Monthly Fire Pump Test

Q: I have always tested my fire pumps on a weekly basis, but now I’ve heard from a consultant there is a new standard that says only a monthly run is required. Is this true?

A: Yes, it is. With the adoption of the 2012 Life Safety Code, the 2011 edition of NFPA 25 is now the standard to use regarding inspection, testing and maintenance of sprinkler systems. Section 8.3.1.2 of NFPA 25-2011 now allows electric-motor driven fire pumps to be tested under no-flow conditions on a monthly basis rather than weekly, which was required under previous editions of NFPA 25. However, engine-driven fire pumps still must be tested weekly.

Monthly Test vs. Weekly Test of Fire Pumps

Q: Electric fire pumps needed to be run once a week. Then that was changed to once a month. Now the new NFPA 25 has the pump being run once a week again. Is this correct? If my AHJ has adopted the most current code I need to follow that code and change my pump running from once a month back to weekly schedule?

A: Let’s look at the facts: The 2000 Life Safety Code referenced the 1998 edition of NFPA 25, which required all electric motor-driven fire pumps to be tested at no-flow on a weekly basis. The 2012 Life Safety Code references the 2011 edition of NFPA 25 which permits electric motor-driven fire pumps to be tested at no-flow on a monthly basis (see 8.3.1.2 of NFPA 25-2011).

Section 8.3.1.2.1 of the 2014 edition of NFPA 25, says: “Except as permitted in 8.3.1.2.2 and 8.3.1.2.3, a weekly test frequency shall be required for the following electric fire pumps:

  • Fire pumps that serve fire protection systems in high rise buildings that are beyond the pumping capacity of the fire department;
  • Fire pumps with limited service controllers;
  • Vertical turbine fire pumps;
  • Fire pumps taking suction from ground level tanks or a water source that does not provide sufficient pressure to be of material value without the pump.

 

Section 8.3.1.2.2 says a monthly test frequency shall be permitted for electric fire pumps not identified in section 8.3.1.2.1; and section 8.3.1.2.3 says monthly test frequency shall be permitted for electric fire pump systems having a redundant fire pump. So… since CMS adopted the2012 Life Safety Code on May 4, 2016 with an effective date of July 5, 2016, CMS and all of the accreditation organizations are on the 2011 edition of NFPA 25 which permits all electric motor-driven fire pumps to be tested monthly, without exceptions.

However, if one of your other AHJs adopted a more recent edition of the Life Safety Code that references the 2014 edition of NFPA 25, then you have an obligation to comply with the most restrictive requirements, which may be a weekly test of your fire pumps, if section 8.3.1.2.1 of NFPA 25-2014 applies to you.

In anticipation of your next questions, I do not know what “Fire pumps with limited service controllers” mean. If that is an issue for you, I suggest you contact your AHJ that is requiring you to comply with the 2014 edition of NFPA 25 and ask them to define it.

Monthly Fire Pump Test

Q: Do we have to conduct a monthly flow test on fire pumps in healthcare?

A: No… NFPA 25-2011, section 8.3.1.2 requires monthly test of the electric-driven fire pump at no flow conditions, or what is commonly called ‘churn’. The test is started with the water pressure being reduced at the pressure switch controller until the pump starts. The pump is operated for 10 minutes with suction pressure and discharge pressure readings taken, along with confirmation that the pump shaft packing glands drip water (approximately 17 drips per minute, but follow manufacturer’s recommendations). The pump housing pressure relief valve is required to release water so you confirm that happens as well. Once the pump has operated for 10 minutes then it can be shut off. Engine driven fire pumps still have to be tested weekly for 30 minutes. A test where water is actually flowed is required annually on all fire pumps.

Annual Fire Pump Test

Q: I read where the annual fire pump test requires a 30-minute churn test but does not differentiate between a diesel or electric pump (as in the weekly test). NFPA 25, 2011 edition requires only a 10-minute churn for the annual test on an electric pump. What happened to the 30-minute churn test?

A: NFPA 25-1998 did require the annual fire pump flow-test for both electric-motor driven fire pumps and engine-driven fire pumps to have a 30-minute churn test at no-flow conditions to begin the test. This was to ensure the pressure relief valve opened to allow circulating water to cool the pump when operating at standby (i.e. no-flow) conditions.

Since CMS adopted the new 2012 LSC, we are now on NFPA 25-2011. Section 8.3.3.2(1) of NFPA 25-2011 dropped the requirement for a 30-minute churn test for the annual fire pump flow-test, but still requires the churn test; it just doesn’t specify how long the churn test must be. I can only surmise that the industry figured a churn test for 30 minutes to ensure the relief valve opens is no longer required.

However, section 8.3.3.2(3) says “For electric motor-driven pumps, the pump shall not be shut down until the pump has run for 10 minutes.” This statement is in reference to the pump operating at flow conditions, and is not a reference to how long the pump must run at no-flow conditions.

The new 2012 LSC is now being enforced by accreditation organizations and by CMS. For annual fire pump flow tests from now on, you may run the churn test portion long enough to ensure the relief valve opens and dumps water. You no longer have to run the churn test for any given length of time.

Fire Pump ATS

Q: A state surveyor cited us for not doing a monthly fire pump automatic transfer switch (ATS) test. We are doing a weekly churn test and an annual fire pump flow test that includes switching over the ATS. I was not aware that this had to be done monthly.

A: Yes… NFPA 110-1999, section 6-4.5 requires all transfer switches in Level I and Level II systems (hospitals typically have Level I systems) to be tested monthly. The state surveyor is correct. I find that it is not uncommon for some hospitals to overlook the ATS serving the fire pump. I guess they don’t always see that it is part of the Level I emergency power supply system. Out-of-site is out-of-mind!

Weekly Fire Pump Testing

Q: The Joint Commission standard for weekly testing of the fire pump only requires us to record the test date of the inspection. We were cited for not recording the suction and discharge pressures. Is this a requirement?

A: Yes, recording the suction and discharge pressures, along with the amount of time required to start the weekly test (by lowering the water pressure) are required documentation for each weekly fire pump test. Even though these requirements are not specifically identified in the EC standards, they are identified in the NFPA 25 (1998 edition) which is referenced by the Joint Commission standards.

Get a copy and read the NFPA 25 (1998 edition) as it has a lot of testing requirements of the sprinkler system which are not identified in the Joint Commission standards, but are required.

Removal of a Fire Pump

Q: Recently, I was at a counter-part’s facility in our corporate system and wanted to review the Life Safety Code documentation to ensure everything was in order. Within a matter of minutes I realized there was no fire pump paperwork and asked my counterpart about the matter. I was told that the fire pumps were removed: I was shocked. The reason for removing the fire pumps was because they were told by the city that if they had enough pressure on the top floor of their facility to run the suppression system, then they didn’t need a pump. The reasoning for this increase in pressure was due to an expansion of the water mains leading into the facility. I have never heard of this before! Have you ever heard of such a thing? How would the hospital be able to ensure that at any given time the pressure wouldn’t fluctuate and decrease?

A: I have heard of situations where the supply of the fire protection water changes, and the fire pump could be removed, but if what your counterpart is telling you is the full story, then I would advise them to take further action. The need for a fire pump in any building is not determined solely by the pressure of the water. There are multiple factors that must be considered in NFPA 13 that arrives at the decision whether a fire pump is required, and the volume and flow rate of water are a big part of the equation. Proper procedure would be to have the entire fire protection system water supply recalculated by a registered Professional Engineer to determine if the fire pump could be removed. For the hospital to make a major change in their fire protection based on the comment of a single authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) is very irresponsible.

Once the design of the system calculates that the fire pump could be removed, then permission must be obtained from all of the AHJs that inspect the hospital for fire safety, such as:

  • State fire marshal
  • State department of public health
  • Local fire inspector
  • Accreditation organization
  • CMS
  • Insurance company

Without written authorization granting permission to remove the fire pump from the appropriate AHJs, the hospital is at considerable risk if there should be an unfortunate incident involving the discharge of fire protection water. These AHJs approved the hospital’s fire protection plan based on the presence of a fire pump: To remove the fire pump without allowing these same AHJs the opportunity to make a comment is dangerous and likely unlawful.

Fire Pump Fire

Fire Pump Fire Web 2A friend of mine contacted me recently and told me that his fire pump caught on fire. It was an engine driven (diesel) fire pump, and I’ll let him describe to you what happened:

“We had a dry pipe system fail in a detached building, due to possibly water trapped in a low point, a tee fitting broke. The dry system activated the fire pump as required,  the pump is located on the ground level of our parking deck. It appears that one of the battery cables shorted out causing a fire on the top end of the diesel driven fire pump. When there was enough heat the fuel line ruptured igniting on the pump.

Our security dept and fire dept. was called, security arrived first and used 4 dry powder extinguishers on the engine, when the fire dept. arrived they finished putting out the fire. A fire watch was instituted throughout the facility and arrangements were made with the fire dept. to connect a pumper truck up to the system until a pump was put back in place. A temporary pump was located, the old pump was removed from the room and the temporary pump was connected until a replacement pump is in place.”

The hospital was able to replace the defective pump with a temporary fire pump within 24 hours of the fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt during the fire, and I have no information on whether or not poor maintenance contributed to this fire, but it may be a reminder for the rest of us that weekly inspections and run tests should not be taken lightly. Complying with NFPA 25 (1998 edition), chapter 5 on fire pump inspection, testing and maintenance is a must…. and it may prevent an unfortunate event like this.

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Do you have an interesting picture of a fire safety issue that you would like to share? Send it to me at info@keyeslifesafety.com along with a description and I will include it in a future post.

Fire Pump Annual Flow Test

Q: My sprinkler testing contractor is questioning the requirement that fire pumps are to be flow-tested annually at 150% load on emergency power. It’s the emergency power requirement in question. Quite frankly, I do not remember a Joint Commission surveyor ever asking to see this information, either. What are the actual requirements?

A: Section 19.3.5 of the 2000 edition of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code (LSC) requires healthcare facilities that have sprinkler systems, to be in compliance with section 9.7. Section 9.7.5 requires all automatic sprinkler systems to be inspected, tested and maintained in accordance with NFPA 25 (1998 edition).  Among other requirements in NFPA 25, section 5-3 discusses what is required for annual water-flow testing of fire pumps. For those fire pumps that are equipped with an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS), a loss of normal power is to be simulated when the pump is operating at peak capacity (150% of nameplate capacity) to cause a transfer to generator power. Another set of readings need to be documented to ensure the pump is still operating at peak flow capacity (150%) while operating under generator power. Then the power needs to be restored to the normal source to ensure the breakers do not trip. The above testing requirements are compulsory by the LSC, and if an authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) chooses not to ask for this documentation, then that is their prerogative. However, since the typical hospital has 5 or 6 different AHJs inspecting them in accordance with the NFPA requirements, you can bet one of them will be asking to see these test results. It is better to be in compliance with the LSC and be prepared for that moment in time when you are asked to prove you did the annual flow test correctly, than to be embarrassed and say you didn’t do it because another AHJ did not ask to see the documentation.  Besides, it is a requirement, and if your testing contractor is not aware of these requirements, then perhaps the hospital may want to reconsider doing business with them.

Fire Alarm Supervisory Signal Device

Q:  Are “fire pump running” and “fire pump power loss” switches which are connected to the hospital fire alarm system considered to be supervisory signal devices? I say they aren’t because these switches are not identified in the list of supervisory signal devices in NFPA 72 (1999 edition) section 2-9. However, a surveyor cited us for not testing these devices quarterly along with all of the other supervisory signal devices. What do you say?

A: According to sections 19.3.4.1 and 9.6.1.4 of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code, compliance with NFPA 72 (1999 edition) is required. Just because those specific switches were not listed under section 2-9 of NFPA 72, does not exclude them from being considered supervisory signal devices. The definition of a Supervisory Signal Initiating device from NFPA 72, section 1-4, says: “An initiating device such as a supervisory switch, water level indicator, or low air pressure switch on a dry-pipe sprinkler system in which the change of state signals an off-normal condition and its restoration to normal of a fire protection or life safety system; or a need for action in connection with guard tours, fire suppression systems or equipment, or maintenance features of related systems.”  It is clear to see that a “power loss” and the “pump running” is a “change of state” on a piece of fire suppression equipment that would require a “need for action”, to investigate and resolve the issue. However, as mentioned before, it really doesn’t matter what I say, rather it matters more what the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) says and believes. It appears that the surveyor was thinking the fire pump running and power off switches are supervisory signal devices and need to be tested quarterly, and I would agree with the surveyor’s position.