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Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems

Proper Inspection, Maintenance, and Testing

A lot rides on a sprinkler system’s ability to operate and function properly. So much so, in fact, that state law prohibits the occupancy of any portion of a building until the required suppression system has been tested and approved.

To meet both federal certification requirements and state licensure requirements, automatic fire sprinkler systems are required to be inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.

Personnel Qualifications

It is the facility’s responsibility to ensure that only properly trained and competent people perform inspections, testing, and maintenance on its fire sprinkler system. NFPA 25 simply states, “These tasks shall be performed by personnel who have developed competence through training and experience.” [See NFPA 25(98), Sec. 1-4.2 or NFPA 25(02), Sec. 4.1.2.3.]

Monthly

The following monthly inspections can be performed by facility staff:

  1. Visually inspect control valves to ensure they are:
    • In the normal open position
    • Accessible
    • Properly sealed
    • Locked and/or supervised (electronically monitored with alarm)
    • Free from leaks
    • Provided with appropriate signage identifying the portion of the system they control
  2. Visually inspect gauges on wet pipe systems to verify that they are in good condition and that normal water pressure is being maintained.
  3. Visually inspect gauges on dry pipe systems to verify they are in good condition and that normal air and water pressure are being maintained.
    Note: Where air pressure is not supervised at a constantly attended location, these gauges need to be inspected on a weekly basis.

Quarterly

The following quarterly inspections are in addition to those required monthly and can be performed by facility staff:

  1. For hydraulically designed sprinkler systems, inspect the hydraulic nameplate to verify that it’s securely attached to the sprinkler riser and is legible.
    Note: Most newly installed fire sprinkler systems are now hydraulically designed. When in doubt, ask your sprinkler contractor.
  1. Inspect alarm devices to verify that they are free of physical damage.
  2. Inspect fire department connections to verify that:
    • They are visible and accessible
    • Couplings or swivels are not damaged and rotate smoothly
    • Plugs or caps are in place and not damaged
    • Gaskets are in place and in good condition
    • Identification signs are in place
    • The check valve is not leaking
    • The automatic drain valve is in place and operating properly

With proper training, the following quarterly tests can be performed by facility staff:

  1. Test the waterflow alarm on wet pipe sprinkler systems by opening the inspector’s test connection. This simulates the opening of a sprinkler head.
    Note: Where freezing weather conditions or other circumstances prohibit the use of the inspector’s test connection, the bypass connection can be used.
  1. Test the waterflow alarm on dry pipe sprinkler systems by using the bypass connection.
    Caution: Opening the inspector’s test connection can cause the system to trip accidentally, allowing the pipes to fill with water and creating a potential for a serious freeze problem.

Annually

In addition to the monthly and quarterly inspections and tests, NFPA 25 has very detailed and specific inspection, testing, and maintenance services that need to be performed on an annual basis. The complexity of these services requires that a licensed sprinkler contractor perform the following:

  • An inspection of the facility’s supply of spare sprinkler heads to ensure that there’s a minimum of two sprinklers of each type and temperature rating and that each type of sprinkler has a sprinkler wrench
  • A check of all sprinklers, hangers, pipe, and fittings
  • Main drain testing
  • Testing of any antifreeze solution used
  • Valve testing and maintenance

Dry pipe sprinkler systems require some additional testing and maintenance. Priming water level, low pressure alarms, and quick-opening devices must be tested. An annual trip test is also required.

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