Levels of Readiness
Advocating for a color-coded tagging scheme for system inspections
NFPA Journal, March/April 2010
Pending changes for the 2011 edition of NFPA 25, Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, lend themselves to a four-color tagging scheme for identifying the condition of a water-based system following a system inspection. The new scheme is made possible by changes that recognize "critical deficiencies" and "non-critical deficiencies" alongside traditional "impairments" as conditions that might prevent a system from being considered in a full and proper state of readiness. These new definitions, along with an Annex E that includes tables of sample classifications, will be presented to the NFPA membership at the June 2010 Conference & Expo®.
The new terms have long been needed. There is a huge difference between a system impairment that prevents a system from functioning in the event of a fire and a minor deficiency such as an illegible placard or missing sprinkler escutcheon. This has produced difficulties in jurisdictions that have made good-faith efforts to enforce the provisions of NFPA 25 but have been trying to use a red/green system indicating problems or no problems. Building owners can be inconvenienced when no differentiation is made between minor deficiencies and major problems, since rigid enforcement can lead to a loss of use or costly alternative protection measures.
The proposed four categories roughly relate to the "ready" condition of full compliance along with the possibility of corrections that must be addressed either within a reasonable period of time, promptly, or immediately. These four possibilities easily relate to a four-color tagging system of green, yellow, orange, and red.
Tagging is already mentioned in the 2008 edition of NFPA 25 with regard to system impairments. Such tags, specified in Chapter 15 covering impairments, are traditionally red, signaling an emergency. They are used to indicate that a system, or part thereof, has been removed from service. Underground service mains, fire pumps, water storage tanks, and control valves that are not in service are considered impaired equipment since they are vital to the operation of the system. Impairments can be planned or the result of emergencies such as system leakage, interruption of water supply, frozen or ruptured piping, or equipment failure. Where a required fire protection system is out of service for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period, NFPA 25 currently requires that an impairment coordinator make special arrangements. This could include evacuating the building or portion of the building affected by the impairment, establishing a fire watch or temporary water supply, or implementing a program to eliminate potential ignition sources and limit the available fuel.
As proposed, the next edition of NFPA 25 would define a "deficiency," for the purposes of inspecting water-based fire protection systems, as "a condition in which a system or portion thereof is damaged, inoperable, or in need of service, but does not rise to the level of an impairment." A "critical deficiency" is further defined as a "deficiency that, if not corrected, can have an effect on the performance of the fire protection system." A "non-critical deficiency" is defined as a "deficiency that does not have an effect on the performance of the fire protection system, but correction is needed for the proper inspection, testing, and maintenance of the system(s)."
Although the proposed Annex E will present an example of a classification system that can be used to organize the various findings of a system inspection, the technical committee expects that various enforcement authorities will differ in the ways they categorize their findings. It is possible that, in future editions, efforts will be made to standardize such categorization to help authorities enforce NFPA 25.
Russ Fleming, P.E., is the executive vice-president of the National Fire Sprinkler Assocaition and a member of the NFPA Technical Correlating Committee on Automatic Sprinklers.