Fire Alarm and Suppression System Inspection Testing & Maintenance

Posted by Steve Carter on Mar 20, 2012 9:15:00 AM

Last week I presented an Educational Session at the National Facilities Management and Technology conference in Baltimore, MD. Facilities Managers have the challenging responsibility of maintaining so many different building systems, including the fire systems that are so important to life safety and protection of the business operation. I shared with these Facility Managers 5 things they DO want to do and 5 things they DON’T want to do as they manage the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of the Fire Protection Systems in their buildings. Click here to download a copy of the slides that accompanied my presentation.


DO these 5 things:

1. DO take responsibility for your fire systems

Often times, fire systems can be forgotten about and no one really takes responsibility for ensuring the ongoing reliability of these systems. NFPA 72, The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, makes it clear that the property or building or system owner is responsible for the inspection, testing and maintenance of these systems. Taking responsibility means being proactive and intentional about managing the ITM program and knowing what it takes to maintain a high level of reliability your fire systems.

2. DO understand how your fire system works

Do you know the difference between the Trouble signal and the Supervisory signal in your Fire Alarm system? What’s the correct response to these different signals? What button should you press? It's questions like this that many Facility Managers don’t know how to answer. It’s important that you find ways to learn how the system operates so you are prepared to interact with the equipment in the case of an emergency. I encourage you to make an effort to understand how your particular fire systems are designed to operate.

3. DO know the inspection, testing and maintenance requirements

The NFPA standards provide the minimum requirements for the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of fire systems. Facility Managers should not overlook the importance of periodic visual inspections to verify all system components are in good operating condition, free from physical damage and nothing appears to have changed that would impact system performance. Testing should be performed on a periodic basis to verify the functionality of the fire system including simulating the events and conditions that are to be expected during an emergency situation. One must also remember those maintenance tasks that are necessary to keep the system in good operating condition. These include both periodic preventative maintenance activities and making the required repairs revealed by the inspection or testing of the system components. Take the time to learn what’s required so that you can be certain a proper ITM program is in place at your facility.

4. DO train your people

When it comes to training, Facility Managers must answer the following questions: Who should be trained? When (or how often) should they be trained? How can I train these people? Certain people should receive varying degrees of training depending upon their role. Some must understand how to operate the system so they can interact with the system when something happens. Others must simply be ready to react appropriately when an event happens. Some fire systems, like Clean Agent Extinguishing Systems have very specific NFPA requirements for training of personnel. If you decide that more training is needed, don’t forget to turn to your fire system service provider for help.

5. DO pay attention to recordkeeping

More times than not, system owners can’t put their hands on any of the documentation for their fire systems. When it comes to fire systems, there are several different types of records that are important to maintain. Every Fire Alarm System should have what is called a “Record of Completion” document that is maintained up-to-date with any and all system changes made over the life of the system. Other important records include as-built drawings, owner’s manuals, site-specific software, and a written sequence of operation. Facility Managers should also be certain to keep records of past inspections and service of the system.

DON’T do these 5 things:

1. DON’T ignore reoccurring problems

Some fire systems are plagued by reoccurring trouble conditions that just don’t seem to go away on their own. Common intermittent troubles include ground faults, circuit problems, battery faults and device failures. An experienced fire system service technician can track down the root cause of the problem and know how to make the necessary repairs. Resist the temptation to ignore these problems because of their sporadic nature. You may have a bigger problem than you think and your system may be rendered ineffective because of it.

2. DON’T let building occupants become apathetic to fire alarms

Maybe you have noticed this, but most people hesitate to respond when they hear the fire alarm evacuation signals in a building. Unfortunately, most of us have experienced more than one “false alarm” from a fire system in our lifetime and this has led many to be apathetic about evacuating. Facility Managers should do what they can to avoid false alarms, but when they do happen take steps to make whatever changes are necessary to prevent them in the future. When possible, inform occupants about the source of each false alarm in hopes of maintaining their future confidence in the system.

3. DON’T cause an accidental discharge

Many facilities will have one or more spaces protected by an automatic fire extinguishing system (i.e. FM-200, Inergen). Unfortunately, too many system owners have had to deal with an accidental discharge of a system. Facility Managers should take steps to avoid this at all costs. Without question, the most common reason for a false discharge is human error. It’s important to put in place and enforce procedures and policies that will minimize the chance for this sort of error. The single biggest contributor to the prevention of accidental discharges is training the personnel who work in and around these spaces. You should also continuously monitor operational changes that could have a negative impact on these fire suppression systems.

4. DON’T allow unqualified personnel to service your fire system

Who is qualified to service your fire system? The NFPA standards have a lot to say about this. Facilities Managers should ensure those who are performing these tasks are trained on the equipment they are servicing. I would also suggest you look for personnel who are certified by NICET in the specific type of fire system being serviced. NICET has certification programs in Fire Sprinkler, Fire Alarm and Special Hazard Fire Suppression. Facility Managers should not hesitate to ask not only the service provider, but also the specific technician about their level of experience in the type of work they are performing. The reliability of your life safety and business continuity is depending upon this person.

5. DON’T forget to consider the fire system when your facility changes

One thing is for certain, your building will eventually change and each time it does the Facility Manager must not forget to evaluate the impact those changes will have on the fire systems protecting the building. The need for this was highlighted in Lee Kaiser’s recent blog titled Clean Agent Fire Suppression: When rooms get smaller, recalculate. Other types of fire systems and components will no doubt be impacted including detector placement, notification appliance location, sprinkler coverage and obstructions to manual pull stations. When you realize your building will be undergoing a change, begin planning up-front for the necessary changes to the fire systems.

Topics: Alarm Notification, Applications, Facility Management, ORR Protection, Fire Protection Services, Suppression, Industry Education, Fire Alarm

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