One of the most important aspects of fire protection is combining sprinkler systems with fire alarms. Unfortunately, most fire alarm technicians and security dealers are totally in the dark when it comes to this topic.
The issue of what’s required with a commercial sprinkler system is of utmost importance not only to the municipality’s building department but also to those who own, work in, and visit public and private buildings. This month, we will explore some of the issues surrounding sprinkler systems and fire alarm connections.
The ICC’s Position on Sprinklers
All in all, the International Code Council (ICC) says when there’s a sprinkler system, someone must know when there’s a problem.
According to Section 903.4 of the International Fire Code (IFC), published by ICC, “All valves controlling the water supply for automatic sprinkler systems, pumps, tanks, water levels and temperatures, critical air pressures, and water-flow switches on all sprinkler systems shall be electrically supervised.”
In sum, wherever there’s an automatic sprinkler system, ICC wants someone to know when and if the water supply to the sprinkler system (valves controlling the water supply) has been turned off. They also want it known when and if something goes wrong with an alternate source of water (pumps, tanks, water levels, temperature).
Electronic monitoring is also required in special hazards, fire suppression-type systems, such as the control valve supplying kitchen hoods under which fryers and ovens are used. This also includes valves controlling the fuel supply to fire pump engines.
ICC also wants someone to know when the low-pressure air supply inside the pipes of a dry-type automatic sprinkler system fails (a critical air pressure). It’s also necessary to notify someone when water begins to flow through one or more sprinkler heads. When this occurs, it’s assumed that a sprinkler head has opened for some reason. That reason could pertain to physical damage to the head or the presence of heat.
Exceptions to the ICC Rules
As most fire technicians and security dealers know, where it comes to code work, there are often exceptions to many rules. ICC, in its infinite wisdom, realized electronic monitoring of automatic sprinkler systems might not be necessary in all cases.
For example, in the exception portion of the same section, ICC precludes the use of electronic monitoring in cases where the size of the automatic sprinkler system is relatively small, such as single- and two-family dwellings and where there are fewer than 20 sprinkler heads.
ICC also excuses the use of electronic monitoring in automatic sprinklers that comply with NFPA 13R where the same source of water supplying the sprinkler is designated for domestic use in the home and a separate shutoff is not employed for the former.
The other areas where ICC disallows the electronic monitoring of sprinkler components involve the sealing or locking of valves that supply water. This includes jockey pumps and the control valves that supply water to kitchen hoods, paint booths and dip tanks. Control valves supplying fuel to fire pumps as well as trim valves that serve pressure switches contained in deluge, preaction and dry-type systems are also excluded from compliance with 903.4.
Remote Monitoring of Sprinklers In practice, the monitoring of sprinkler systems is a common requirement.
According to Section 903.4.1 of the IFC, “Signals, alarm, supervisory and trouble signals shall be distinctly different and shall be automatically transmitted to an approved central station, remote supervising station or proprietary supervising station as defined in NFPA 72 or, when approved by the fire code official, shall sound an audible signal at a constantly attended location.”
All three fall under the guidelines set forth in Section 1-4 of NFPA 72, 1999 Edition. This section offers a brief, but valuable description of a supervisory station: “A facility that receives signals and at which personnel are in attendance at all times to respond to these signals.”
Let’s first talk about what NFPA 72, Section 1-4 calls Central Station Service: “The use of a system or a group of systems in which the operations of circuits and devices at a protected property are signaled to, recorded in, and supervised from a listed central station that has competent and experienced operators who, upon receipt of a signal, take such action as required by this code.”
In order to provide central station service, six crucial elements are required. They are: 1) installation; 2) testing and maintenance; 3) runner service; 4) monitoring; 5) retransmission; and 6) accurate record keeping. In this case, the fire alarm firm, also the prime contractor per NFPA, must be capable of providing all six services alone or through an arrangement with one or more subcontractors (see Section 1-4, Central Station Service, in NFPA 72, 1999; or Section 3.3.27, 2002).
The Remote Supervising Station Fire Alarm System: “A system installed in accordance with this code to transmit alarm, supervisory, and trouble signals from one or more protected premises to a remote location where appropriate action is taken.”
And the definition of a Proprietary Supervising Station Fire Alarm System: “An installation of fire alarm systems that serves contiguous and noncontiguous properties, under one ownership, from a proprietary supervising station located at the protected property, at which trained, competent personnel are in common attendance.”
ICC also wants someone on site to know when water flow occurs. Section 903.4.2 of IFC requires the use of audible devices on the premises, both inside and outside. Also, when there’s a structural fire alarm present, ICC wants the sprinkler system tied into it for obvious reasons.
Supervising Shut-Off Valves
Sprinkler alarms are life-safety systems and as such they require intense supervision in a variety of areas. In this regard, a list of things was provided earlier that must be monitored in order to assure continued service of a sprinkler system. This list includes valves that control the water supply, water level, the temperature of water storage tanks, and critical air pressures, such as low-pressure.
In the case of shut-off valves, the physical position of the valve stem must be monitored. A supervisory indication must occur within the first two revolutions of the stem, or within one-fifth of the valve stem’s distance of travel (Section 2-9.1.1, NFPA 72, 1999 Edition).
Just like water flows, NFPA 72 also specifies the number of supervisory devices that can be connected to an IDC. According to Section 3-220.127.116.11.1 of NFPA 72, 1999 Edition, “The number of supervisory devices permitted to be connected to a single initiating device circuit shall not exceed 20.”
Fire technicians who have additional questions on sprinklers and their connection to fire alarm systems are invited to join myself and other fire professionals on FireNetOnline BBS - on the Internet go to www.firenetonline.com.