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.

Sprinkling Codes

NFPA 25 is a document used primarily by the automatic fire sprinkler industry. As a systems integrator, you should, however, be familiar with its content and use. This document is in a way the sprinkler industry’s NFPA 72, Chapter 14. However, it does not cover the acceptance tests that are required for these systems. The only references within NFPA 25 to fire alarm systems cover the notification of all parties before testing is conducted, to avoid unwanted alarms.

With the exception of verification that a signal from a water-flow is received at the fire alarm control unit within 90 seconds and the receipt of a signal from a control valve supervisory switch, there are no other requirements that the connections between a water-based suppression system and the building’s fire alarm system are checked. There are many parts of a sprinkler system that may be left unchecked:

  • Water tank level
  • Water tank temperature
  • Fire pump operation
  • Dry pipe high-low pressure supervision
  • Pre-action system solenoid actuation
  • Aqueous foam forming film (AFFF) Solenoid actuation

The installation standard for automatic fire sprinkler system, NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, centers on the hydrostatic testing of the system for acceptance. The alarm test is limited to that of the external audible bell. There are no requirements for testing between the sprinkler system and the fire alarm.

Why Integrated Is Important

Turning to NFPA 3, integrated testing of fire protection system is covered in Chapter 7, “Integrated System Testing.” Being a recommended practice, the language written within NFPA 3 is nonmandatory. A building owner may still mandate that the provisions within the document are used for their building.

The following provisions are found within the chapter:

  • 7.3.2 Integrated testing of fire protection and life safety systems should verify the interconnections functions properly.
  • 7.3.3 During integrated testing, equipment should be tested in accordance with the applicable installation standard to verify systems perform according to their design function.
  • 7.3.4 Written documentation of the testing and inspection should be provided.

Testing of systems throughout a building’s life is a big concern for the technical committee. To address this they added: 7.2.2 Existing fire protection and life safety systems should have periodic integrated systems.

Integrated fire protection system testing may involve several contractors onsite, as an integrator may not be familiar with all the various parts that make up to total fire protection package. The integrator would know that when detector X is activated, relay Y is to close, but the equipment on the other side of the relay could be foreign. Team work is essential.

Adopting Recommended Practices

The NFPA Standards Council approved a new document be developed within the NPFA process. NFPA 4 Standard for Integrated Testing of Fire Protection Systems is to be promulgated during the next several years. As a proposed standard, the language will be mandatory and could be adopted by an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).

Systems integrators need to
be aware of the various documents that NPFA publishes related to fire protection systems. Knowledge of NPFA 3 is also important. While only a recommended practice, it may be mandated in future project specifications if the building owner wishes compliance. Missing this in a bid may have consequences.

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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