It's natural for our clients to have questions about the sophisticated electronic systems they use on an everyday basis. I believe it's the responsibility of Electronic Systems Consultants to help answer those questions and to provide help in whatever way possible, even when it was one of our competitors that installed these systems.
The following question concerns the point of responsibility where it involves routine fire alarm inspections. If you should have a question of your own, send it to ESC at email@example.com or use our Contact Us page.
Question:As a business owner, several years ago the city fathers forced us to install a new fire alarm system even though we had gone more than two decades without one. We’ve never had a fire and nothing bad has ever happened. Yesterday a fire inspector came to our offices and did an inspection, which they have never done before. I’m told that I’m out of compliance because no one has been inspecting the system.
I know your company did not install my system, but whose responsibility is it to do this, mine or the alarm company that installed it in the first place? The original sales guy did not tell me that we would have to do this and then they didn’t call to let me know when it was time. I guess I got a little upset and the fire inspector has cited us and he’ll fine us as well if we don’t get this done in 30 days.
Well, it’s been over 30 days, and perhaps I’m a little to blame because it slipped my mind and I called the alarm company about two or three weeks after the citation. Shouldn’t the alarm company who put this thing in pay the fine because they didn’t warn us in the first place?
Answer:Thank you for contacting Electronic Systems Consultants about your fire alarm inspection issue. The bottom line to your question is simply this, if you are the property owner, then it’s your obligation to see that your fire alarm system is fully code compliant on a regular basis, and there are specific requirements for this. Code in general requires a visual inspection twice a year and a functional test once a year. In general, this means that your fire alarm company will have to visit your facility twice a year.
In Section 184.108.40.206 of NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, 2013 Edition, it says, “The property or building or system owner or the owner’s designated representative shall be responsible for inspection, testing, and maintenance of the system and for alterations or additions to this system.”
No matter what you do to escape responsibility for this fine, the city you are in will most likely send you the bill as the attitude in government is invariably “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” You might appeal to a higher authority within city government to forgive the fine, throwing yourself on their mercy, so to speak, but in general, they do not have to do that, and they will not fine the alarm company that installed it in the first place. In all fairness to the alarm company, in your original installation contract it probably had an option for yearly inspections, which you did not choose to accept.
So far we’ve looked at your situation as though you are the property owner. If you are merely a tenant, it may very well fall upon the landlord who owns the building(s) to take care of these inspections and maintenance issues. Check the terms of your lease to see if this is the case. If not, you need to contract with the fire alarm company right away so they can place your inspections on their calendar so you can avoid a repeat of the same situation next year and every year thereafter.
To read the entire section of NFPA 72 that pertains to fire testing and inspection from a party of responsibility standpoint, click here.
John Larkin, ESC Senior Partner