Fire and Life Safety – Getting a Certificate of Occupancy, Part 1: The Process

Obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy for Fire and Life safety – one of several certificates of occupancy required for new buildings – is a complex process designed to ensure suitable systems are in place to save lives. Whether you’re a general contractor or property manager, navigating the process is easier when you know what to anticipate. This two-part series offers an overview of the process and tips to avoid delays and earn a certificate of occupancy for fire and life safety.


Fire and Life Safety Certificate of Occupancy: What to Expect

The fire alarm installation and monitoring company, or technology integrator, is ultimately responsible for bringing the fire alarm system to code. They typically work under the electrical contractor, who works under the general contractor.

Reputable fire alarm installers adhere to the following process and best practices.


The Installer Pulls Two Types of Permits

The fire alarm installer requests two types of permits, a fire alarm permit, and an electrical permit.

The city Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) issues the fire alarm permit. Typically, the installer works with the AHJ during the design phase to ensure the system meets state and local requirements.

Depending on the jurisdiction, the local AHJ or a state inspector issues the electrical permit. It’s the same inspection either way, and local staffing limitations may play a role in that decision.


The Installer Installs Cabling and Back Boxes Before the Rough-in Inspection

Once the installer obtains fire alarm and electrical permits, they’ll install cabling and back boxes for fire alarm devices throughout the building. Cabling must meet standards outlined in the National Electric Code (NEC), Article 760.

Next, the electrical inspector completes a rough-in inspection while the cabling is still visible. Once approved, general contractors begin finishing work such as drywalling, painting, and wallpapering.


Field Device Terminations Begin

After the general contractor has finished the walls, the fire alarm installation company:

  • Installs smoke detectors, control panels, strobes, and other safety devices
  • Programs and tests circuit integrity for each device
  • Tests control panel terminations and circuiting to ensure there are no ground faults, missing devices, or panel issues

Once installation and programming are complete, the panel will report “System Normal.”

The fire alarm contractor also creates as-built drawings – blueprints that include device locations, cable routes, and device and circuit addresses. If the control panel reports an issue, the as-built drawings will indicate where to find it.


The Installer Coordinates Testing With Elevator and Sprinkler Contractors

The fire alarm contractor doesn’t install elevator and sprinkler systems, but they coordinate with those contractors and guide necessary integration with the fire alarm system to make sure all systems function correctly in the case of a fire event.

For fire department access, the fire alarm system must communicate a fire event to elevator machinery, sending it to a designated floor – also known as an ultimate recall location. If the fire blocks access to that floor, elevator cars go to an alternate floor. Firefighters can also use a fire service key to override elevator programming. Contractors test these features alongside a state elevator inspector.

The installer also ensures every water flow device communicates with the fire alarm panel and central monitoring station. They test tamper switches and on/off valves, plus monitor valves to ensure they’re not closed if there is a fire event.


Post-installation Pre-testing

After device installation, the fire alarm installer pre-tests the system to make sure it will:

  • Communicate a fire condition to a central monitoring station
  • Notify tenants and occupants

The pre-test includes checking every installed fire alarm device to ensure proper function, including audio and visual communication.


Final Testing and Permitting

Once the fire alarm installer confirms the system works as intended, they’ll test it with the AHJ – usually within two to three days. Typically, the fire alarm, sprinkler, and mechanical contractors will be present.

The fire inspector approves the system and signs both the permit and a record of completion. The fire alarm installer and a building representative also sign the record of completion. The representative is often the general contractor, but it could be the building manager or owner. At this point, the fire and life safety certificate of occupancy is issued.

With the certificate of occupancy secured, the fire alarm installer places a document enclosure at every fire alarm panel. The documentation includes records of completion, as-built drawings, owner and operator manuals, and a copy of the fire alarm system program (often on a flash drive).

Finally, the installer trains the user to operate the fire alarm panel.


Next Steps

Now that you understand the certificate of occupancy process, find tips for streamlining the process in Part 2 of this article.

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