Ins and Outs of Integrated Testing

While codes go into great detail about how to ensure fire and life-safety systems perform as intended, making sure the systems operate in concert with each other remains a work in progress. Integrated testing is a means to bridge existing gaps and maximize systems’ ability to mitigate loss of property and life.

Last month, I discussed NFPA 3, Recommended Practice on Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems. Continuing with NFPA 3, we turn to a second component: integrated testing.

During the development of NFPA 3, many technical committee members felt an area of weakness with a fire protection system is the verification that all the parts work together as a whole, and will function as per the design requirements. Thus, integrated testing may be seen as an end-to-end test of all  components making up the system.

NFPA System Testing Documents

There are a number of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) documents that discuss and require testing of various parts of a fire protection system. The two principle documents are:

  • NFPA 25 — Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems
  • NFPA 72 — The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code

In addition, the following documents contain requirements for the initial acceptance test when a system under a particular standard is installed:

  • NFPA 14: Standpipe and Hose Systems
  • NPFA 15: Water Spray Fixed Systems
  • NFPA 16: Foam Systems
  • NFPA 17: Dry Chemical Fire Extinguishing Systems
  • NFPA 17A: Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishing Systems
  • NFPA 20: Fire Pumps
  • NFPA 22: Water Tanks
  • NFPA 750: Water Mist Systems
  • NFPA 2001: Clean Agent Systems

None of these documents address all of the systems being tested at the same time. NFPA 25 covers water-based fire suppression systems; NFPA 72, automatic fire alarm systems and emergency communication systems.

While a majority of automatic fire alarm systems are connected through either a vane flow switch or pressure switch to detect the flow of water, the person or persons who perform this test can be left to regulatory mandates. In several states, a contractor who is licensed to install the automatic fire alarm system is not allowed to open the inspector’s test valve, unless he/she is a sprinkler contractor as well.

The same is true for the testing of the various systems that are listed in this article’s sidebar. The framers of NFPA 3 were concerned that while each part of a system was tested to one side or the other of a control module or relay, there was no through testing. Such testing would provide, as an example, that if the smoke detector in the front lobby was activated, the elevator would recall to an alternate floor, the fire/smoke damper in the space would actuate and the magnetic door hold open devices would de-energize to allow the fire doors to the lobby to close.

End-to-End Verification

The language within the 2010 edition of NFPA 72 is specific in regard to the testing of systems. Within Chapter 14, “Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance,” the following provision is found: Inspection, testing, and maintenance programs shall verify correct operation of the system.

Verification can be done by making sure the relay that is supposed to actuate when a particular set of detectors activate does so. Verification does not require that the actual event that is supposed to occur actually occurs.

In Chapter 21, “Emergency Control Functions and Interfaces,” NFPA 72 provides further clarification: 21.2.12 The operation of all fire safety emergency control functions shall be verified by an operational test at the time of the system acceptance.

It could be concluded this paragraph does require an end-to-end test of the fire alarm system with all fire safety functions. But who is responsible for this test? NFPA documents clearly place responsibility on the owner. I have been at final acceptance tests where other contractors (HVAC, elevator and general electrical) are not present. Thus the test is to the relay, with testing of that connected to the other side done at a later date.

This paragraph also only applies to the system at the time of initial acceptance or when a change has been made. One of the concerns proffered during the development of NFPA 3 was on a system three, five, 10 years after the installation. Will it still work as designed and installed?

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