Aug 04 2017

Sprinkler Testing Certification

Category: Questions and Answers,Sprinklers,TestingBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: I reside in California. Do I need a special license or certificate to perform monthly and quarterly sprinkler systems tests and/or inspections? Primarily, I am interested in main drain tests. I am the fire alarm, technician at a large hospital, and have NICET Level II certification. I have over 20 years of hospital fire experience and I have a State of California weekly fire pump test certificate. From a NFPA standpoint, do I need a license or certificate to perform testing and inspections on water based fire protection equipment (sprinklers)?

A: No. NFPA 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems only requires ‘qualified’ people to perform the inspections and testing activities, and ‘qualified’ means being competent and capable, and having met any requirements and training that are acceptable to the AHJ. So, if the state of California has additional requirements for training, such as licensing and/or certification, then you would have to comply with that. But NFPA 25 does not require license or a certificate to perform inspections and testing.

Aug 03 2017

Spare Sprinkler Heads

Category: Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: How many spare sprinkler heads are we required to keep on hand in our hospital? Some people have told us we need 6 of each kind of head we have, and some people have said we only need 6 total heads regardless how many types of heads. What do you say?

A: When it came to spare sprinkler heads, NFPA 13-1999 was misleading and it was often misinterpreted. At one time, accreditation organizations required 6 spare heads of each type, but that was not the intent of the technical committee. The 2010 edition of NFPA 13 has cleared this up. Section of NFPA 13-2010 says a supply of at least six spare sprinklers must be maintained on the premises, but to clarify, Annex section A. says a minimum of two sprinklers of each type and temperature rating should be provided. Also, section does say a supply of dry heads is not required. However, section requires an increase in spare heads if the facility has more than the following thresholds installed:

  • Under 300:         No fewer than 6 spare heads
  • 300 to 1000:        No fewer than 12 spare heads
  • Over 1000:         No fewer than 24 spare heads

Section says there must be a sprinkler wrench for each type of head stored with the spare sprinkler heads, although a single sprinkler wrench could be appropriate for use on multiple sprinklers. Section does require a list of all the sprinklers be included in the spare sprinkler cabinet. This list includes the following:

  • Sprinkler identification number (SIN) or the manufacturer, model orifice (size), deflector type, thermal sensitivity, and pressure rating
  • General description of each sprinkler type, such as:
    • Upright
    • Pendent
    • QR
    • SR
    • Sidewall
  • Temperature rating in °F
  • Quantity of each type of sprinklers maintained in spare cabinet
  • Issue or revision date of the spare sprinkler list.

Find your spare sprinkler cabinet and make sure you meet all of the above requirements.

May 19 2017

Dust on Sprinkler Heads

Category: Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: I just had a survey and received a finding for dust on some of the sprinkler heads.  I understand that foreign material is not permitted, but minute amounts of dust? I think this is an unreasonable citation. What do you say?

A: Dust is a foreign material and foreign material is not permitted on sprinkler heads. I support the finding, since how much dust is too much? If you allow just a little dust, then at what point is too much dust? Besides, any foreign material, including dust, can change the reaction time of a sprinkler head.

It is similar to a communication cable hanging across a sprinkler pipe… One cable does not seem to make any difference with the added weight on the hanger. But when does it become too much? Since it is not defined, then the answer is one cable is too much.

Keep in mind, when the codes and standards are not definitive, the AHJ gets to decide what is definitive.

May 10 2017

5-Year Internal Inspection of Sprinkler Systems

Category: Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: I listened in on your webinar when you introduced all of us to the changes with the new 2012 Life Safety Code. In regards to the section involving fire sprinklers you stated that we need to have a five-year internal inspection of the pipe at the end of the line and a branch to a sprinkler head. But you do not specify whether this applies to just wet systems or dry systems? Do we need to do this on both types of systems?

A: According to Section 14.2 (Internal Inspection of Piping) in NFPA 25-2011, here is what’s required:

  • An inspection of piping and branch line conditions shall be conducted every 5 years by opening a flushing connection at the end of one main and by removing a sprinkler toward the end of one branch line for the purpose of inspecting for the presence of foreign organic and inorganic material.

Brad’s comments: According to the NFPA handbook for this section, you must open up both locations (a flushing location and a sprinkler) and examine the condition of the pipe inside both of these locations. The standard specifically wants you to look for the presence of Micro-biologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC), zebra mussels, or inorganic materials such as rust and scale, as well as other items that may have been left in place by the installers such as gloves and cut-out coupons. You’re looking for these items because they can cause obstructions. According to the handbook, looking in just two locations once every 5 years is sufficient and provides a reasonable assurance that the entire system is acceptable. This internal inspection should be coordinated when the system is drained for other internal inspections, such as check valves. The handbook specifically says this 5-year inspection applies to wet, dry, pre-action, and deluge systems, as well as foam-water sprinkler systems.

  • Alternative non-destructive examination methods shall be permitted.

Alternative nondestructive examination methods includes the use of X-ray, ultrasound, and remote video techniques.  

  • Tubercules or slime, if found, shall be tested for MIC.

NFPA does not define what a tubercule is, but according to a dictionary, a tubercule (also spelled tubercle) is a nodule or small eminence, attached to the inside of the pipe. The reason NFPA wants tubercules and slime tested for MIC, is MIC is very destructive to the inside of a sprinkler pipe, and almost always leads to pinhole leaks. There is newer technology being used that injects nitrogen (taken from the atmosphere) into the sprinkler system when filling that lowers the level of oxygen to a point that prohibits MIC from growing.

  •  If the presence of sufficient foreign material is found to obstruct the pipe or sprinklers, then an obstruction investigation must be conducted as described in section 14.3.

NFPA does not say how much foreign material is sufficient to obstruct pipe or sprinklers, so this is a judgement call. It would be normal to observe small amounts of scale and rust inside sprinkler pipe and should not trigger an obstruction investigation.

  • Non-metallic pipe shall not be required to be inspected internally.

Corrosion is associated with metallic pipe so non-metallic pipe (i.e. plastic CPVC) is not subject to the 5-year internal inspection.

  • In dry systems and pre-action systems the sprinkler removed for inspection shall be from the most remote branch line from the source of water that is not equipped with the inspector’s test valve.

The dry system and pre-action system is required to have an inspector’s test valve, but NFPA does not want a sprinkler pulled on the branch line containing the inspector’s test valve. So, they want the sprinkler pulled on the next branch line closest to the branch line containing the inspector’s test valve.

If you haven’t already done so, obtain a copy of NFPA 25-2011 for your own reference. 

Apr 24 2017

Cable on Sprinkler Pipe

Category: ILSM,Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: We have some sprinkler piping that runs the length of the hall with multiple wires wrapped around the pipe. There is no way of removing the wiring from the pipe unless we perform some major sprinkler pipe removal and reinstallation. This has been identified in a mock survey and we need to come up with a plan of action. How do you recommend we deal with this?

A: Well… you really need to remove the cables and wires from the sprinkler pipe. If you don’t, then you are non-compliant with NFPA 25-2011, section

However, here is one other possibility: Do a risk assessment; determine what risks there are to the sprinkler pipe that has cable surrounding it. (I suspect you will find there are no risks, or at least, minimal risks). If your risk assessment identifies any mitigating factors, then implement those mitigating factors. In other words, remove the cable from the sprinkler pipe the best that you can.

If you cannot remove all of the cable from the sprinkler pipe then I suggest you assess it for ILSMs and let it be. Wait for it to be cited during a survey, then submit a waiver request as part of your plan of correction. I suspect the accreditation organization would likely transfer the waiver request on to the respective CMS regional office and they would approve it, provided you demonstrated a significant hardship.

Apr 19 2017

Sprinklers in Construction Areas

Category: Construction,Fire Watch,Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: We have a construction project in our cafeteria. We have an ILSM and additional measures in place. However, it was determined last week that we need to remove the sprinklers in the area for eight weeks. The construction is located on the lowest level and is unoccupied with no patient care in the area (but there’s patient care in the building). With the sprinklers out of service 24 hours a day, is a fire watch required? We also are looking at using 1 hour barriers and 3/4 hour doors during that time. Do the barriers change anything with a fire watch? Thank you

A: Can’t you re-install temporary sprinklers in this construction area for the duration of the project? You will need to turn the sprinkler lines upward to within 12 inches of the deck and install upright sprinklers. It is imperative that you have sprinkler protection, otherwise you will need to conduct a fire watch, continuously for the 8 weeks there are no sprinklers.

Yes… a fire watch is required because you have impaired sprinklers. It doesn’t matter where the impaired sprinklers are located… if you have impaired sprinklers, you must do a fire watch. NFPA 25-2011 section 15.5(4) says where the sprinkler system is out of service for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period, you need to conduct a fire watch. CMS has said in their Final Rule to adopt the 2012 Life Safety Code published May 4, 2016, that a fire watch is conducted continuously, without interruption. The designated individual who performs no other function, continuously walks the impaired area looking for fire and the potential for a fire to occur, without leaving the area. This means the individual may not leave the impaired area to use the restroom, take a lunch break or any other function unless he is relieved by someone else.

This ‘continuous’ fire watch must be conducted for the duration that the sprinklers are impaired … 8 weeks. Can you afford to have that many FTEs designated to do nothing else but a fire watch for 8 weeks? I would believe it would be less expensive if you would turn up the sprinklers and install upright sprinkler heads in the construction area.

The fire watch does not affect the rated barrier, but the 1-hour fire rated barrier is required to separate the construction area from the occupied area if there are no sprinklers in the construction area.

Mar 17 2017

Sprinklers in Air Handlers

Category: Air Handlers,Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: Does a roof top air handler require sprinkler heads if it is unoccupied? We have large walk-in style air handlers on the roof of our hospital and they are not protected with automatic sprinklers.

A: Well… section of the 2012 Life Safety Code requires buildings containing health care facilities to be protected throughout with automatic sprinklers. Initially, one could make the case that mechanical equipment sitting outside the building (although on top of the building) is not part of the building and therefore is not included in this requirement. Taking a look at NFPA 13 (2010 edition), I see sprinklers are required in elevator equipment rooms, and sprinklers are required in electrical rooms (with some exceptions). But these rooms are actually inside the building and would be required to be protected with sprinklers according to section of the 2012 LSC.

So it depends: Is the roof-top air handler room considered outside the building, or is it considered part of the building? That’s going to be the deciding factor, and who makes this decision? The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) does. Even though accreditation organizations like The Joint Commission, HFAP and DNV are AHJs, they typically leave the construction interpretations to the local and state AHJs. So, if your state or local AHJ has made the determination that the air handler on top of the hospital roof does not require sprinklers, that may be enough to convince the accreditation organizations.

Or it may not. You never know if the accreditation organizations will make a different interpretation while a surveyor is onsite. If you do not want to install sprinklers, then I suggest you get it in writing from your state and local AHJs that sprinklers are not required in the air handler, and keep that document on file. If an accreditation surveyor thinks you should have sprinklers, pull that document out and see if that stops them from writing a citation. However, if you start storing combustible items in the air handler (like cardboard boxes of clean filters) then that will likely prompt the surveyor to write a finding.

Jan 04 2017

Internally Galvanized Steel Pipe Blamed for Explosions

Category: Blog,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

The following article is from the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) TechNotes dated December 27, 2016… 


Two decades ago the NFPA Committee on Automatic Sprinklers was considering a requirement that all steel pipe used in dry pipe sprinkler systems be internally galvanized, but recently the rules have actually become much less favorable to galvanized pipe. The 2013 edition of the sprinkler standard removed the long-standing allowance to increase the hydraulic C-factor from 100 to 120 for galvanized dry pipe and preaction systems. The 2016 edition of NFPA 13 removed the requirement that steel pipe used with control mode specific application (CMSA) sprinklers be internally galvanized, a requirement that had been in place since large drop sprinklers were first permitted to be used in dry pipe systems in the 1991 edition of the standard.  Now galvanized pipe has been blamed for several explosions in Europe, and researchers have developed an explanation of the chemical reactions that can result in such incidents.

The most recent explosion destroyed a pump house in France in late October, after a sprinkler contractor drained a sprinkler system to allow some work to be performed on the system.  The control valves for the system were located within the pump house, and the explosion reportedly took place about 15 minutes after the drain valve was opened, the system left unattended and draining.  Although the pump house was destroyed, no one was injured.  The diesel engine and fuel tank were originally suspected to somehow be the source of the explosion. Later, however, parallels were found to two explosions that had taken place in 2014 in Denmark, both of which took place in sprinkler piping following drainage of water from the systems, and both of which resulted in injuries to maintenance personnel.

The Confederation of Fire Protection Associations-Europe reports that a  technical investigation funded by Finance Norway led to the conclusion that water within the systems had reacted with the internal zinc linings of the piping to produce hydrogen gas. Random sparks ignited the gases as they were released during draining of the systems.

With the wide use of galvanized steel sprinkler pipe in Europe, some authorities are beginning to develop safety guidelines for use when draining the systems, such as the following:

  • Be on the lookout for abnormal pressure increases within the systems
  • Ensure good ventilation as the systems are being drained
  • Avoid doing work in the areas while systems are being drained
  • If work must be performed in areas where systems are being drained, use only non-sparking tools
  • Consider the use of gas detectors or explosimeters to monitor for hydrogen gas levels

A presentation of research on the subject of hydrogen produced in galvanized steel pipe systems conducted at the Sintef laboratory in Norway can be accessed at:,%2 0Forsikringsselskapenes%20Godkjennelsesnevnd/FG-sprinklerkonferansen%202015/03%20Blucher.pdf

May 02 2016

Sprinkler Escutcheon Plates

Category: Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: Why does the escutcheon plate on a sprinkler need to be required when the ceiling is not rated and the corridor walls extend to the deck? If a basement can have sprinklers and no ceilings why are the sprinklers on the floors above required to have these plates when the ceiling is not rated?

A: The escutcheon plates are required on sprinkler heads which are mounted in ceilings to fill the gap between the head and the ceiling. Many times a sprinkler installer will use a hole saw larger than necessary to make the opening for a sprinkler head. Any gap over 1/8 inch must be sealed, so the escutcheon plate serves as a gap sealer and as an attractive trim plate. Without sealing this gap, heat and smoke will rise up above the ceiling and activation of the sprinkler head (and smoke detector, if so equipped) will be delayed. They are very important, and an easy deficiency for a surveyor to find.

Sep 18 2015

Tips on Sprinklers for Water Curtains

Category: Questions and Answers,SprinklersBKeyes @ 12:00 am

Q: Got any tips for a novice on how to navigate through the Life Safety Code? I’m interested in specifics on sprinkler placement for water curtains.

A: NFPA 13 (1999 edition) is the standard for the installation of water-based sprinklers referenced by the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code. There are many rules on how to install sprinklers, such as:

  • The maximum distance a sprinkler can be installed below a ceiling is 12 inches (with some exceptions)
  • The minimum distance a sprinkler can be installed below a ceiling is 1 inch
  • The maximum spacing between two sprinklers is determined by the rating on the sprinkler head (usually 15 feet, but there are other spacing distances depending on the manufacturer)
  • The minimum spacing between two sprinkler is 6 feet
  • The maximum distance a sprinkler can be installed from a wall is ½ the maximum spacing between two sprinklers
  • The minimum distance a sprinkler can be installed from a wall is 4 inches
  • The coverage area (measured in square feet) of a single sprinkler is determined by the design density and the manufacturer’s rating of the sprinkler
  • The horizontal distance between a sprinkler head and a ceiling mounted obstruction is a sliding ratio based on the vertical distance the obstructions is mounted below the sprinkler deflector
  • The minimum vertical distance a shelf or items stored on a shelf can be to a sprinkler deflector is 18 inches
  • Sidewall sprinklers cannot be installed more than 6 inches or less than 4 inches below a ceiling (with some exceptions)
  • Maximum area of protection, maximum wall length and maximum spacing between horizontal sprinklers is different than pendant or upright sprinklers, and is dependent on the design density
  • Baffles are permitted between sprinklers when the sprinklers are mounted less than the minimum allowable distance allowed
  • The values mentioned above change for extended coverage sprinklers

I tell you all of the above to show you that there are many individual factors about installing sprinklers that have to be considered in order to design a fire protection system. The bottom line… This is a job for a professional engineer. That is why most AHJs require a PE stamp on all sprinkler designs submitted to them for approval.    

The best way to learn about the Life Safety Code is to experience it on a daily basis. What I mean by that is to have a position in an organization that actively works for compliance with the LSC, such as a Safety Officer or a Facility Manager position… someone who oversees the compliance with the LSC in their facility. Pick up the LSC book and read it, starting with one of the occupancy chapters (12 – 42; chapter 19 is reserved for existing hospitals). Understand that the first 11 chapters are considered basic chapters (or ‘core’ chapters) that apply to all occupancy chapters. Also understand that when there is a conflict between the core chapters and an occupancy chapter, the occupancy chapter rules. Look for some basic Life Safety Code Boot Camp seminars, taught by ASHE, NFPA and Joint Commission Resources.

I hope this information is helpful. Welcome to the world of Life Safety Code compliance. It is a learning experience that will last a lifetime.

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