Answers to Commonly Asked Life-Safety Code Questions

Oct. 1, 2007
A Q&A of some of building professional's most-pressing life-safety concerns
By Michael Lohr

In the SimplexGrinnell Fire and Life-Safety Road Show Series, the company organizes dozens of events each year where its fire- and life-safety specialists present the latest in code updates, technology advances, and best practices to industry professionals. The Q&A portion of the road show makes it quite clear that the attendees are not only curious, but also intent on doing the right thing when it comes to life safety. What follows is a compilation of the top questions asked.

Q: Can heat guns be used to test the rate of rise heat detectors?
This question can be answered by referring to NFPA 72 2007 Table Test Methods. The answer is "yes," as long as it is not prohibited by the manufacturer of the heat detector and will not damage the non-restorable portion of the detector.

Q: Does testing smoke detectors by spraying canned smoke into a piece of conduit and holding it up to the smoke detector meet NFPA requirements?
According to NFPA 72 Chapter 10, "The detector sensitivity cannot be tested or measured using any spray device that administers an unmeasured concentration of aerosol into the detector." This would be an acceptable test for the yearly smoke entry functional test; however, the canned smoke manufacturer may not recommend or condone the use of a piece of conduit. Most canned smoke suppliers use some type of distribution nozzle to control the amount of aerosol that goes into the smoke chamber. An overabundance of aerosol in the smoke detector could cause a residue of propellant to build up. Such a residue could cause dirt to stick to the unit and thereby necessitate a cleaning. Residue could also degrade the detector's plastic and accelerate the timetable for replacement.

Q: Is sensitivity testing of each smoke detector required on an addressable system?
All smoke detectors, whether addressable or not, are required to be sensitivity tested. Under NFPA 72 Chapter 10 Table item g, test methods that are allowed include a calibrated test method, manufacturer's calibrated sensitivity test instrument, listed control equipment arranged for the purpose, smoke detector/control unit arranged for the purpose, or other calibrated sensitivity test method approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Many of the newer addressable fire systems have the control equipment listed to automatically confirm the sensitivity of the smoke detectors. It's advisable to check with your equipment manufacturer.

Q: Do sprinkler gauges need to be replaced every 5 years?
According to NFPA 25 Chapter 5.3.2 NFPA 2002 edition, "Gauges shall be replaced every 5 years or tested every 5 years by comparison with a calibrated gauge. Gauges not accurate to within 3 percent of the full scale shall be recalibrated or replaced." The Water-Based Protection Systems Handbook 2002 edition provides additional guidance on this issue: "Many of the tests prescribed in NFPA 25 rely on the accuracy of pressure gauges. It is not the intent of 5.3.2 to require that each and every gauge be individually calibrated. It is acceptable to compare the reading of one gauge with that of a calibrated gauge. Other gauges on systems that are installed in similar positions and elevations (for example, on an adjacent riser) that show similar readings are acceptable."

Q: When testing fire alarm control panel batteries, do the transponders and NAC (notification appliance circuit) batteries need to be tested as well?
Yes, all transponders and interface equipment that have batteries must be tested at the same time as the control panel batteries.

Q: What are the requirements for testing roof hatches?
Assuming that the hatches are connected to the fire system for activation, NFPA 72 Chapter 10 Table item a comes into play. "Operation of evacuation signals and auxiliary functions (outputs) is required. Test frequency would be yearly or quarterly, depending on whether the system is monitored by a supervising station."

Q: Who is responsible for flushing fire hydrants each year - the building owner, the AHJ, or the water company? Who should be notified when performing this test?
Generally, when piping enters private property, the property owner is responsible for inspection, testing, and maintenance of piping and related equipment. Piping and equipment on the public side of the property line are generally the responsibility of the water purveyor.

Q: Is it true that sprinkler heads should be replaced if they are green in color?
If there is corrosion evidence of any kind at the plug area of the sprinkler, it needs to be replaced. If there is only discoloration on the frame, replacement is not specified.

Q: How often do standpipe hoses need to be re-racked (if at all)?
In accordance with NFPA 1962, hoses need to be un-racked annually and inspected as described in 4.3.4 (in-service hose shall be un-racked, unreeled, or unrolled and physically inspected as specified in Section 4.6 at least annually; the hose shall be re-racked, re-reeled, or re-rolled so that any folds do not occur at the same position on the hose).

Q: Can an existing sprinkler head be changed out if needed on an annual inspection?
This can be done, but the work should be performed by fitters who have the training and experience to properly and safely drain and recharge the system.

Michael Lohr is director of service marketing at Boca Raton, FL-based SimplexGrinnell ( For other code questions, contact Lohr at ([email protected]).

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