Fire services trump alarm industry at NFPA vote

NFPA motion 72-8 passes, with implications on central stations
Thursday, July 16, 2015

CHICAGO—A recent NFPA vote that may result in restriction for central stations on matters of fire alarm monitoring should serve as a wake-up call to the security industry to be more involved with the National Fire Protection Association, according to Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association.

At its annual meeting here in Chicago, the NFPA approved motion 72-9, “that reinforced an AHJ’s authority to determine who can and who cannot monitor fire alarms,” Jay Hauhn, executive director for the CSAA, told Security Systems News. Specifically, an AHJ can deny central stations the ability to monitor fire alarms. 

NFPAmotion 72-9, which would have removed the section referring to central stations completely, was withdrawn after 72-8 was passed.

Proponents of motion 72-8 were primarily from Chicago fire departments, some of which operate their own monitoring centers. “I would suggest that there is an inappropriate conflict of interest when an AHJ operates their own monitoring center for a fee to constituents, and then said AHJ is the decision making authority able to prohibit other appropriately listed monitoring centers,” Hauhn said.

“We were thrilled to be able to get the numbers out that we did.” Lehan said, pointing out that the vote, being on June 25, happened at the same time as ESX. “We mobilized very well, we just have to inform and entice the rest of the alarm installer community to be active in the NFPA going forward.”

The fact that the meeting was held in Chicago gave proponents and advantage, Hauhn said. “The fact that the meeting was in Chicago gave them a great tactical advantage. It means they were able to have many Chicago-based fire professionals, in full uniform, stand up at that microphone and convince voters sitting in that room that AHJ authority was being diminished.”

Lehan said some aspects of the meeting were beneficial for the alarm industry. “Previously the language said ‘alternate location approved by the authority having jurisdiction.’ Now the language specifically says ‘listed central supervising station.’” This language helps by specifically naming central stations as an option, Lehan said, while the AHJ still controls whether they are allowed.  

“What we learned at this event is that there is a disconnect between the industry and the fire services,” Lehan said. The two sides of the argument, fire departments and the alarm industry were approaching the matter from very different perspectives.

“On the private industry side, it’s the same position that we’ve always had: Allow us to compete for business. Let UL-listed central stations perform to NFPA code standards, and let the market choose service providers,” said Lehan.

Hauhn said the alarm industry’s argument “was incorrectly portrayed as an issue that usurped the authorities having jurisdiction. … No one at CSAA is going to denigrate the brave men and women that rush into a burning building.”

Fire services argued that central stations are unsafe, according to Lehan. “We have heard for a few years, and this was echoed at that [NFPA] meeting, anecdotal situations whereby the private alarm industry failed in dispatching. When we ask for specific situations when this has happened, we do not get a response," he said.

Lehan said a new forum for fire services and the alarm industry to communicate better had come up in discussions following the meeting, and that may be further developed in the future.

Hauhn explained the industry’s current position in the matter and CSAA’s plans for the future, “NFPA 72 is a 3-year cycle. So, we are beginning to create a strategy to address it again in the 2019 [edition of the code].”