(with help from David Whitney of Atlantec Engineers)
Fire protection systems are those things that can be easily forgotten until one of three things happen:
- A false alarm sets off the system, causing irritation, disruption, etc.
- A real alarm sounds notifying everyone to get out safely.
- The fire marshal shows up unannounced to perform a routine inspection and asks to see the maintenance logs. “Huh?! What logs?”
Yes, Fire Protection Systems require maintenance and inspection so that building occupants are assured that the systems will function properly in the event of an emergency. So, for the benefit of our building owners, tenants, and other interested folks, let’s review what systems require inspection and/or testing, what’s required, and how frequently it’s required:
Sprinkler system: This particular fire protection system is required to be tested and inspected fairly frequently. The National Fire Protection Association publishes “NFPA 25 Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.” This document recommends that control valves without electronic supervision be checked on a weekly basis, just to make sure that they are in the open position. Other system components have different requirements. Check with the NFPA 25 or the manufacturers’ literature for details.
Annually, a full sprinkler system inspection must be performed by a knowledgeable professional. This inspection includes visual inspection from the floor of all sprinkler heads, and testing of the main valve assembly. Some states and cities require more frequent inspections. Most sprinkler contractors offer economical, long-term service agreements, and can help keep you in full compliance with the local requirements.
Fire Alarm system: NFPA 72 governs inspections and maintenance for Fire Alarm systems. Again, a maintenance agreement with the fire alarm system monitoring agency will help keep you in compliance. Batteries are required to be tested monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually depending on their type. Pull stations, smoke detectors and other initiating devices (devices that are activated to send a fire signal back to the alarm panel) should be inspected semi-annually. Notification devices (devices that alert occupants of an alarm, such as horns and strobes) should also be tested semi-annually.
Emergency lights, Exit signs: NFPA 101 deals with Emergency lights and exit signs. For the emergency lights, a functional test is required at 30-day intervals for not less than 30 seconds. For exit signs, they must be visually inspected monthly to confirm that they are illuminated as required. In addition, an annual test is required on ALL lights and exit signs to confirm battery-powered light source is operational for 90 minutes (minimum).
Fire Extinguishers: NFPA 10 addresses portable fire extinguishers. A visual inspection is required every 30 days to make sure that they are accessible and nothing is obstructing access to them. An annual maintenance inspection is required, and additional service may be required depending on the age of the extinguisher (all extinguishers are permanently stamped on the tank with a manufacturing date).
Of course, all of this is subject to additional requirements of your local jurisdiction.
Suffice to say that:
- Testing and maintenance requirements should not be overlooked as they are referenced by the Code and are, therefore, the LAW.
- The requirements can be complicated.
- Seek professional assistance to make sure you are in full compliance.