Taking Charge

June 13, 2002
Periodic Testing of Alarm and Fire Suppression Systems
Sprinkler systems have been a strong force behind the protection of buildings. In fact, firefighters who serve communities will tell you that as the flammable contents and potential for ignition grows, sprinkler strategies also grow in importance.The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a Quincy, MA-based-organization that develops standards providing criteria for the entire fire protection industry, has reported that the combined protection of a smoke detector and a fire sprinkler system could reduce the fire death rate per thousand fires by 82 percent. Additionally, the United States Fire Administration (USFA) has reported that, excluding deaths caused by explosion or flash fire, there has been no known occurrence of multiple deaths in buildings that are fully sprinklered with systems that are properly maintained. Furthermore, in the years 1952 through 1980, the U.S. Department of Energy reported no deaths from fire in sprinkler-protected buildings of all types.The most common type of sprinkler system is the wet pipe system, which is charged with water at all times.A wet pipe system is typically suited for areas not subject to freezing, and provides both detection and suppression. Typically, heat generated by a fire condition will activate a sprinkler’s operating element; water pressure pushes the sprinkler cap aside; and water is discharged only through sprinklers that have opened due to exposure to heat.Sprinkler systems will work as long as they are properly serviced and maintained. Therefore, sprinkler systems must be tested at regular intervals in order to keep them operational and “ready for action.” Because you never know they’re not working until it’s too late, it becomes all the more important to have reputable, trustworthy test strategies in place.The standard that delineates the testing procedures for sprinkler systems is NFPA 25 – Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. The testing method to satisfy NFPA 25 involves opening the sprinkler system’s inspector’s test valve connection, which allows water to flow out the sprinkler system. This process is designed to simulate the real-life condition of the activation of one sprinkler head. The flow of water through and out of the sprinkler system trips a monitoring device, typically a waterflow detector, which activates an alarm at the system’s fire control panel; the NFPA 25 requirement is then satisfied. NFPA 25 requires that all waterflow alarms be tested quarterly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.Building owners have much at stake in protecting their investment against the devastation a fire can cause. For most property owners – even those with smaller structures – sprinkler systems offer the best protection for people and property at very little additional cost, when compared to the total cost of the building and/or its contents, as well as the value of life safety. As the NFPA 25 testing standard is a “recommended” practice and not a law per se, it becomes critical for a building owner to “take charge” of the testing strategy. Conducting periodic testing of the alarm and fire suppression systems protects that investment, avoids any potential liability, and means there’s one less thing to worry about.When it comes to life safety, peace of mind can be worth quite a lot to tenants, and is a strong selling point for lease renewals or prospective tenants.John Fitzgerald is director – Corporate Communications at System Sensor), St. Charles, IL, one of the largest manufacturers of fire detection and notification products in the world, and a specialist in smoke detection technology.

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