Water-Based Systems Call for Sprinkling of Standards and Skills

SSI‘s latest research shows 10% of fire/life-safety systems contractors are involved in the installation, inspection or testing of water-based suppression systems. For those providers willing to gain the expertise, sprinkling offers a solid growth opportunity.

Most firms that install fire alarm systems also provide testing and inspection of these systems. The requirements for this are found within NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. The specific requirements are found in Chapter 14, Inspection, Testing and Maintenance. A part of the inspection and testing of fire alarm systems involve automatic fire sprinkler systems. This includes the testing of the flow or pressure switch that detects the flow of water within the system, and the testing of tamper switches that are providing supervision for a number of valves that control the water supply to and from the sprinkler systems.

For those who do provide NFPA 72 inspections, you have probably been asked by property owners why they must have you there to test the fire alarm system and a sprinkler contractor to perform the inspection and test on the sprinkler system. They may further state that some of the tests appear to be the same, such as the flowing of water. Some firms that test fire alarm systems do provide inspection and tests on sprinkler systems. The question you may ask yourself, should I?

Sprinkling Standards Aplenty

The inspection and testing of automatic sprinkler systems is not something one should jump into as “an additional revenue stream” without giving it careful thought. While a fire alarm system provides detection, a sprinkler system provides suppression, either through control until the fire department arrives or extinguishment. The providers of these services do take on an added layer of liability when rendering this level of inspection and testing.

Inspection and testing requirements for fire alarm systems are contained within a chapter of NFPA 72; for sprinkler systems, the requirements are found within a separate document from the installation standard. There are a number of NFPA sprinkler installation standards:

  • NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems
  • NFPA 13D, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes
  • NFPA 13R, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Low-Rise Residential Occupancies
  • NFPA 15, Standard for Water Spray and Fixed Systems for Fire Protection
  • NFPA 16, Standard for the Installation of Foam-Water Sprinkler and Foam-Water Spray Systems

In addition to the documents listed above, the inspection and testing contractor should have knowledge of the following:

  • NFPA 11, Standard for Low-, Medium-, and High-Expansion Foam
  • NFPA 14, Standard for the Installation of Standpipes and Hose Systems
  • NFPA 20, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection
  • NFPA 22, Standard for Water Tanks for Private Fire Protection
  • NFPA 24, Standard for the Installation of Private Fire Service Mains and their Appurtenances

While all of these documents have details on how to install systems, they only have language on the acceptance tests. All of these standards refer the user to a single separate document for inspection, testing and maintenance beyond the final acceptance. This document is NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. I will discuss this standard a little later in this article.

Where to Perfect Your Craft

Before you may perform any inspection and testing on any type of sprinkler system, you will need to check with your state and local jurisdictions as to what licenses and permits may be required. In most states, you will require either a Fire Protection Systems contractor’s license or Fire Protection Systems inspection and testing license. Most states will also require you to have a state-approved tag or sticker that you would place on the system(s) inspected or tested. Depending on the state, you may have to show past experience and qualifications as well as pass an examination. The examination may include the layout and calculations for the installation of automatic sprinkler systems.

There are a number of sources one may use to obtain the book experience that would be required to know prior to any examination:

  • American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA; firesprinkler.org)
  • National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA; nfsa.org)
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA; nfpa.org)
  • Academy of Fire Sprinkler Technology (sprinkleracademy.com)
  • Oklahoma State University CEAT Professional Development (ce.ceat.okstate.edu)
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies (continuingstudies.wisc.edu)

I have taken courses through all of these organizations. Their programs lean more toward the practical, as opposed to theoretical you would find in an engineering program. All of these sources have programs on the inspection and testing of water-based fire protection systems.

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About the Author


Shane Clary, Ph.D., is Security Sales & Integration’s “Fire Side Chat” columnist. He 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 Pancheco, Calif.-based Bay Alarm Co.

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