NFPA 25 provides guidance on maximizing fire safety during sprinkler systems restoration process
Over the past couple of weeks, one of the common themes among news stories and social media posts addressing the recent winter storms has been the impact of plunging temperatures on pipes. Numerous videos and images have shown frozen leaks extruding from systems and burst pipes allowing continuous flow of water from plumbing systems, which included all portions of automatic fire sprinkler systems. NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, contains provisions that require protection of sprinkler system from freezing where exposure to low temperatures can be expected. Options for this protection, which have been addressed in previous blogs, include listed antifreeze solutions, the use of dry sprinklers or dry sprinkler systems, and heat tracing. While these are effective solutions when done properly and maintained in accordance with NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, these solutions are not typically provided in conditioned spaces where the heating system is expected to maintain temperatures above freezing. In the situation where utility outages and rolling blackouts disable the heating system, the water filled pipe in those heated areas can then be subject to extreme temperatures, causing the water to freeze and subsequent failures within the system. This is a situation beyond what the standard normally anticipates. Unfortunately, as those videos and images showed last week, many systems were subjected to record cold temperatures and suffered failures. At that point, the building contains a compromised sprinkler system and is no longer protected at the level that is expected while the system is in service. In NFPA 25, the term for a system that is out of order is an impairment. In fact, one of the specifically identified ‘emergency impairments’ is frozen or ruptured piping. Impairments need to be addressed and resolved as quickly as possible in order to provide the expected level of protection for life and property. If the impairment is prolonged, additional measures need to be taken in consideration of life and property protection. Impairment Program In the time before the restoration of service, NFPA 25 provides details on impairment programs and what they should cover: Determination of the extent and expected duration of the impairment Determination of the area or buildings involved are inspected and increased risks Submittal of recommendations to mitigate any increased risks Notification of the fire department Notification of the insurance carrier, alarm company, property owner, and other authorities having jurisdiction Notification of supervisors in the areas affected Implementation of a Tag impairment system Prolonged Impairments In addition to these steps, what may be the most important or impactful provision is arranging for one or more of the following measures when the fire protection system is out of service for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period: Evacuation of the building or portion of the building affected by the system out of service Implementation of an approved fire watch program Establishment of a temporary water supply Establishment and implementation of an approved program to eliminate potential ignition sources and limit the amount of fuel available to a fire Restoring Systems to Service When repair work has been completed and the system is restored to service, the following items need to be confirmed: Any necessary inspections and tests have been conducted Supervisors have been advised that protection is restored The fire department has been advised that protection is restored The insurance carrier, alarm company, property owner, and other authorities having jurisdiction are notified that protection is restored The impairment tag is removed The impacts of the recent weather events will be seen for a while, and as weather patterns throughout the U.S. become more extreme, these kinds of incidents will likely become more common. Taking the proper precautions and establishing a plan for handling these types of scenarios well ahead of time can make a tremendous difference in mitigating the impacts of extreme weather on sprinkler systems. NFPA offers a series of online trainings that can help ensure the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in multiple environments, including the upcoming NFPA 13 (2019) Live Virtual Training, which will held on March 8-12, 2021, and theNFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems (2019) Online Learning Course.