual notification (strobe light).  The building owner must provide this accommodation within 30 days of the request.
- If owner fails to provide a detector, as specified in this new code, after 30 days the tenant has the right to purchase and install one on their own and deduct the cost from their next rent payment.  If they've rented for longer than 30 days, owner can make renter pay for the battery.  (interesting language in Sec. 6)
This new legislation appears to be state-wide adoption of language that has been in national codes for a while.  These codes already require CO detection with almost identical language:
International Residential Code (since 2009 version) - Section R315 in IRC 2015
International Building Code (since 2009 version) - Section 915 in IBC 2015 
International Fire Code (since 2009) - Section 915 in IFC 2015
ANSI/UL 2034
NFPA 720
The enforcement of these requirements will fall on the state and local fire marshals, similar to other fire/life safety codes.
Call American Alarms if you have questions about when and where carbon monoxide detectors are required.

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Severe Weather and Your Fire Alarm

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022
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Urbandale Requires Fire Alarm in Apartments

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022

If you own or manage an apartment building with 16 or more units, you've probably received the letter.  It was actually sent back on June 9, 2015.  It gives owners/managers 5 years to bring their buildings up to compliance with this letter.  These are only a portion of the requirements in a similar building constructed today, but it still could be a significant cost.  Installing anything AFTER construction is complete is more expensive.  But there are options to get a building into compliance, with minimal impact on residents and your budget.  This letter is really a "step in the right direction" rather than a full-blown all-in fire alarm system.  A pull station here, a horn/strobe there, not much really.  But better than having NO building notification in the event of fire.  These systems are also required to be remotely monitored at a UL-listed central station that will relay a dispatch call to Urbandale Fire Department when a general alarm is activated.  We are getting a lot more calls now, because it's nearing the first deadline - June 9, 2019 - when all letter recipients need to have a formal system plan in to Urbandale for review.  The system, if approved, will need to be installed and inspected by Urbandale FD by June 9, 2020.  There are a few other requirements not related to fire alarm in the letter, so if your didn't get one and you think you may fall under these new requirements, contact Urbandale Fire Department and talk to them.  Call American Alarms for a site survey and estimate on fire alarm to meet the new requirements.  Don't wait until June 8th to call.

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Design Starts With Knowing Occupancy Type

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022

Whenever I sit down to design a fire alarm system, the first thing I have to remember is...what type of occupancy is this?  Some buildings are easy, like hotels.  Some mixed-use buildings can be very challenging to even know WHAT type of occupancy the building will be.  If I have complete architectural drawings (that's a big IF) sometimes there are enough clues.  But sometimes it takes lots of phone calls before I know how to start the fire alarm design, or if fire alarm will even be required.  Linked below is a handy reference that compares IBC and NFPA occupancy classifications.



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Occupational Licensing - Alarm Contractors

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022

In the 1950's only 5% of workers in America needed a license to do their job.  Today it's estimated that 19% of all workers in the U.S. need an occupational license.  Workers who install, program, test/inspect, and service fire alarm systems are in that 19%.  For at least the last 10 years, the Iowa Department of Public Safety, State Fire Marshal's Division, has required anyone wanting to work on fire alarm systems to get a license first.  Here are the different levels (endorsements) of licensing required for fire alarm in Iowa:

#1 = Fire alarm system contractor or installer (all-inclusive, 2-7 not needed)

Allows the license holder to do anything related to fire alarm systems - install, test/inspect, service, and program.

#2 = Nurse call systems only

#3 = Security alarms only

#4 = Alarm system maintenance/inspection only

#5 = Dwelling unit alarm system only (Residential)

#6 = Alarm system component installer only

Allows license holder to hang devices, but not to program or test the system.

#7 = Alarm system assistant (must be supervised by #1 license holder)


In order to get each of these licenses, you need to be pre-certified using an approved training/testing course:

NICET II Fire Alarm Systems or ESA Certified Alarm Tech 2 = #1 State License

NICET I Fire Alarm Systems or ESA Certified Alarm Tech 1 = #2-#7 only


In addition to certification, before getting the Iowa license, we must also go through a complete criminal background check including fingerprinting.

To make sure you get a qualified alarm technician, ask to see the technician's State of Iowa license.  They should have a card with the state seal and a list of endorsements.  If their endorsements don't match what they have come to do for you, question them (or flog them) rigorously.  The state fire marshal doesn't have time to run around and check everyone's license, but you should.  Your safety and that of your co-workers, customers, and visitors are in their hands.  

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Fire Departments Require Online Reporting - ComplianceEngine

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022
The fire departments listed above, are now requiring online reporting of new fire alarm system installations and all fire alarm system inspection/tests.  
We are charged for this service, so we will pass along the charge to all customers in these areas.

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How do you hide the fire alarm and still meet the codes?

by Adam Jacobs 8/10/2022

Where do you go when the owner and architect want one thing, but the fire codes require something else?  Well, Concealite has built a business around just that!  American Alarms is your local distributor for Concealite products that have helped architects and code officials find a reasonable compromise for years.  Imagine walking into a room where NONE of the fire alarm notification devices, emergency lighting, electrical wall outlets, security motion detectors, and even occupancy sensors are concealed in the wall.  Never before has it been this easy to design a space with a clean seamless look, but still meet all the electrical and life safety code requirements.  Most devices can be painted or wallpapered to match any wall/ceiling.  See the GIF and link below for more info on these incredible products.


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