Fire Alarm System Code Considerations Unique to Vermont

The small rural state of Vermont, faces many challenges when it comes to the health and welfare of commercial fire alarm installation, service, and standard code enforcement. Lack of funding and a small staff contributes to the unfortunate reactive nature in which commercial fire alarms are standardized.

Many observations have been made where NFPA 72 and NEC 70 did not seem to be part of the installation. Many cite “grandfather clause” for the “whys” of the way things are, in which there is no written legality anywhere in NFPA.

Challenges of presenting options in bringing systems up to code with the money-conscious end-user typically is met with, “the prior fire inspector didn’t even mention there were violations!” As a newcomer to Vermont, I walk a fine line in my knowledge and duty as a state licensed inspector, but moreover the sheer risk many of these situations present to life and property. The stale air hangs above the conversation of times past, where clearly the client in front of me was previously sold a “bill of goods” and they eye my intentions with skepticism. The lack of enforcement and fines other states would attach does not prompt the customer to act right away. More often than not, they will seek out the same person who “passed them” the first time and we are back to where we started.

In Vermont, it is up to the fire inspector to decide what is a violation and what isn’t. This strange implementation of law leaves a big, ugly, gray area with liability weighing heavily on the fire inspector.

Coming from a city with current code adoptions, regular inspections, and follow up the remedy would be simple and clear-cut: everything that is not up to current code IS a violation. What this ends up meaning in Vermont, however, is simply a hasty checkmark next to a $50 Fire Alarm Control Panel sticker next to “YES” or “NO” by the word “VIOLATIONS?” Some inspectors must feel the burden of making that choice with a sharpie, as often times the sticker is blank.

Once the fire inspection is complete the inspecting entity is required to turn in the detailed inspection paperwork into the Division of Fire Safety’s regional office. I leave a copy with the client as well as at the panel if the location permits. It is an important tool to help create a history for consecutive inspectors. This information is vital when there are violations. If a fire incident were to happen and the fire alarm system didn't function properly it will be clear there were violations on the system. This would help the investigation in determining whether or not the violations were the cause of the system malfunction.

Vermont’s Division of Fire Safety has it’s own Fire & Building Safety Code updated last in 2015. Vermont, requires anyone that is to service, install, inspect, or design to hold a TQP License. This license is obtainable when the following conditions are met:

  • The licensee holds a Master Electrician License -or-
  • The licensee holds a Special Journeyman Electrician License -and-
  • The licensee sends in proof of attendance of an 8 hour fire alarm course

This license is designed to support the notion that anyone performing these tasks will have knowledge of the following code books:

  • NFPA 70 National Electrical Code - Current Vermont Adopted Edition
  • NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code - Current Vermont Adopted Edition
  • NFPA 720 Standard for the Installation of Carbon Monoxide Warning Equipment in Dwelling Units - Current Vermont Adopted Edition
  • NFPA 101 Life Safety Code - Current Vermont Adopted Edition

Commercial fire alarms are designed to follow the code of FIVE different books. The person or persons who design, install, inspect, and service a life saving system should always take special care in making sure they are following these guidelines.

Another important consideration found in the State of Vermont is the monitoring of freezing temperatures. All addressable devices, Fire Alarm Control Panels, & Power Supplies have a temp ratio of 32 degrees; plus or minus. Addressable devices will often need to be converted or spec’d as conventional devices, which can eliminate the need for point to point reporting. Smoke detector applications become heat detectors or protecto-wire. The Fire Alarm Control Panel will always need to be in a heated area, as well as the power supplies. If the customer is stating the room will be heated we typically add a temp sensor to the system to ensure the panel does not dip too low.

Rural Vermont, through collaboration of other concerned security and life safety professionals will hopefully begin to see a more proactive approach to protecting loss of life and property.


Commercial Fire Alarms: Manufacturers Matter!

Commercial fire alarm systems is a utility rarely considered in the mindset of, “what do we need to have and what is the most cost effective way to meet that requirement”. The good news is because of the industry standards and code requirements you are likely to get a system that works when you need it so long as you are contracting with a reputable and licensed company.

Knowing the pros and cons of the system you select, the installing company i to protect lives and property and who is installing it can significantly impact your operating costs and flexibility down the road. Many fire alarm systems are specifically designed to lock customers into a specific company. Not just for the hardware; you also may get locked into a limited number of installation and service companies which can limit your options, increasing costs and possibly compromising service.

A locked system is not all bad. Some manufacturers require the companies and technicians working on equipment they installed to meet minimum requirements for training and licensing. This is a benefit to the customer as well as the manufacturer as you can be assured that a “factory authorized” installer knows what they are doing and has a relationship with the manufacturer to get any issues resolved.

Green Mountain Alarm is committed to providing a level of service and support to keep our customer satisfied. We do not require long term contracts that lock customers in nor do we install proprietary hardware in order to lock customers into working only with us.

We do however select hardware and systems that we feel are appropriate for the project. More complex fire alarm projects, such as those requiring a voice evacuation system or high-rise functionality can be more demanding and require more robust systems than a project with straight forward requirements.

Many systems do require a USB key in order to make programming changes. This may be used to lock customer into a single vendor but should be used to limit who can change a panel’s programming. If you have a fire alarm vendor who is responsible for maintaining your fire alarm system you don’t want another, possibly unqualified vendor, making changes to the programming without your approval. Or worse, a nefarious party effectively crippling your system with malicious intent.

Informed customers who understand these tradeoffs can make the best decisions and can be the most effective when managing their property costs and service quality in the long term.

Commercial Fire Alarm Brands

Proprietary systems that significantly restrict number of vendors in each area

  • Siemens
  • SimplexGrinnell
  • Honeywell Notifier
  • Edwards EST
  • Honeywell Gamewell/FCI
  • Johnson Controls
  • Mircom
  • Fike/Cheetah
  • Nohmi Bosai/Integlex

Dealer installed systems the limit who can install and maintain systems but it liberal about numbers of companies in area

Open access systems that may be purchased and installed by any vendor

*Indicates a brand that Green Mountain Alarm recommends and installs while we can service many other brands.

Visit our website for more information on how Green Mountain Alarm can assist you with designing, installing, monitoring, and servicing a commercial fire alarm.

Barn Conversions and Fire Alarm Systems - Cookie Cutter Does Not Apply

Assembly venues are no longer limited to beaches, hotels, and wineries.. Popping up all over New England and some mid-western states you will find creative farm properties turning that dank, 100+ year old cow/hay barn into a romantically lit haven which can host crowds boasting 500+ people.

Having visited several in our humble New England state of Vermont, I am immediately swept up in the blood, sweat, and tears that three to eight generation farm and property owners have put forth into turning a humble wooden structure into a glorious sanctuary for couples taking their vows as man and wife, or a group of joyous individuals celebrating a young boy at his Bah Mitzvah.

What these patrons of a once in a lifetime experience don’t pay mind to on these special occasions are the whispers, heated conversations, collaborations of code, and frustrations that live within the little and often ignored life-saving devices that pepper buildings.  These little “secret keepers” exist in most structures in not only the united states, but in the world-- they are life and property saving devices attached to those taken-for-granite fire alarms and commercial sprinkler systems.


Because it is my livelihood, the first thing I look at when I walk into any commercial building is if it is protected by a fire alarm.  The next thing I look at is if the building is “sprinkled”.  This of course, is after I have determined where all means of egress (exits) are.  It’s my job.  It’s what I live, sleep, and breathe.  I’m not typically invited to parties, because I’m the boring individual whom tries to get people excited about fire safety and let’s face it-- a horn strobe candela rating just isn’t a hot topic.  What is a hot topic though, is that newly renovated barn that was given a several-thousand dollar face-lift which turned from a ripe-smelling, cow-palace into a trendy dance hall that such-and-such is renting and getting married at this August.  THAT is what people want to talk about!  And do I blame them?  Not at all.  

I have a great job.  I get to interact with the very people who have put forth their life savings and by their own hand have turned another old, wooden structure on the side of a New England road into a work of art.  On the other end of that spectrum I get to collaborate and share ideas with the hard-working, often volunteer-based fire fighters who have no problem waking up at 2am to get into their own personal vehicle in a snowstorm to respond to whatever came through-- a four-alarm fire to an anxiety attack.  

It is my personal honor and pleasure of understanding where all of these salt of the earth people are coming from, but with this middle ground I carry a heavy burden of  finding the right way to bridge the gap between the rightfully frustrated end-user/property owner and us fire professionals which see things as black and white code, which was written as the backbone of the “whys”.

I had the pleasure of speaking with and touring long time Vermonter Jon Lang’s, property.  Jon, was one of the first property owners mandated to put a sprinkler system and fully functional fire alarm system in place at his venue.  “The occupancy is 299, because anything over that would require the big horns to be in place,” he lamented.  

What Jon, is referring to is the NFPA 101 life safety code requiring places of assembly to have voice evacuation systems in place for any occupancies over 300.  A  code and term Mr. Lang, became very familiar with during his rendezvous with the AHJ.  “I want it to be a level playing field.  If I was mandated to put in sprinklers and a fire system to operate, every barn should have to do the same.”  

I was amazed at the sprawling property Mr. Lang, clearly loves and his whole life is put into this.  Every tree as far as my eyes could see, he grew with love from a seedling.  That is something few (if any) can say they have done.  His property was lush and alive with beauty and something special in every corner.  He told me about the hand-sanded beams and the 32 foot lift required to do the work.  Anyone walking into this property would be swept away in awe.

Understanding his passion is simple and clearcut.  He has done everything correct in complying with what he needed to do to operate properly and keep his patrons and his property safe.  What Mr. Lang, doesn’t understand is why every barn doesn’t have to go through the rigorous processes he did.

Determined to continue on my “Quest for Fire”, (no pun intended),  I reached out to Executive Director of the VT Division of Fire Safety Michael Desrochers, and I could immediately empathize with his position.  After speaking with him for several minutes I was able to decipher how much passion he has for life safety and also wants to do right by the situation.  Mr. Desrochers, has a lot of people to respond to and every barn is different:

Many more factors are reviewed and considered prior to making a determination on what safety features will be required.  We have resorted to variance requests in order to address unique circumstances.  These are just a few factors we look at:

  • Location of the occupants- is the dance hall located on the second or third floor?
  • What is the travel distance for occupants to get outside?
  • Is the barn being used for storage of hay or large quantities of combustible material (heavy fuel load)Are there other uses in the building (retail space)?
  • Are the dances or wedding or events held during the day or at night?
  • Is there electrical power to the building?
  • What is the exit arrangement?
  • Is the building a historic building?
  • Is there a major renovation involved in the project?
  • Is there an addition planned?”

We have a number of these barns throughout Vermont that have been protected with automatic sprinkler protection based on the frequency of use, number of occupants, hazard protection, location of occupants etc”, Mr. Desrochers, contributed.

Another factor is whether or not the barn is heated.  This makes electronic equipment very susceptible to failure in the cold climates.  They don’t make a fire alarm panel that can operate in below freezing temps.  Some of these barns are only operational and open during the warm spring/summer/fall months.  Puting in a permanent heating system for a seasonal structure is costly.

So, how does one organization become the one-stop-shop support system for what is becoming my new party “hot topic”?  Business owners and property owners are the inquiring minds at the forefront of this question.  I, along with other professionals in the industry will be eager to assist those who will be moving forward with their dreams of having their often historical piece of property adequately protected from loss of life.  It’s important to remember we are all in this together to keep the people who live in and visit our state safe and that means opening our minds and ears to a positive and thoughtful collaboration of ideas.  Vermont, will become well known as the pioneer for what could end up being a code change and assist exponentially in finding a standard for barn conversions in the United States.

For more information on how Green Mountain Alarm can assist you with your Fire Alarm System Design and Installation for your Barn Conversion project visit our website.

Jessica L. Shaw-Carpenter
Green Mountain Alarm