Topic: Fire Protection Systems

Visual Inspection of Sprinklers

NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems provides the criteria for the routine activities that must be conducted to ensure that water-based fire protection systems, such as automatic sprinklers systems, can be relied upon in the event of a fire. These activities range from simple visual confirmation of some things such as valve position and room or water tank temperature on a more frequent basis, to much more complex activities such as full flow tests and internal assessments at longer intervals.    This blog will focus on the requirements for visual inspection of the sprinklers themselves. Check here for  more information on the different types of sprinklers.   How often? One of the required activities is to perform an annual visual inspection of the sprinklers themselves. An annual frequency is defined as occurring once per year with a minimum of 9 months and a maximum of 15 months between inspections. See this blog more information on NFPA 25 ITM frequencies.   From the floor A key specification in the standard is that these visual inspection of sprinklers are intended to be conducted from the floor level. This means that typically there should be no special equipment needed for these routine inspections such as ladders or lifts. To further support this concept, NFPA 25 clearly states that sprinklers located in concealed spaces such as above suspended ceilings do not require inspection.    All sprinklers? It is often asked if the requirements of NFPA 25 for sprinkler inspections only require a certain percentage of sprinklers to be included as part of the inspection. There is no allowance in the standard that indicates any sprinklers are permitted to be skipped during an inspection, other than those in concealed spaces as referenced above and for those installed in areas that are inaccessible for safety considerations due to process operations, the latter of which must be inspected during each scheduled shut down. The owner or their designated representative is responsible for providing access to sprinklers at the time of the inspection. See this blog for more information the owner’s responsibilities related to ITM. If certain sprinklers cannot be accessed for inspection it is common to note that on inspection reports.   What is being inspected? The following are items that NFPA 25 includes as part of the visual inspection of sprinklers.  Leakage Corrosion detrimental to sprinkler performance Physical damage Loss of fluid in the glass bulb heat-responsive element Loading detrimental to sprinkler performance Paint other than that applied by the sprinkler manufacturer Sprinklers installed in the incorrect orientation Minimum clearance to storage is maintained  The conditions in this list can have a detrimental effect on the performance of sprinklers by adversely impacting water distribution patterns, insulating thermal elements which could delay operation, or otherwise rendering the sprinkler inoperable or ineffectual.   The visual inspection does not include any sort of verification of the design or layout of the sprinkler system. This is true of all of the ITM activities specified by NFPA25. If NFPA 13 needs to be referenced to cite an issue then it is likely outside the scope of inspection activities of NFPA 25. Some inspectors might provide items related to the design of a system if they are noticed as a separate report. It is the responsibility of the owner to have a design evaluation performed if changes have been made.    Leaking Sprinklers that are leaking or that have been damaged must be replaced without testing. Dissolved minerals and other residues in the water can solidify as the sprinkler leaks, hampering the operation of the sprinkler by changing internal clearances or acting like an adhesive, preventing parts from moving as intended. Annex material in NFPA 25 makes a distinction between “spraying or running” water and “dripping” water. The sprinkler could be damaged and might not activate as it is intended to. Either way, this condition would require action because the functionality of the device is in question.   Corrosion detrimental to sprinkler performance Corrosion found on the seat, or built up on the deflector that could affect the spray pattern, or a buildup on the operating elements that could affect the operation can have a detrimental effect on the performance of the sprinkler. Lightly loaded sprinklers or sprinklers having limited corrosion that does not impact the water distribution characteristics can continue to be used if the samples are selected for testing in accordance NFPA 25 based on worst-case conditions and if the samples successfully pass the tests. Surface discoloration that does not impact the performance of the sprinkler should not warrant replacement or testing.     Figure 1: Corroded Sprinkler (Courtesy of Wiginton Fire Systems)   Physical damage Damaged deflectors should not be overlooked, although they can be difficult to detect from floor level. What might appear to be only slight damage to the deflector can have a drastic impact on the distribution of the spray pattern and the density of the water that is delivered.      Figure 2: Damaged Sprinkler Deflector (Courtesy of Wiginton Fire Systems)   Loading detrimental to sprinkler performance Any loading used to require replacement however in recent editions the criteria for sprinkler replacement depend on whether the corrosion or loading is detrimental to sprinkler performance. This introduces a certain level of subjectivity into the inspection of sprinklers and further explains the necessity of those conducting the inspection to be qualified as defined in NFPA 25. Sprinklers that upon inspection show signs that they will not operate correctly are required to be replaced. However, those with light loading can be cleaned with a vacuum or a blast of compressed air.   Figure 3: Close-Up of Loaded Sprinkler (Courtesy of Wiginton Fire Systems)   Paint other than that applied by the sprinkler manufacturer Sprinkler must be free of paint other than that applied by the manufacturer. Painted sprinklers are never permitted to be cleaned and/or reinstalled, because the potential of damaging the assembly is too great. A “light” overspray or loading can be tolerated when a representative sample is tested to verify that the sprinklers will operate as intended   Figure 4: Painted Sprinkler (Courtesy of Josh Elvove)   Sprinklers installed in the incorrect orientation Sprinklers installed in the incorrect orientation such as an upright sprinkler installed in the pendent position will not develop an effective spray pattern. Where this happens, the situation must be corrected by repositioning the branch line, drop, or sprig, or the sprinkler must be replaced. While this is not always easy to tell from floor level, where it is observed it must be corrected.   Figure 5a: Upright Sprinkler Incorrectly Installed in the Pendent Position   Figure 5b: Pendent Sprinkler Incorrectly Installed in the Upright Position   Minimum clearance to storage is maintained Obstructions to sprinkler distribution patterns, such as storage that is too close to sprinkler deflectors, can hamper the effectiveness of sprinklers. Obstructions that are closer than 18 in. (457 mm) below the sprinkler have a greater impact on distribution patterns than do obstructions located further away. These are easy to visually spot as opposed to many of the other obstruction distances specified by NFPA 13 so they are the only ones referenced by NFPA 25.   Figure 6 Typical Obstruction: Storage    There is much more that goes into a complete inspection of a sprinkler system than just the visual inspection of sprinklers. NFPA 25 should be referenced in full as it applies to a specific system. Sprinklers themselves should be visually inspected at an annual frequency for the items listed in this blog. 

2022 NFPA 13D Annex B includes Incentives for Builders, Developers, and Communities

Regardless of whether fire sprinklers are mandated in new one- or two-family dwellings by the use of a code or ordinance, or if sprinklers are installed voluntarily by the developer, builder or homeowner, the system should be installed according to NFPA 13D, the standard for one- and two-family dwellings and manufactured homes. The intent of NFPA 13D, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes, is to provide an affordable sprinkler system in homes while maintaining a high level of life safety. NFPA 13D is intended to prevent injury and life loss. It requires sprinklers to be installed in living areas, sprinklers are not required in smaller bathrooms or closets, pantries, garages or carports, attached open structures, attics, and other concealed non-living spaces. The standard requires at least 10 minutes of sprinkler water on the fire in its initial stage of development. That controls the fire early, giving residents the time to safely escape and the fire department time to respond. A typical home fire will be controlled and may even be extinguished by the time the fire department arrives. NFPA 13D has been around for more than 45 years and is constantly being reviewed, tweaked, and republished to reflect the latest in technology and our experiences with fires. The 2022 Edition contains an important new feature, Annex B, to provide the fire service and other fire sprinkler advocates with informative tools to expand the use of installed sprinklers in new homes. Annex B contains valuable resources for helping advocates educate planning officials, community leaders, developers, builders, and consumers about the value of home fire sprinklers in new homes.  However, like all annexes within NFPA standards, Annex B in NFPA 13D is not a mandatory part of the standard and it would not be included as part of any incorporation by reference within a statewide code or local ordinance.    Annex B contains six important sections: Community process and infrastructure Site planning and development Building construction Community risk reduction Environmental stewardship Sustainability of homes and affordable housing While the fire service and fire sprinkler advocates will recognize most, if not all, of the key points, resources and references contained within Annex B, this is the first time all this valuable information has been gathered and categorized in a single document.  The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) offers free resources based on the information in Annex B, that AHJs can use to educate stakeholders involved in new home developments. Visit www.HomeFireSprinkler.org/CRR for more information. More information and free access to view NFPA 13D 2022 Edition can be found at www.nfpa.org/13D.

John Denhardt announced as new Fire Protection Research Foundation trustee

The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF or Foundation), the research affiliate of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has appointed John Denhardt to a three-year trustee term. Denhardt, P.E., ET, FSFPE, CWBSP, is a Professional Engineer (P.E.) registered in the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The Maryland native works as vice president of engineering and technical services for the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) and is responsible for strengthening engineering and technical approaches for the benefit of AFSA members, the industry, and operational priorities. Denhardt is an NICET Level III in Water-Based Systems Layout and in Inspection and Testing of Water-Based Systems; an NFPA Certified Water-Based Systems Professional (CWBSP); and a member of the NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems Sprinkler Discharge Committee. He is also a fellow in the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE); sits on the University of Maryland Department of Fire Protection Engineering Board of Visitors; and is a member of the SFPE Board of Directors. The new FPRF trustee holds a Bachelor of Science degree in fire protection engineering from the University of Maryland. The Foundation is a separate, independent, nongovernmental organization with its own officers and nine trustees. Over the last 40 years, FPRF research reports have been downloaded by safety-focused practitioners in more than 160 countries. Projects cover everything from fire suppression systems, emergency response, public policy, public education, detection and signaling, industrial hazards, wildfire, electrical, and building safety.
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NFPA LiNK Empowers Users to Quickly and Easily Navigate Digital Codes and Standards

Did you catch the first free one-hour webinar educating users on our revolutionary digital platform, NFPA LiNK®? If not, don’t worry, it won’t be the last. At the March session, hosted by me, prospective and current NFPA LiNK subscribers from all over the world gathered virtually for an interactive discussion. I presented a complete demonstration of all features and content within NFPA LiNK followed by a Q&A session. Below are some key features that were demonstrated for our webinar attendees: Complete access to all NFPA codes and standards: NFPA LiNK houses the latest edition of every NFPA® code and standard, as well as a growing library of legacy editions for the organization’s most referenced publications. Subscribers also receive early access to newly released editions and can favorite their most cited publications for easy reference.  Enhanced publication navigation: Once a publication is open, users can view all enhanced content and collaborative notes. The bookmark feature enables users to save content (both sections and tables), leave notes, add bookmarks to larger collections, and color-code bookmarks. For easy side-by-side viewing of different sections of code, users can utilize the reference panel feature. NFPA LiNK also makes it easy to share sections of code with others (nonsubscribers included) via email from directly within a publication. Comprehensive search capabilities: The search feature within NFPA LiNK allows users to quickly search all NFPA publications by keyword or phrase. Users can also utilize filters to further refine a search and narrow down code content results. Custom MyLink page: MyLink is where subscribers can easily access and search all bookmarked content and collections. Within MyLink, users can create and reference individual collections of bookmarks as well as team collections for sharing and collaboration with others. Additional NFPA DiRECT™ content: NFPA DiRECT allows subscribers to find interactive, industry-specific content through situational navigation. With new content added on a weekly basis, the NFPA DiRECT hub within NFPA LiNK highlights situations and solutions created by NFPA experts to help users better understand requirements in varying situations. Offline Capabilities: The offline feature allows users to store publications, notes, and enhanced content for uninterrupted access anywhere at any time. Team Management Feature: NFPA LiNK’s team management capabilities mean team admins don’t need to contact NFPA or IT whenever they want to reassign licenses among team members. This feature allows users to conveniently invite, add, and remove team members.  Want to see it all in action? You can catch a recording of the session, “How to Quickly and Easily Navigate Digital Codes and Standards,” on our webinar page here.  As game-changing as these features are, NFPA LiNK continues to grow with you. We are constantly listening to and interacting with our users to learn more about the best updates that will help you excel in your daily roles. NFPA LiNK users can expect to see new content and features on a continuous basis—all of which will be shared with users within the “Announcements” section of NFPA LiNK. Stay tuned for more information on the next free NFPA LiNK educational webinar, coming in June 2022. Check here for more details soon. To find out more about NFPA LiNK, including how to sign up for a free trial, visit nfpa.org/link. 
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10 Ways to Make Your Safety Culture Thrive

Safety implications for businesses extend far beyond injury and property damage. An effective safety culture is critical to ensuring that business operations and output continue, and that facilities remain incident-free. Here are ten ways that organizations can invest in a strong safety culture to ensure that people, property, and productivity are safeguarded. Set appropriate expectations – It is important that everyone understands their respective roles and what they are accountable for on the job. Organizations tend to leverage regulatory requirements to guide them in setting expectations, but it is equally important to clarify business priorities. A sure-fire way to improve safety in the workplace is to establish a culture where safety is prioritized over production. Are your workers encouraged to pause work for safety reasons? Do they feel pressured to deliver results rather than keeping safety at the forefront?  Build shared ownership – Everyone should know and own their safety responsibilities. A great way to enrich an organization’s safety culture is by fostering an environment that shares ownership of safety tasks. Taking this tack helps everyone to properly understand how their safety benchmarks meld with others to achieve optimal safety. In the spirit of transparency and collaboration, give workers an opportunity to raise and answer questions as a team. Do your workers spend time sharing their accountabilities and learning more about their peers’ safety responsibilities? Help them believe – More often than not, training is treated as a check-the-box requirement for safety compliance. Real impact training not only helps workers acquire insights and techniques to be safer, it cultivates knowledge, skills, and an attitude that leads to changed behaviors. Without that deeper understanding, employees and contractors may be tempted to bypass or reduce safety steps in the interest of productivity. Have your workers been adequately trained so that they believe in the importance of performing their designated safety controls? Right people, right skills – Workers need the right skills to perform their assigned tasks. Qualifications should be considered prior to delegating responsibilities to personnel. A level of thoughtful consideration is especially important as an individual’s level of accountability changes or increases. How are you ensuring that individuals have the right competence to perform required safety tasks? Make it easy to comply – Cumbersome compliance systems contribute to the complacency that can hurt a safety culture. If workers find permitting to be difficult, then they may seek ways to circumvent mandatory procedures. If workers cannot attend scheduled training due to conflicts with their schedule, then they may skip mandatory learning that is critical for safety. How are you ensuring compliance is simple and feasible for your workers? Part of performance review – Expectations, training, and compliance must be built into regular performance reviews. Supervisors need to purposefully observe and provide feedback to employees about strict adherence to safety policies and procedures. Those same managers must be rewarded and disciplined equally for meeting production AND safety benchmarks. Does your management and workforce receive feedback, rewards, and recognition for ensuring safe operations and compliance? Talk the talk – I once visited an organization that takes time during each meeting to share a safety example or misstep to underscore the relevancy of the company’s policies and procedures. Those weighing in during this discussion hailed from both the operations and business sides of the organization. Beyond having visual cues, such as signage in the workplace, teams should spend time talking about safety. Complacency is the biggest enemy of a safety culture. The more that teams discuss safety, the more likely it will be top of mind as they work. Do your workers have a channel to discuss safety issues regularly? Walk the walk – Take time to celebrate good safety practices and digest poorly executed plans. People learn from both good and bad examples so be sure to debrief incidents, inspect outcomes, and audit situations. Learning does not and should not end with training. Do your workers regularly celebrate successes and learn from mistakes? Encourage curiosity – Asking questions can often be frowned upon with some mistakenly perceiving curiosity as incompetence. Teach workers to know when it is appropriate to question if adequate safety controls are being applied, especially during moments of change management when occupations and usage could be in flux. Managers and workers should have access to internal and external experts for safety-related questions and should be encouraged to keep up with the latest safety practices outlined in codes, standards, and training.  Are your managers and workers encouraged to be curious and to build on their career capabilities? Build partnerships with AHJs – Many people treat audits and inspections as a threat and may withhold information for fear of receiving poor ratings. The truth is that auditors and inspectors are safety culture allies. Their insights help organizations improve safety outcomes, so it is essential for businesses to be honest and transparent during any kind of analysis. Are you leveraging audits and inspections to regularly assess and improve your safety program and culture? It is widely known that codes and standards provide the solid foundation for an organization’s safety infrastructure. For the benefit of business continuity and workplace culture, key managers and workers in an organization should: learn how codes and standards inform safety program policies, procedures, and best practices; believe that everyone plays a role in safety; and  be curious and critically assess potential hazards based on the latest information and training. Investing in an organization’s safety culture and the need for skilled labor are two critical components of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™.  In a nutshell, the Ecosystem shows us that safety is a system; the framework is being used around the world to facilitate important discussions in the workplace. Find out how NFPA can help your organization improve its safety culture through codes and standards, research, training, certifications, and membership
Building Evacuation Sign - green

Building Occupants - Should they stay, or should they go?

At the first indication there may be an emergency, many argue the best course of action is to evacuate all the occupants immediately, however, as buildings increase in size and complexity this question, like emergencies themselves, is challenging, and the best course of action is not straight forward. Thus, it is important to pre-plan an evacuation strategy prior to an emergency occurring. For buildings required to have an emergency action plan, an evacuation procedure is required along with drills to ensure occupants (employees and guests) are aware of the approved strategy (NFPA 1 – Fire Code [1:10.8.2.1]). The development of an emergency action plan is the responsibility of the building owner; however, it must be approved by the AHJ (for more information about Emergency Action Plans check out this blog). When a building is not required to have an emergency action plan, it is still important to pre-plan the evacuation procedure. There are four main strategies when it comes to occupant safety, each named for their intent: Total evacuation. Phased Evacuation. Occupant Relocation. Shelter-in-place. Total Evacuation One of, if not the most common strategy is total evacuation where all the occupants are directed to immediately exit. Its most effective in less complex buildings, where evacuation occurs as emergency responders are in route. Since buildings are smaller and less complex, any potential conflicts with occupants exiting and access for responders are minimal. As building size and complexity increase, the number of occupants and time to total evacuation increases, making the total evacuation strategy less applicable. Phased Evacuation An alternate to total evacuation is the phased evacuation where occupants are directed to exit in groups, typically starting with those closest to the emergency and working away. More often used in larger buildings such as high-rises, this strategy accounts for the increased time required to evacuate. Occupants closest to the emergency are given priority use of the exits, followed by those in less danger.  Typically, the fire floor and one or two floors above and below are evacuated first. Additional floors are then evacuated as necessary, usually by doing one additional floor above and below at a time. Evacuation is often conducted over a longer period, requiring active management so that emergency responders are not competing for access while occupants exiting. Occupant Relocation When occupants are incapable of evacuation possibly due to a medical conditions or physical restraint the occupant relocation strategy can be utilized. It is typically employed in buildings with both active (fire sprinkler) and passive (smoke/fire barriers) protection providing safe locations for occupants within the building during an emergency. This includes the use of areas of refuge as discussed in NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. Shelter-in-place Like occupant relocation and phased evacuation, the shelter-in-place strategy involves utilizing the protection provided by the building, both passive and active, as well as the distance from the emergency to protect occupants in place. The difference being occupants are remaining in place, until the emergency is mitigated. Depending on the size of the building and type of emergency, evacuation may never be required. An example of this could be a residential high-rise where occupants several floors removed from the fire remain in their apartment until the fire is controlled. The occupants away from the emergency.  When a shelter-in-place strategy is employed emergency responders, in conjunction with facility personnel (if applicable) should continue to re-evaluate the situation and decision to employ said strategy. If the smoke/fire are spreading into occupied areas rescue from the fire department or total evacuation may be necessary. When occupants are directed to shelter in place it is important to communicate to the need to be patient as controlling the fire and removing the smoke can take an hour or longer. In a fire or other emergency event, if occupants are located near the fire or emergency, they should be directed to take every action possible to remove themselves from that area. If safe exits are not available and the building can provide some protection facility personnel and emergency responders may choose to utilize another evacuation strategy. Communicating the strategy and practicing via drills ensures that everyone is familiar with increasing occupant safety in an emergency. Every situation is slightly different making evacuation a complex decision. For more information on building evacuation check out these NFPA resources: How to make a home fire escape plan NFPA FAQs about building evacuation High-rise Apartment & Condominium Safety
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