5 Top Causes of System Failure
NFPA 25 is the primary document used for the inspection and testing of sprinkler systems. I cannot even begin to cover all of what is required within a single or multipart article on this topic. While it may not take years, it will take more than a single reading of NFPA 25 to be aware of the requirements and pitfalls of inspection and testing of these systems. I cannot emphasize enough the need to perform a complete due diligence of your company’s capabilities before you consider this track (see sidebar).
At present, NFPA 25 does not require an engineering analysis to be performed on the system. This may change in the future. NFPA does require you inspect and test a system to ensure it conforms with the manner in which it was originally installed and approved by the AHJ. A number of firms have gotten themselves in trouble when they provide engineering details in their inspection and test reports.
NFPA 25 requires three types of inspections for sprinkler systems: quarterly, annual and five-year. You need to know what is required of each type prior to performing the inspection. The complexities increase as you move from one to the next. The principle purpose of a sprinkler inspection is to verify the sprinklers are free of obstructions and that there is an adequate water supply to the system.
According to “U.S. Experience with Sprinklers and Other Automatic Fire Extinguishing Equipment,” John R. Hall Jr., NFPA 2010, sprinklers work 93% of the time when there is a fire large enough to activate the sprinklers. In addition, where they do operate they are effective 97% of the time. When sprinklers do fail, the five leading causes are:
1. Water supply was shut off
2. Inappropriate system for the type of fire
3. Lack of maintenance
4. Manual intervention
5. Damaged component
While NFPA 25 inspection and tests will not prevent all of these causes, in particular manual intervention, it does address the larger percentage. The service provider must be competent in how these systems operate and what to look for when performing inspections and tests. Do your homework before you open your Sprinkler Inspection Division.
Shane Clary, Ph.D., has more than 37 years of security and fire alarm industry experience. He serves on a number of NFPA technical committees, and is Vice President of Codes and Standards Compliance for Pacheco, Calif.-headquartered Bay Alarm Co.
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