According to recent statistics from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approximately 70% of the losses from fires in the U.S. are from residential fires—and of those losses, approximately one-third are in multifamily residences.
Life-saving fire protection systems, such as fire alarms, fire sprinklers, and fire extinguishers, are commonly found throughout multifamily residential structures across the country. These systems not only fulfill the requirements of local codes and standards, but provide critical risk reduction in the event of a fire. However, one significant challenge that can create liability for residents, managers, and property owners is an incomplete inspection. These liabilities can range from monetary fines, increased facility costs due to delayed identification of system maintenance issues, and the more serious potential impact to the health and safety of occupants.
A routinely cited reason for an incomplete inspection is that facility managers and residents do not provide access to all rooms in the building. Codes and Standards require inspectors to access and inspect all system devices routinely.
In order to complete a proper and comprehensive inspection, the facilities management team must work with residents to allow access to all units and rooms in the building or facility. For example, fire sprinklers are generally located in every room and each one needs to be inspected on a routine basis.
What Fire Systems Are Required in My Building?
Depending on your facility, you may have one or several types of fixed fire systems, including:
- Fire alarm system
- Fire sprinkler system
- Standpipe system
- Fire hydrants
- Fire pump
- Kitchen hood fire suppression system
What Is the Purpose of These Fixed Fire Systems?
Each of these systems is part of an overall, integrated approach to increase the life safety for occupants and reduce the risk of damage to a facility. For example, properly maintained fire alarm systems provide notification to the occupants and first responders quickly and efficiently. This allows the occupants to leave the building in the early stages of an emergency, and provides first responders the opportunity to arrive on scene and mitigate damage at an earlier stage. Similarly, properly installed and maintained fire sprinkler systems are designed to control the size of a fire until the fire department can arrive and put out the fire.
What Do I Need to Do to Make Sure My Fire Protection Systems Work When Needed?
The basis for most jurisdictional requirements for inspection and testing of fixed fire protection systems is NFPA 25 (fire sprinkler, standpipe, hydrants, pumps, and kitchen hood systems) or NFPA 72 (fire alarm systems).
There are multiple inspections and tests that are required of these fixed systems over the course of a year. Some of these inspections must be completed by your inspection service provider, but some can be completed by your staff. An overview of the items these NFPA documents require that can be completed by your staff include:
- Fire alarms—Visually examine the control equipment (fire alarm panel) to make sure the unit is not damaged, blocked, or otherwise impacted.
- Fire sprinklers—Verify temperature in riser rooms for dry systems during periods of freezing weather is maintained constantly at or above 40 degrees F.
Weekly (in addition to the above listed inspection items):
- Fire sprinklers, fire pumps, and standpipes—Visually confirm that system control valves are open.
- Fire sprinklers—Visually verify sprinklers are not damaged or obstructed by storage.
- Fire pumps—Verify the valves are operating properly. Conduct a no-flow test of the fire pump (if diesel engine fire pump).
Monthly (in addition to the above listed inspection items):
- Fire alarms—Visually examine batteries.
- Fire sprinklers—Verify valves and components are not damaged, leaks are not present, and that hydraulic nameplate is present.
- Fire pumps—Conduct a no-flow test of the fire pump (if electric motor driven fire pump).
- Kitchen hood systems—Visually examine the control equipment to make sure that the unit is not damaged, blocked, or otherwise impacted. Verify there is no physical damage, tamper indicators are intact, and pressure gauges are in operable range. Verify nozzle blow off caps, where provided, are intact and undamaged. Verify that neither the protected equipment nor the hazard has been replaced, modified, or relocated.
The NFPA also requires additional service frequencies to be completed by an outside licensed contractor.
What Is Tested by Your Contractor, and What Do You Need to Do to Minimize Resident Disruption?
Your provider should schedule in advance with your facility, so that you are aware of the systems that will be inspected or tested. Testing of the fire alarm system can cause significant disruption at your facility if not carefully coordinated, so close coordination of the testing activities is important. If you have the following information or team members available when you fire systems inspector arrives, you will significantly reduce the disruption for your residents:
- Maintenance person available to assist the inspector;
- Fire alarm panel codes ready and available;
- Elevator inspection coordinated on the same day as the sprinkler and alarm inspection (elevator may be out of service for about 10 to 20 minutes during inspection);
- Notification to residents that the inspector(s) will be entering each room at least once and occasionally more than once; and
- Associate available to announce to the residents and associates that testing is in process.
If any deficiencies are identified during any inspection, make the needed corrections.
Proper inspections of fire systems are a critical component of your life safety risk reduction plan. Working closely with your inspectors and residents to provide full access will allow these inspections to be completed more effectively and with less disruption, while reducing your overall liabilities.