ICC Adopts Residential Sprinkler, Electronic Extinguisher Monitoring

For decades, businesses of all kinds have benefited from the use of automatic sprinkler systems. In fact, the average loss of property can be reduced by up to 75 percent when a sprinkler system is included in a building’s fire protection plan. Fire deaths can be reduced by up to 82 percent simply by having a sprinkler system and smoke alarms in the same structure.

As further proof of the relevance of sprinkler systems in life safety, a study conducted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) of Quincy, Mass., found that no more than two people have ever lost their lives by fire in a fully sprinkled building, except where an explosion took place.

Because of statistics like these, the fire community and lawmakers are hard at work creating incentives and laws that will prompt people to install sprinkler systems in residential structures — not just multifamily dwellings, but also single and two-family homes.

During the International Code Council’s (ICC) 2005 Annual Conference in Detroit this past September, a key ingredient in the effort to get local governments to legislate residential sprinkler systems into one- and two-family dwellings was adopted. (For more on what these new codes mean for installers, see the feature “Spinkler Mandate Showers Focus on Life Safety.”).

Fire Techs and Sprinklers Do Mix
Although the use of residential sprinkler systems may be a departure from the norm in the thinking of many security dealers and fire technicians, it is almost certain local governments will eventually pass ordinances that will require their use. When this takes place, fire alarm firms will be called upon to interconnect them to their burglar/fire alarm control panels.

Interconnection between alarm and sprinklers involve monitoring the use of a supervisory station. There are two types of supervising stations as mentioned in NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code. They are the listed central station and the proprietary supervising station.

A central station must be listed for central station service by a third-party organization such as FM or UL. It must be manned 24/7 and its operators trained to respond to supervisory and alarm signals from a digital alarm communicator transmitter (DACT).

In order to provide central station service, six crucial elements are required: 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 (Section 3.3.27, NFPA 72, 2002 Edition).

The proprietary supervising station, on the other hand, provides a similar service only using a supervising station owned and operated by the owner of the protected premises. One possible example includes a university that owns or operates a group of dormitories.

Connecting the Sprinkler/Alarm
Residential sprinkler systems are similar to the commercial models that fire technicians work on. Although the size of the piping and riser may be smaller, the flow and pressure switches that provide supervisory and alarm service are virtually the same.

Most sprinkler supervisory (tamper) switch assemblies come with two stages — one that is usually used for high-voltage signaling locally and the second for the low-voltage alarm connection (see box on page 26 of January edition). In this case, the bottom stage provides the proper voltage to a local indicating device(s) usually installed on the outside of the building. The second stage is intended for interface with an alarm system.

The supervisory switch assembly shown in the photo is a mechanical tamper switch on an OS&Y sprinkler valve, but the same approach is used when the switch monitors air pressure or any other type of condition relative to a residential sprinkler system.

Supervision for Extinguishers Is OK
During the past few years, one or two manufacturers have created electronic supervisory equipment capable of providing the automatic supervision of portable fire extinguishers.

These efforts did not go unnoticed by ICC, which recently amended the organization’s International Fire Code (IFC) with regard to extinguisher inspection requirements.

NFPA 10 requires an inspection every 30 days with annual maintenance. Thus, the space of time between inspections is sufficient enough so that something could happen to an extinguisher in an apartment or college dormitory without anyone’s knowledge. Electronic monitoring is made possible by the replacement of the traditional pressure gauge with an electronic model. Using a small control unit, local to each extinguisher, a set of relay contacts can be activated 1) when the extinguisher loses sufficient pressure, or 2) when the unit is removed.

Connection between a fire alarm panel and the control unit can be accomplished using ordinary metallic cable or wireless technology.


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