Fire Protection System Testing Requirements and Best Practices, Part 1

Fire Systems Requirements Part 1
Bob Vezzani
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Fire protection systems – such as fire alarms, automatic sprinkler systems and standpipes – are a building’s most important components for preserving lives and protecting property. Secondarily, emergency responder radio amplification systems such as bidirectional amplifiers (BDA) or distributed antenna systems (DAS) are of similar importance. In a building emergency, your BDA or DAS is the solution that provides safety to the first responders.

Because of the critical nature of these systems, municipal fire codes require the “responsible party” at your building – whether it’s the owner, management company or a lease-designated person – to maintain these systems in good working condition and ensure that they are tested annually. The maintenance and testing services should be performed by a qualified, private sector vendor with the expertise to help the building stay compliant. In the Pacific Northwest, Guardian Security is that vendor. If you are a building owner, property manager or maintenance supervisor with system-specific questions, please continue reading. Some of the most frequently asked questions are answered here.

Fire Alarm System Questions

Q: What percentage of dwelling units need to be inspected in a fire alarm inspection?
A: The NFPA requires all devices to be tested annually, with very limited exceptions. In general, the test is not considered completed until all the devices have been tested. For buildings with quarterly testing, the final report for the year is not complete until 100% of devices have been tested.
Q: I have inspected 100% of the building’s congregate areas, but accessing all the residential areas has been difficult. What is the minimum percentage required for a white tag?
A: In general, yellow tags should be reserved for deficiencies rather than incomplete tests. However: If you have made a good faith effort to complete testing – including proper notice to the tenants by email, posting a notice in a common area and making multiple visits to the access-challenged residential units – but are still having trouble gaining access to 100% of the building due to lack of tenant response, it is acceptable to submit the report as a yellow tag. When doing this, you should clearly indicate which devices and areas of the building were not accessible for testing.

Fire Sprinkler System Question

Q: What percentage of sprinkler heads need to be inspected?
A: All sprinkler heads require visual inspection except for those in concealed spaces. NFPA 25 requires a:
  • Complete walkthrough of the building
  • Visual inspection of every accessible sprinkler head
  • Visual inspection of all other system components from the floor level
Because of these requirements, conducting a “sampling” inspection of areas around the building or inspecting mere portions of a system does not meet the required standard for an NFPA 25 compliant inspection. If tenant response is the issue, remember: Providing proper notice to the tenants by email or a physical posting in a common area can help minimize any access challenges to the units.

Rangehood Suppression/Extinguishing Systems Question

Q: How often is testing and maintenance required for suppression/extinguishing systems?
A: The answer depends on the type of extinguishing system. Section 904 of the Seattle Fire Code requires “wet” and “dry” suppression systems to be serviced at least every six months and after activation of the system. Alternative extinguishing systems using foam, halon, and other chemicals have different test frequencies (generally, every 12 months). This service must be performed by a qualified, properly certified technician – and in Seattle, the technician must hold a Seattle certification. Guardian Security meets both of those requirements. After testing and maintenance, results must be reported to your local fire department through The Compliance Engine, a third party vendor.

Commercial Kitchen Hoods Question

Q: How often do commercial kitchen hoods require inspection, and how often do they need to be cleaned?
A: Kitchen hoods and exhaust systems need to be inspected for grease build up on a schedule that ranges from monthly to annually. If the exhaust system is found to be dirty during the inspection, it must be cleaned at that time. Cleaning is only required when needed; not at every inspection. For more information on the inspection schedule, please see IFC/SFC 609.3.3 and NFPA 96 11.4-5.
These are some of the most common questions regarding fire protection system testing requirements and best practices. For questions on your specific system, please contact Guardian Security. We will be glad to speak with you.

About Guardian Security

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