Contracting Corner: The New Fire Code Could Equal Big Business

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By John Murray October 4, 2010

I’ll bet you’re wondering, “Why is there an article on the new fire code on this site?”

Well, if you do any sound system installations in your business, the new fire code, 2010 NFPA 72 (National Fire Protection Association’s National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code), will have a huge impact on the fixed installation sound business.

It may be the biggest thing to increase the bottom line since everyone decided they had to have an 8-box line array system instead of a pair of two-way boxes on sticks. 

For the first time in the history of the U.S. fire code, voice announcements can now supersede the fire alarm in a building emergency.

Due to events like 9-11 and campus snipers, the fire code now allows for emergency voice announcements to mute the fire alarm and take control of all communications in new-construction buildings with 300-plus occupancy spaces. 

And here is the part that should interest us in the sound business and, frankly, scares the pants off those in the fire alarm business: these announcements must be intelligible, not just audible.

No more red 4-inch horn squawk box blaring incomprehensible gibberish at 100 dB.

Different Models
The reason this scares fire alarm contractors is that they’re afraid that the sound industry will take over their business because they don’t know anything about designing an intelligible sound system.

Unlike smoke detectors, simply putting loudspeakers spaced every so-many-square-feet won’t necessarily cut the mustard. 

However, I don’t think that most of us in the sound industry will want to become adept as fire alarm contractors, either.

They deal with very strict fire codes, annual system testing, multi-year NICET certifications, low margins, etc.

Figure 1: Approaches to Emergency Communications Systems (ECS).

It really is a very different business model from the sound contracting industry, let alone live sound companies that occasionally do installations.

So they do not have much to really worry about there. But, they will need our help. 

It will be very difficult for a fire alarm company to acquire the chops to whip out a 3-D EASE, Modeler or CATT Acoustic model with the right loudspeakers in the right positions and quantities to be sure that the real system will comply with the code’s intelligibility requirements.

And then there are the various product lines they don’t carry or would sell enough of to maintain a dealership in order to support their sound business.

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About John

John Murray
John Murray

Principal, Optimum System Solutions
John Murray is a 35-year industry veteran who has worked for several leading manufacturers, and has also presented two published AES papers as well as chaired numerous SynAudCon workshops. He is currently the principal of Optimum System Solutions, a consulting firm based in Colorado.


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Brad Douglas says

Check this out

TJ Wuth says

It’s about time.  We built a new facility 3 years ago and at that time the code required our sound system to shut down whenever the fire alarm was activated.  We had a children’s production where the stage crew got a little too crazy with a fog machine and there was no way of communicating to the audience of 1000 people which exit to use and how to make sure the children got out safely.  We had parents trying to go against the flow to get their kids while other people were pushing kids out of the way to get out first.  People do stupid things when they panic and it is obvious that communication with a crowd is necessary.  I now keep a bull horn next to the board just in case.

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