American Alarms Blog

Updates from Des Moines Fire Department

by Adam Jacobs 9/15/2020
Presenters:  Jonathan Lund, Patrick Phelan, Mark Dooley
Submittal and Review (Patrick Phelan):
We should budget at least 3 weeks for submittal review in our projects.
Patrick is current now, but this is the first time in 2 years.  He expects Spring to bring a heavier load of projects.
There is no expediting process, but we can "cut in line" ahead of our own projects, if needed.
Patrick is asking that we only send ONE set of drawings for initial review, to save space and paper in his office.  Once approved, we can mail in two more sets to Patrick for stamping.
All plans must be FOLDED, rather than rolled.
If we send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with plans, Patrick will mail them back once reviewed.
Easiest payment method is to keep a credit card on file with FD for permit fees, so they can approve, take payment, and mail back immediately after review.
On the plans, don't include functions in the OPERATIONAL MATRIX that are not needed for that system.
For VOICE EVACUATION systems, we should mark "Acoustically Distinguishable Spaces" and "Intelligibility Test Locations" on our drawings.
Patrick requests an electronic "As-Built" drawing once the project is complete, for the FD to keep on file for future.
Area of Refuge call systems should be shown on our drawings, if we are providing.
Final Testing (Capt. Mark Dooley):
Normal testing times are between 9AM and 3PM
Request a quote for finals outside of the time frame above.
Best time to catch Mark Dooley is after 3PM.  This is also when he returns emails and voice mails.
Capt. Dooley gave us a new "Final Fire Inspection Checklist" that resembles the checklist we've been giving to installers.

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Fire Alarm Integrations and Special Applications

by Adam Jacobs 9/15/2020

Do you have a special application fire alarm project?  Most alarm companies can handle the simple system designs - retail store, small apartment building, small office building, etc.  But how about these integrations/applications:

Elevator primary/secondary recall

Smoke dampers

Elevator shaft smoke hatch with manual release

Explosion-proof devices

Hazardous area devices

Mass notification requirements

High-candela visual notification (hearing impaired)

Text/email secondary notification

HVAC control integration

Exhaust fan startup

Temp/water sensor integration (sprinkler monitoring)

Fire pump function monitoring

High-rise notification zoning

Smoke control panel integration

Large area/outdoor notification

Multi-building campus fiber-optic network

Access control integrations

Special hazard/agent releasing integrations


Now some of those sound like CIA mission names, but they are all part of fire alarm system design that we've encountered and designed over the years (almost 36).


When you need help with a special application, give us a call and make sure it gets designed correctly.

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

by Adam Jacobs 9/15/2020

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.  See the GIF and link below for more info on these incredible products.


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2018 I-codes focus on CO, integrated testing, and mass notification

by Adam Jacobs 9/15/2020

Today Honeywell's industry affairs expert Richard Roberts presented a summary of the relevant changes in the new 2018 i-codes (IBC, IFC, IMC, IPMC, IEBC, and IRC).  Some of the focus areas are carbon monoxide detection, integrated systems testing, and mass notification systems.  Some quick notes of importance for fire alarm design:

Section 901

Integrated testing of fire protection systems tied to other life safety systems.  Fire alarm and HVAC, sprinkler and fire alarm, suppression systems and fire alarm, fire doors/smoke dampers and fire alarm, and other integrated systems gain clearer direction for testing.

Section 907

- Group A occupancy (assembly) requires a manual system when 100 or more people occupy levels above the discharge level.

- Multiple-channel voice evacuation is required for high-rises over 120' above fire department access level.

- Strobes are required in all habitable spaces (like LR with pull-out couch) in hotels and apartments designated hearing-impaired/ADA.

- Manufacturer's maintenance recommendations will be enforced on smoke alarms, with a max life of 10 years.

Section 915

Some of the ambiguous language on placement of CO detectors has been replaced with clearer language.  CO detector required on ceiling above fuel-burning appliances.  More thought and direction is given to existing buildings and CO detection. 

NFPA 101 and NFPA 1 also added some new language and sections regarding CO detection for almost every type of public occupancy class.

New language like "...spaces served by the first supply air register from a fuel-burning HVAC system..." has been added to clarify placement of CO detectors.

Section 917 

Requirements for mass notifications systems, particularly those defined by an NFPA 72 Risk Analysis.



Changes_to_2018_Model_Codes.pdf (795.13 kb)

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Commercial Wireless Fire Alarm - the pros and cons

by Adam Jacobs 9/15/2020

Wireless fire alarm in a commercial building has had a rocky history.  There were lots of trial and error improvements made, however.  The remaining products are as reliable as wired ones, with all factors considered.


Pros of wireless fire alarm devices:

Allows for more flexibility

No wires (except AC power), little wiring labor, no wiremold/conduit

Little chance of ground faults (one of the most common and annoying problems with wired systems)

Little chance of lightning damage (especially if you protect the AC circuit and eliminate the phone lines)

Easily changed (like in multi-tenant buildings where spaces/configurations change often)

Fast installation compared to wired system

Power/battery consumption has improved greatly over the last few years


Cons of wireless systems:

Batteries still only last 2-3 years (typically 3V Lithium CR123A type)

Device cost is 2 or more times that of wired devices 

Programming and setup takes longer (but much of this can be done before bringing parts to installation site)

Not every configuration/requirement can be done wireless

Large systems (over 50 devices) become more difficult to do wireless, but are possible


After weighing all the factors of your project, be sure you consider wireless fire alarm.  Especially if the project is multi-tenant where the overall system design could change every few months, wireless allows flexibility and lower remodel costs.  


*NOTE: Not all local AHJs will approve wireless fire alarms, even though they are acceptable in NFPA.  Be sure you check with your local AHJ before getting too serious about wireless fire alarm.


I believe everyone's goal in our industry is to protect as many people as well as we can.  Wireless fire alarm presents some interesting opportunities for challenging design projects.



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Authority Having Jurisdiction

by Adam Jacobs 11/22/2019
We sometimes get Frown from GCs and owners when we have to add devices because the AHJ sees the requirements a little different than we do.  

We sometimes also get direction from the AHJ at the beginning of the project and then they change their mind.

Whatever the case, the owner and GC need to understand that no matter what we do, we don't control the ultimate design of the system.  We will do our best, but the authority lies with the AHJ (that's why they call them that).

For almost two years, I've included the statement below on all quotes, as fair warning to our customers. 


" *** Every effort to estimate the requirements of this job have been taken, in preparation of this quote.  No matter how diligent we are in our research, however, we cannot guarantee that our quote will contain every item necessary to pass the final inspection.  NFPA, NEC, IFC, and other applicable codes, defer the ultimate decision of approval to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).  We will do everything we can to discover changes the AHJ may request, before the final inspection.   Any items required by the AHJ, as a result of their final inspection, will be added to this quote as a change order."


Our only other option is to build plenty of cushion into our quotes, so that we never have to add devices or create a change order.  We want to be as transparent as possible in our quotes, and competitive, so this option doesn't work well either.


So we'll continue to make our best guess at what the AHJ will want, based on national codes and past experience, and just hope that we're close most of the time.


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