During the MCFP Virtual Conference series, expert Lee Kaiser, covers sprinkler inspection, testing, and maintenance. In the video below, watch as Lee dives in-depth on what is required for inspection, testing, and maintenance of sprinkler systems.
Let's move on to fire sprinkler systems. NFPA 25, the standard for inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems is where we find this information. It breaks down specifics for the different water-based systems that that document covers. It starts with general requirements for all systems, but then Chapter 5 for sprinklers moves on to standpipes and fire pumps.
There's a few others that I don't list here, but one of the common chapters to all systems is for valves, Chapter 13 and then Chapter 14, internal piping condition and instruction investigation. That is where we start to deal with the issue of corrosion and corrosion-related blockages in fire sprinkler systems.
The strongest chapter on impairments, the red-tag conditions is Chapter 15 and that's where a lot of that red-tag information comes from in NFPA 25. One of the NFPA 25 standards are the notifications that need to happen when we start to doing testing, and before shutting down a system to test.
We need to notify these three people: the building owner, the monitoring station (an off-sight station that knows where we could cause an alarm and send a signal offsite), and the fire department. If required locally, the fire department may have regulations where you need to notify them, and then the code says to do that.
While you notify them, you communicate the following information to all three people: The purpose of the testing, the components that are involved and the estimated duration of the testing for that day and when the systems return to service. Another thing the code indicates is that we need to do coordinated sprinklers tests in the locations where we tie the fire sprinkler system to the fire alarm system. With those common devices we need to do coordinated testing on them. The code says for tamper switches, flow switches, pressure switches and releasing devices they need to be tested according to NFPA 72, but should have coordinated testing between the fire sprinkler system tester and the fire alarm system tester.
If you have a service contractor that can do it, they can probably arrange coordinated testing for you. If you have separate service contracts for each system in your building is it a big deal that these systems get tested once by each contractor? Not really, it just increases operational reliability. If you're exceeding the minimums it's not that big of an issue.
Annually we're supposed to inspect sprinklers. Sprinklers that we can see are supposed to inspected from the floor. That's the standard of the NFPA 25. If it's visible, and it can be inspected from the floor, we do that. We don't have to get lifts out; we don't have to get tall ladders.
In this room, we've got concealed sprinklers. They're the architecturally pleasing type with those discs on them, so you don't see the guts of the sprinkler. When we do an inspection, I'd be looking to see if there's proper vertical clearance down from the sprinkler to any storage in the room. They need to have at least 18 inches so if that sprinkler activates due to heat from a fire then it has at least 18 inches to establish a spray pattern.
Other things we're going to inspect for; Is it leaking? Is there corrosion? Is there any dirt or foreign materials? Is there any paint on the sprinkler? Did somebody paint the sprinkler that can slow the response time to a fire if paint gets on there. Also, dirt can slow the response time. Is there any physical damage? I can't see it on the sprinklers in this room, but if there is a colored glass bulb in there. Can I see the bulb fluid level? Can I at least see the color of the bulb there from the floor, and is it in the correct orientation?
Sprinklers, in general, should be either pendent sprinklers where the pipe comes in from the top and the sprinkler faces down or upright sprinklers where the pipe comes in from the bottom that faces up the sidewall. If the pipe comes in from the side, is it a pendent sprinkler, installed in the pendent position? That's what we're looking for. This room's kind of hard to do a sprinkler inspection on because of the concealed sprinklers.
I've got this picture here of a sprinkler that's got some issues, right? So can you look at that picture and maybe call out some of the things that you see as issues with it?
"The deflector's bent." Yeah, deflector's bent. People picked that out.
"It looks like there's paint on it." Got paint on the deflector. What else?
"Looks like dirt on it." Looks like dirt. There's definitely a little schmaltz or whatever right there. What else?
"Looks like an upright head." Yeah, so if you look real close, the tines on the sprinkler deflector look like they curve up slightly, so it could be a upright head installed in the pendent position, so that would be a problem. Anything else you see?
"Fusible link against the frame."
Somebody called out paint. We see paint on it and this doesn't have a bulb level. This is a link and lever sprinkler, so the link pieces, the fusible link and then these lever arms are what hold it closed until the link breaks and the lever arms fall away for the sprinkler to open. You guys caught a lot of these issues and somebody said corrosion too. We caught that too. So those are all the issues with that sprinkler.
For sprinkler pipes, we need to inspect those. Again, the inspection standard is from the floor for the pipes that we can see. So can we inspect the pipes in this room?
No, because they're all above the ceiling and the standard doesn't expect us to, only if they're exposed. We're supposed to annually inspect pipe fitting, hangers and braces. Inspect it from the floor for leakage, corrosion, physical damage and if there are any external loads resting on the piping?
One good example here shows wires draped over pipes. So as an existing building, since we've added more technology, more Ethernet cables, and many times, a convenient way to support Ethernet cables are the sprinkler pipes, because they're all up there already anyway and we can just drape those along. The installation standard for sprinklers say that sprinkler systems must be independently supported from the building structure and no other building system should be dependent on the sprinkler system for its support. So the wires draped over the pipes would be breaking that.
One example somebody called out was that we saw a restaurant where they're using the pipes to hang the chandeliers. That doesn't meet the code either, that'd be a failure condition too. Again, if we can see the pipes, then we're supposed to inspect them.
Let's move to testing of sprinklers. I've got this fun video of how not to test sprinklers taken by a student inside of a high school science classroom. The gentleman in the blue shirt is the teacher in the science lab and in this experiment, he's bubbling up a little methane or natural gas through soap bubbles. This gentleman in the red is a student and he's going to have a lit match and he's going to light off this bubble of methane, mayhem ensues, you'll watch the rest.
We're not supposed to do it that way, we're supposed to test sprinklers in a much less dramatic and so this is how you do it. The code says we're supposed to remove a sample of the sprinklers and send them in for testing. Usually a lot of times that's a zone size. For a wet zone, we may take a sample out of that. Maybe in a multistory building, we have one zone per floor, so each floor would be a zone and we'd remove a sample from those, send them into a lab.
We have to replace the ones we take out with new sprinklers because this is a destructive test. When we send them to the lab, the testing that they do ruins the sprinkler and you don't get them back. And so during the testing on that sample of your sprinklers, if one of them fails to activate properly, then you need to go back, and then you need to replace all the sprinklers in the zone. This could be a pretty expensive thing if we had to do this often, but with the code, we don't have to. For standard response sprinklers, we need to do the testing after 50 years of installation and then every 10 years after that.
For fast response sprinklers which includes a number of pipes like quick response, probably what's over our head today. ESFR, which stands for early suppression fast response and residential pipe sprinklers need to be tested after 20 years and then every 10 years after that. For dry sprinklers, they go through more changes in temperatures and are shown to be a little less reliable. They need to be tested after 10 years and again on a 10-year ongoing basis. If sprinklers are in a corrosive environment, it cuts down to 5 years. The code goes on to say that after 75 years of installation, we need to cut all these testing intervals down to every 5 years and we need to replace any sprinklers manufactured before 1920.
We also need to do some inspections on some of the devices in the system. We need to inspect for physical damage on a quarterly basis, four times a year. Water flow alarm devices including the pressure-type water flow switches and the vein pipe flow switches. Valve tamper switches, pressure switches and gauges. This inspection of this device shows a broken water gauge and that would be a failure condition that would need replaced.