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Ways Your Fire Protection System Could Fail You

Why Fire Protection Systems Need Maintenance

If you haven’t kept up with a regular maintenance schedule, catch up now to avoid the potential legal nightmare that could result if you have a fire and your system doesn’t function the way it should.

“One of the first things your property insurance carrier is going to ask for after a fire is a copy of your inspection, testing and maintenance requirements, AS1851 and if it turns out you haven’t been maintaining them in the way they’re intended, they could use that as justification for denying your claim. “If  someone got hurt or was killed and there was a proximate cause related to the fire detection system – there could be legal ramifications.“If you have a hotel fire, for example, and someone is hurt or killed and the family discovers that you haven’t had the fire alarm system inspected or tested in four or five years, they’re definitely going to go after you for that on a civil matter.”

3 Fire Protection Basics for Commercial Buildings

No matter what type of building you manage, there are three duties that you need to either take care of on a regular basis or bring in a third-party contractor for.

1. Inspection

You need to do regular visual checks of each fire detection notification or protection device and make sure everything is still intact and they in operating condition. This should happen as often as every month if possible, this task is easy enough for a building owner or facilities department to handle in-house.

2. Testing

A formally qualified technician has to come in and test the equipment to see how it will perform during an emergency. This task is farmed out to third-party testing services.

3. Maintenance

The manufacturers of each part of the fire protection system will require certain maintenance to keep the various components in good shape. Think of the fire protection system like a new car.
The first thing you do when you get to the lot is walk around the car, sit in it and look it over. That’s an inspection. Then you take it for a test drive to see how it performs – that’s a test. When you buy it, there’s an owner’s manual in the glove box that tells you how often to change the oil – that’s maintenance.”

Depending on the type of system and the components, you might have to run pumps weekly and document whether they performed. You might need to make sure a sprinkler system’s as per AS 2118, valves are lubricated or even periodically disassembled to check that the system isn’t corroded or blocked. 

In addition to manufacturer-specific requirements, you’re also bound by local codes and standards, explains Rodger Reiswig, vice president of industry relations for Johnson Controls. Local requirements are often based on either the International Fire Code (IFC) or codes issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Find out what your municipality or state has adopted (and which version) and use that to inform your inspection, testing and maintenance schedule.

You’ll likely need to become familiar with AS1670 which covers installation, testing and maintenance of fire alarm and signaling systems, as well as AS1851  (service and maintenance of fire protection equpiment) and the NCC (Nation Construction Code). Your local authority may also have declined to adopt certain parts of the code or added local requirements based on geography or other factors, so it pays to find out exactly what the local version is and follow that to the letter.


Special Requirements for Building Fire Protection

Some building types require specialized equipment depending on who uses the facility, In schools, you typically have a very controlled environment. The teacher is in charge of the students and they train with fire and evacuation, so if there’s a problem, they can generally leave on their own.

Health care facilities have more restrictive rules because people in there can’t just get up and walk out. If you’re in the operating room or the ICU and the alarm goes off, you’re not leaving without some help. That’s why those types of facilities have more restrictive requirements in terms of fire protection systems, fire separation, smoke control and ways to protect the person – what is sometimes known as ‘defend in place’ rather than trying to evacuate.

Related: The Importance of Scheduling Emergency Drills

Requirements for office buildings are typically straightforward because, in theory, people working in an office are awake, alert, oriented, can respond quickly in an emergency and can self-evacuate. A high-rise office building will typically have speakers rather than the horns you’d find in a shorter building. Go to a 10-story office building, and it’s going to have a voice fire alarm system and it’s playing messages to get instructions to people rather than just beeping.

Those instructions are typically targeted to whatever floor the fire is on and the floors above and below it to avoid a stampede of every floor trying to evacuate at once.

Let’s say in a 50-story high-rise building and a fire alarm activates on the 37th floor. Instead of sending a signal to all 50 floors of the building, the can be sent a very specific alarm with a follow-up message to people on the 37th floor, where the alarm originated, and the floors above and below, floors 36 and 38. Instead of trying to empty a 50-story building, an alarm is going to initiate the on three floors. After it gets attention, the announcement will come on saying there’s been a fire reported on the 37th floor and direct occupants on 36, 37 and 38 to either relocate to a lower level or leave the building.

In addition to influencing the installation requirements, occupancy and building type also influence testing, it’s optimal to conduct the testing when no one is in the building – for example, nights or weekends – but that’s probably impossible if you’re managing a hospital.

On topic: Building Evacuation Questions Answered

If your building is always occupied, work with the inspection company to conduct the tests in phases and move people out of the testing areas as much as you can.

There’s no requirement that everything has to be done at the same time, so you could write a contract that says I’ll inspect 50 percent of the system in January and 50 percent in July. In a very large facility, they might do quarterly inspections with 25 percent of the system at once, the advantages of that are that you’re having an expert come in and look at your system every three months. Some people are under the impression that you’ve got to do everything in one shot. Talk to the fire alarm specialist and don’t be afraid to ask those kinds of questions.

Yours In Fire Safety

Complete Fire and Pumps


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