Topic: Fire Protection Systems


Do You Travel with a Portable CO Alarm? If not, you should, and here’s why

Being raised by a volunteer firefighter, I was taught at a young age to always look for my 2nd exit, and when traveling to never to stay above the 4th floor because fire department ladders rarely reach above the fourth floor. It was also pretty “normal” for us to travel with a portable Carbon Monoxide (CO) alarm. Why? Because CO poisoning incidents in hotels are not uncommon and regulations on CO detection differ significantly from state to state. While there are multiple sources which provide CO incident data, each organization contains its own methodology for collecting information and providing statistics; However, it is not clear what specific information is being collected, disseminated, and represented for each incident type. The Fire Protection Research Foundation recently published a report titled: “Carbon Monoxide Incidents: A Review of the Data Landscape” which reviews and presents the CO incident data landscape to clarify the sources of information, how the data is compiled and what the data represents. Additionally, the report identifies, summarized, and analyzes case studies of non-fire carbon monoxide incidents specific to commercial-type occupancies to provide a greater understanding to the NFPA technical committees responsible for NFPA 101, Life Safety Code ® and NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code ®.  Be on the lookout for the Second Draft Reports from these committees in February of 2023 to see what changes have been made. A one-page summary of the Foundation report provides key takeaways. PS: If your CO alarm is your in carry-on bag, be sure you can access it quickly while going through TSA security, as mine is always “inspected”!  

Backflow Preventer Types

When a fire protection system (non-potable water system) is connected to the public water supply, the systems are said to be cross connected. In some localities, cross connections may be prohibited or closely regulated by health authorities.  Improperly protected water systems have the potential to lead to illness and even in some cases death. Federal regulations require states to provide quality water when it is intended for public consumption. Because of this, states and municipal governments have taken various steps to protect the potable water supply, such as requiring backflow prevention when the fire protection system will be supplied by a potable water source. Backflow preventers are installed to prevent contaminants from traveling from the non-potable source to the potable public drinking supply via back siphonage and back pressure.  Back siphonage is backflow caused by a negative pressure in the supply piping. This negative pressure in the supply piping is similar to drinking water through a straw. The water from the non-potable system is pulled into the supply piping. Backpressure is backflow caused by a pressure in the non-potable water system being greater than the pressure in the potable water supply piping. This higher pressure causes water in the non-potable system to be pushed back into the supply piping.  Its important to note here that the requirement for backflow prevention in a fire protection system comes from the local water authority and not from any NFPA standard. For example, NFPA 13 does not require a backflow preventer for an automatic sprinkler system, however, if one is required, it provides additional requirements to ensure it is installed in a manner that limits its impact on system operation and provides for a means to test the system.  There are a few different types of backflow preventers available, and the type of backflow preventer required by the water authority is going to be based on the degree of hazard posed by the cross connection. The degree of hazard may be classified differently, but the two main degrees include high hazard and low hazard. A high hazard is a system that could introduce waterborne disease organisms, or harmful chemical, physical, or radioactive substances into a public water system, and which presents an unreasonable risk to health. An example of this may be a system that contains an additive, such as a fire protection system with antifreeze, or a foam system. A low hazard is a system that could cause aesthetic problems or have a detrimental secondary effect on the quality of the public potable water supply, an example of this could be a fire sprinkler system that contains stagnant water or contains microbiologically influenced corrosion (MIC). The Double Check Valve Assembly (DCVA) and the Reduced Pressure Zone Assembly (RPZA) are the most used backflow preventers for fire protection systems, but I will discuss all the most common backflow preventers used in plumbing systems. An air gap is the most effective type of backflow prevention. This method utilizes a physical air space between the potable and non-potable systems. The most common example of this would be a faucet and a sink. This may be a backflow prevention method used to fill a water supply tank. Air gaps can be used to protect low and high hazards under both back siphonage and backpressure. An Atmospheric Vacuum Breaker Assembly contains an air inlet valve and a check seat. When water flows through, the air inlet valve closes, but when the water flow stops, the air inlet valve falls against the check seat and stops back siphonage, while at the same time letting air into the system. AVBs can only protect against a low or high hazard under back siphonage. The Pressure Vacuum Breaker Assembly is like an atmospheric vacuum breaker, but it contains a spring-loaded air inlet valve and check valve, two shutoffs, and two test cocks. When water is flowing, the check valve is open and air inlet valve is shut, when water stops flowing, the check valve shuts, and air inlet valve opens. The addition of the shutoff valves and test ports allows for this assembly to be field tested. The PVB only protects against low or high hazards under back siphonage. A Double Check Valve Assembly (DCVA) contains two spring-loaded check valves with two shut off valves and four test cocks. In the event of a backflow the first check valve will close, if that check valve fails then the other check valve will close. The addition of the shutoff valves and test ports allow this assembly to be tested. A DCVA can be used to protect against low hazards under both back siphonage and back pressure.   A double check valve detector assembly is the same as a DCVA, but it also includes a bypass for the installation of a water meter to monitor for incidental water use that is also protected with a smaller DCVA.   A Reduced Pressure Zone Assembly (RPZA) provides the maximum protection and along with the DCVA is the most common type of backflow prevention used in fire protection systems. This assembly contains two spring-loaded check valves with a differential relief valve between them and two shut off valves and four test cocks. The RPZA operates like a DCVA with the addition of a relief valve, if there is a backflow the check valves will close, and the relief valve will open, resulting in a reduced pressure zone and air gap between the check valves. The two shut off valves and four test cocks allow this assembly to be field tested as well. The RPZA can be used to protect high and low hazards under both back siphonage and back pressure.    A reduced pressure zone detector assembly is the same as a RPZA, but it includes a bypass for the installation of a water meter to monitor for incidental water use that is also protected with a smaller RPZA. As you can see, there are a few different types of backflow preventers, and the selection of the right preventer is going to depend on the requirements from the local water authority as well as the hazard. When the design of a fire protection system includes a backflow preventor, the designer must make sure that they account for the backflows impact on the available water supply pressure. If a backflow preventor is installed on a fire protection system, it is also important that proper inspection testing and maintenance (ITM) be performed (such as a forward flow test) to ensure that the backflow remains operational and does not seize up, which could impair the fire protection system.

What are the code requirements for haunted house attractions?

A version of this blog written by Kristin Bigda, publications strategy director at NFPA, first appeared in 2016. The article has been edited to reflect more recent code editions. With Halloween quickly approaching, thoughts of candy, ghosts, and haunted houses are surely on your mind. While haunted houses may be an entertaining way to spend an October evening, there can be devastating consequences if a fire were to break out and proper protections aren’t in place. What are haunted houses and special amusement buildings? Haunted houses may be temporary in nature or permanently installed. Sometimes, they are used only near Halloween, while others may be open year-round. This was the case in the tragic Haunted Castle fire that occurred at a permanently installed, year-round haunted house located at a Six Flags amusement park in New Jersey on May 11, 1984. Eight teenagers died in that blaze.  To prevent a similar tragedy to the Six Flags haunted house fire, provisions were added to NFPA 1, Fire Code, and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, to address special amusement buildings—the category in which haunted houses typically fall. According to the 2021 edition of NFPA 1, a special amusement building is “a building or portion thereof that is temporary, permanent, or mobile and contains a ride or device that conveys patrons where the patrons can be contained or restrained, or provides a walkway along, around, or over a course in any direction as a form of amusement or entertainment, and arranged so that the egress path is not readily apparent due to visual or audio distractions, contains an intentionally confounded egress path, or is not readily available due to the mode of conveyance through the building or structure.” A special amusement building is an assembly occupancy regardless of occupant load. Special amusement buildings often use special effects, scenery, props, and audio and visual distractions that may cause egress paths to become difficult to identify. In haunted houses, in particular, the presence of combustible materials and special scenery can also contribute to the fuel load and, may result in rapid fire spread should a fire occur.   “ Haunted houses use special effects, scenery, props, and audio and visual distractions that may cause egress paths to become difficult to identify What does the code say? Code provisions for special amusement buildings are found in Section 20.1.4 of NFPA 1. The code requirements for haunted houses are summarized below: Haunted houses must apply the provisions for assembly occupancies in addition to the provisions of Section 20.1.4. Automatic sprinklers are required for all haunted houses unless it is less than 10 feet (3050 millimeters) in height and has less than 160 square feet (15 square meters) of aggregate horizontal projections. If the haunted house is considered moveable or portable, an approved temporary means is permitted to be used for water supply.  Smoke detection is required throughout all haunted houses.  The actuation of any smoke detection device in a mobile or temporary haunted house must sound an alarm at a constantly attended location on the premises. A fire alarm system is required in all permanently installed haunted houses.   The fire alarm system in all permanently installed haunted houses must be initiated by required smoke detection, the required automatic sprinkler system, and manual means at a constantly attended location under continuous supervision by competent persons when the haunted house is open to patrons. Actuation of sprinklers, or any suppression systems, as well as smoke detection systems (having cross-zoning capability) must provide an increase in illumination of the means of egress and termination of other confusing visuals or sounds. The one exception is for haunted houses that are in permanently installed special amusement buildings that use a ride (or similar device) that occupants are contained in and unable to evacuate themselves without the help of a ride operator and that meet specific criteria. Exit marking and floor proximity exit signs are required. Where designs are such that the egress path is not apparent, additional directional exit marking is required. Interior wall and ceiling finish materials must be Class A throughout. Per Section 10.8.1, emergency action plans are required. Other requirements, not specific just to haunted houses or special amusement buildings, may also apply, such as:  Permits (see Section 1.12) Seasonal buildings (see Section 10.12) Special outdoor events, fairs, and carnivals (see Section 10.14) As we move into the Halloween and haunted house season, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and overlook the safety issues that may arise. Through the provisions in NFPA 1, which can assist code officials and fire departments in enforcing safe haunted houses, and NFPA’s Halloween resources for consumers, everyone can stay safe this season.

A level of Safety – NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend The 1st University of Maryland/NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem Symposium, in College Park, Maryland, U.S.A, where fire and life safety experts from across the globe gathered to discuss the principals of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™ and its application to address today’s fire safety issues. For those of you who are not familiar with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™, it is “a framework that identifies the components that must work together to minimize risk and help prevent loss, injuries and death from fire, electrical and other hazards.” In other words, it identifies the items NFPA feels contribute to achieving the expected level of safety when it comes to fire and electrical hazards. Each component is depicted as a cog, each of which connect to form a circle. Over the two day symposium attendees reviewed case studies on the Ghost Ship Warehouse fire in Oakland, CA (2016); the Grenfell Tower Fire in London, UK (2017); and the Camp Fire, Butt County, CA (2018); and also discussed emerging issues involving residential fires; the safe use of alternative energy; and how to think about fire safety when using new building materials. Each topic was evaluated through the lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™.  In many of the case studies multiple components of the ecosystem failed or lacked effectiveness. When discussing the emerging issues, no single component would solve the challenge presented. This seemed to lend to the idea that all the cogs must be working together to ensure the expected level of safety, so what happens if just one isn’t operating at peak performance? Does the ecosystem still provide a level of safety because the cogs remain connected? One example that came up several times was the need to mandate automatic fire sprinkler systems in all new and existing high-rise buildings. According to research done by NFPA, fire Sprinklers have been shown to be an extremely effective of increasing life safety with an 89% reduction in fire deaths in properties with automatic fire sprinklers as compared to those without. So, sprinklers would certainly make an impact on reducing deaths in fires. NFPA 1 Fire Code requires automatic fire sprinklers systems in all new high-rise building and all existing high-rise buildings within 12 years of the code becoming law. Mandating compliance with the most recent edition of this code through legislation falls under government responsibility cog. If the government responsibility cog was effective, this incorporation of NFPA 101 Life Safety Code would be one way they could create laws which prioritizes public safety needs.  However, as is sometimes the case a local government also could incorporate into law a modified NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, one which doesn’t mandate sprinklers in all high-rise buildings, specifically existing buildings. In the second case, one could argue that this cog would not be functioning at its optimal potential. How does this impact the level of safety in existing high-rise buildings? There are many examples of major fires in non-sprinklered or partially sprinklered high-rise buildings including the One Meridian Plaza fire (1991), the Cook County Administration Building fire in Chicago (2003), the Marco Polo Apartment Building Fire in Hawaii (2017) and the Twin Parks Northwest fire in New York City (2022). In all these cases a review of the fire concluded fire sprinklers could have made an impact, however all had multiple challenges; One Meridian Plaza had issues with water supply in the standpipe system; the Cook County Administration Building had locked doors preventing reentry on the floors above the fire; and both the Marco Polo and Twin Parks Northwest fires both had issues with self-closing doors. These challenges touch the Skilled Workforce, Code Compliance, and Investment in Safety cogs, resulting in the entire system failing. As I reflect on the discussion during the first NFPA Fire and Life Safety Ecosystem Summit, I can’t help but wonder if another part of the ecosystem concept is the resiliency of the anticipated level of safety in buildings. Each cog is interlaced with the next, adding elements of safety which can work together in an emergency to prevent a major tragedy. When one cog is not functioning at its optimal potential does the circular concept of the ecosystem allow the others to “turn” or function which will provide some level of safety, reducing the likelihood of a significant incident? As we wrap up fire prevention week, let’s think about all the cogs and how they’ll advance the level of safety for the public. Government Responsibility, Development and Use of Current Codes, Reference Standards, Investment in Safety, Skilled Workforce, Code Compliance, Preparedness and Emergency Response, and Informed Public all work together. Buildings which are designed, constructed, and operated with all these in mind really do have a level of safety which works to protect their occupants. Check out the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™page for more on the concept, an assessment tool as well as the 2020 & 2021 Year in Review reports on the state of the ecosystem.

“Research: the distance between an idea and its realization” – David Sarnoff, Pioneer of American radio and television

This was the quote used by Rodger Reiswig of JCI last week in his keynote to kick off the Detection portion of the 18th Annual SupDet program hosted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation in Atlanta, GA.  The Fire Protection Research Foundation hosts a technical conference held annually called “SupDet”, which focuses on specific research applications in the Suppression (hence “Sup”), and Detection (“Det”) industries. Mr. Reiswig continued to highlight the impact research has made in the in the fire protection industry. This year, the detection portion of the conference focused on research in several critical areas including detection and signaling for First Responders, Residential Spaces, Wildfire and Smart Technology Systems. Maria Marks, of Siemens, and Jason Webb, Potter Electric Signals, presented on Fire Prevention and Code Compliance in the Age of Information and Automation. As the Internet of Things and the Cloud continue to evolve, the Maria and Jason discussed the impact to life safety systems. Their passion was evident as they described the methods in which systems are being monitored, inspected, and tested, via unmanned equipment such as drones, and robots, as well as handheld devices such as tablets and smartphones. Maria and Jason further explained the benefits and concerns associated with such tasks and even went into how specific NFPA codes and standards (provided below) address automated inspection, testing, and maintenance. NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems NFPA 14, Standard for the Installation for Standpipe and Hose Systems NFPA 20, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Fire Pumps for Fire Protection NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code ® NFPA 915, Standard for Remote Inspections (proposed standard) If you missed SupDet, the slides from the presentations will be posted shortly on the SupDet website!
Man looking at tablet and working with a piping system

Weekly or Monthly No Flow (Churn) Tests of Fire Pumps

Fire pumps are an essential part of many water-based fire protection systems. They are used to increase the pressure (measured in psi or bar) of a water source when that source pressure is not adequate for the system it’s supplying. The right design, installation, and acceptance testing of these pumps will ensure that they are ready and available to protect the building on the day of the acceptance test. After that, once “the keys” are handed over to the building owner, there is no guarantee that the pump will remain in a ready state to work as designed unless it undergoes routine inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM). The requirements for ITM of fire pumps are found in NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. &nbspWhile there is a good deal that goes into a robust ITM program for fire pumps, this blog will focus on the no-flow test of fire pumps which is often referred to as a churn test. See this blog for weekly fire pump inspections. What is the purpose of the no-flow test? NFPA LiNK where hot spots can be chosen to find more information about certain inspection and testing requirements for different components. How often is a no-flow test required? The no-flow (churn) test of fire pumps must be conducted at either a weekly or monthly basis. The frequency varies by the type of fire pump; diesel and electric; and both have allowances to extend the time between tests based on approved risk analysis.  Generally, diesel fire pumps must be no-flow (churn) tested on a weekly basis. The requirements for electric fire pumps vary. Most electric fire pumps can be no-flow (churn) tested at a monthly frequency. Electric fire pumps which (1) serve fire protection systems in buildings that are beyond the pumping capacity of the fire department, (2) have limited service controllers, (3) are vertical turbine fire pumps, or (4) those taking suction from ground level tanks or a water source that does not provide sufficient pressure to be of material value without the pump all require no-flow (churn) tests at a weekly frequency unless they are provided with a redundant fire pump. Starting The no-flow (churn) test needs to be conducted by starting the pump automatically. The pump must be started by drawing water from the sensing line to simulate a pressure drop in the system rather than using the “start” button on the front panel of the fire pump controller. An allowance is included in NFPA 25 for an automatic timer using either a solenoid valve drain on the pressure control line for a pressure-actuated controller or another means for a non-pressure-actuated controllers. Run time Electric pumps must be run for a minimum of 10 minutes while diesel pumps must be run for a minimum of 30 minutes. Personnel  Qualified personnel must be in attendance whenever the pump is in operation unless automated inspection and testing is performed in accordance with the requirements of NFPA 25. Check out this blog for more on automated and remote inspection and testing. Qualified personnel is defined in NFPA 25 as competent and capable individual(s) having met the requirements and training for a given field acceptable to the AHJ.  Relief valves NFPA 25 allows the circulation relief valve to open to flow water as a cooling measure. Allowing any additional water flow to prevent overheating is not a requirement of the standard. Flow from the circulation relief valve should be sufficient to prevent over-heating of the pump. It should be confirmed that the circulation relief valve is discharging a small flow of water during the no-flow (churn) test. There are additional details around circulation relief valves and main pressure relief valves in NFPA 25 which personnel should familiarize themselves with. Visual observations while pump is not running The following visual observations need to be conducted while the pump is not running. Record the system suction and discharge pressure gauge readings. For pumps that use electronic pressure sensors to control the fire pump operation, record the highest and lowest pressure shown on the fire pump controller event log where such information is available without having to open and energized motor-driven fire pump controller. If the highest or lowest pressure is outside of the expected range, record all information from the event log that helps identify the abnormality. Visual observations or adjustments while pump is running The following visual observations or adjustments need to be conducted while the pump is running. Pump system procedure as follows: Record the pump starting pressure from the pressure switch or pressure transducer Record the system suction and discharge pressure gauge readings Adjust gland nuts if necessary Inspect the pump packing glands for slight discharge Inspect for unusual noise or vibration Inspect packing boxes, bearings, or pump casing for overheating Record pressure switch or pressure transducer reading and compare to the pump discharge gauge For pumps that use electronic pressure sensors to control the fire pump operation, record the current pressure and the highest and the lowest pressure shown on the fire pump controller event log. For electric motor and radiator cooled diesel pumps, check the circulation relief valve for operation to discharge water Electrical system procedure as follows: Observe the time for motor to accelerate to full speed Record the time controller is on first step (for reduced voltage or reduced current starting) Record the time pump runs after starting (for automatic stop controllers) Diesel Engine system procedure as follows: Observe the time for engine to crank Observe the time for engine to reach running speed Observe the engine oil pressure gauge, speed indicator, water, and oil temperature indicators periodically while engine is running Record any abnormalities Inspect the heat exchanger for cooling waterflow Steam system procedure as follows: Record the steam pressure gauge reading Observe the time for turbine to reach running speed In addition to the above, the discharge temperature of the water must be monitored, and the pump shut down if necessary to prevent exposing the pump and/or driver to excessive temperatures. Where the recorded pressure readings on the discharge and suctions gauges show a difference that is greater than 95 percent of the rated pump pressure, the situation needs to be investigated and corrected. The weekly or monthly no-flow (churn) test is an important part of ensuring that a fire pump can be continually relied upon in the event of a fire. These tests will help to ensure that the pump will start and will not overheat in the event of a fire. At an annual frequency, flow testing will be performed to further verify the complete operating condition of the pump. NFPA has a number of resources related to fire pumps and the ITM required for them. Some of these include NFPA 20 Online Training Series, NFPA 25 Online Training Series, the NFPA 25 Handbook, the Certified Water-Based Systems Professional (CWBSP) credential, and the Certified Water-Based Systems Professional Learning Path among many others.
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