UNDERSTADING HOW OFTEN A fire pump needs to be tested in accordance with NFPA 25, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, can be tricky. For example, many people assume that if they conduct the annual flow test for a fire pump that no additional testing is necessary. While conducting this test is vital to assuring that the pump still performs as intended when it was designed, conducting a single test each year does not provide a high level of reliability.
Another reason it can be difficult to keep track of when a pump needs to be tested is that the criteria that establishes the frequency for the no-flow test (also called a churn test or operating test) has changed in each of the last three editions of the standard. In the 2008 edition of NFPA 25, the standard simply required a weekly churn test and an annual flow test. This practice had been followed since the inception of NFPA 25 in 1992 and had seemingly been well-received, since there were no changes made to these frequencies for 15 years.
As electric-powered fire pumps became more prevalent, though, the technical committee began receiving questions addressing the need to conduct the operating test 52 times a year. During the development of the 2011 edition of the standard, the committee vigorously debated the idea of moving the frequency for the churn tests for electric driven pumps to a monthly activity. Following several certified amending motions at NFPA’s annual technical meeting, the move to a monthly churn test for electric-driven pumps was finalized for the 2011 edition.
The debate persisted, however, and spilled over into the development of the 2014 edition of the standard. The Fire Protection Research Foundation commissioned a study on the reliability of fire pumps in an attempt to determine if the new frequencies for operating tests were on point. This report, available under the “reports and proceedings” section of the Foundation’s website, nfpa.org/research, provided the technical committee with the information necessary to determine which pumps needed more frequent testing to confirm that they would function when called upon. After reviewing this data, the baseline requirements for diesel fire pumps did not change and the operating test must still be conducted weekly. The committee did add a provision that allowed for an alternate test frequency to be used when the revised frequency is supported by a risk analysis.
The requirements for electric-driven pumps were more substantially modified. Based on the data gathered from the Foundation project, it was determined that not all pumps, and more specifically the buildings that house them, would benefit from reducing the number of operating tests per year from 52 to 12. The technical committee determined that, either due to the risk associated with the building, or with the type or arrangement of the pump or controller, certain fire pump arrangements needed to be tested more frequently. As such, the 2014 edition of NFPA 25 requires electric-driven pumps in high-rise buildings, electric-driven vertical turbine pumps, and pumps using limited service controllers to undergo weekly operating tests. For all other electric-driven fire pumps, a monthly operating test is still appropriate. The risk analysis that can be conducted for diesel-driven pumps also applies to electric-driven pumps.
Depending on which edition your jurisdiction adopts, the frequencies for conducting these tests may vary. The 2014 edition, though, contains the latest information from the technical committee.