Gaps in Ceilings

Q: I am looking for the 1/8-inch gap reference for ceiling tiles. If the ceiling has broken tiles, or misaligned tiles, or gaps greater than 1/8-inch caused by anything (such as data cables temporarily run up through the ceiling), then I see that the surveyors will cite this. Is that actually written in the NFPA codes and standards anywhere? Is the 1/8-inch gap rule “real”? Does it use the 1/8-inch measurement anywhere? If so, where? If not, where does it come from?

A: No, there is no direct statement in the LSC that says gaps greater than 1/8-inch are prohibited, but ceilings containing smoke detectors and sprinklers must form a continuous membrane and any sizable gap in this membrane would allow smoke and heat to rise above the ceiling which would delay the activation of the detector or sprinkler, thereby causing an impairment.

Since the size of the gap must be quantifiable, and NFPA does not say how big the gap has to be before it is a problem, authorities having jurisdiction have ‘borrowed’ the 1/8-inch gap concept from NFPA 80 regarding the gap between a fire door and the frame. Authorities having jurisdiction are permitted to do this as section 4.6.1.1 of the 2012 Life Safety Code says the authority shall determine whether the provisions of the LSC are met. This means, when the Life Safety Code is not clear on a subject, the authorities have to make interpretations in order to determine compliance.

Annual Fire Pump Test

Q: Is it required to dropped power to your electric driven fire pump while it is running to ensure it starts back up and continues to run on emergency power?

A: If you are referring to the annual fire pump flow test, the answer is yes. Section 8.3.3.4 of NFPA 25-2011 requires a simulated power failure while the pump is operating at peak capacity (150% of nameplate capacity) and confirm that the fire pump continues to operate at peak capacity under EM power. This means a second set of pitot readings are necessary while the pump is operating on EM power at peak capacity. Check with your contractor who conducts this test. Surprisingly, many contractors who perform the annual fire pump test fail to include this procedure.

Non-Sprinklered Elevator Control Room

Q: In a physician’s clinic that is claimed to be fully protected with sprinklers, the building elevator control room is not sprinklered. Must I install or can I leave it that way?

A: A Business Occupancy building that is fully protected with sprinklers provides you with the ability to meet certain options in the LSC that allows you to take advantage of certain features, such as:

  • Delayed egress locks would be permitted
  • Less restrictions on egress capacity factors
  • Exits permitted to discharge through the interior of the building
  • Less restrictions on hazardous areas
  • Less restrictions on interior finishes
  • Increased travel distances

According to NFPA 13-2010, the standard for sprinkler installation, there are very few exceptions to not installing sprinklers, and allow the building to still be considered fully sprinklered:

  • 2-hour fire-rated barriers around an electrical room
  • Clean agent suppression system installations

However, the 2012 Life Safety Code does have an exception specific to elevator machine rooms. Section 7.14.4.2 says sprinklers shall not be installed in elevator machine rooms serving occupant evacuation elevators, and such prohibition shall not cause an otherwise fully sprinklered building to be classified as non-sprinklered. This is one situation where the Life Safety Code trumps NFPA 13 on the installation of sprinklers.

The 2012 Life Safety Code Handbook continues to provide insight on this prohibition:

The presence of sprinklers in the elevator machine room would necessitate the installation of a shunt trip for automatically disconnecting the main line power for compliance with ASME A17.1 Safety Code for Elevators and Escalators, as it is unsafe to operate elevators while sprinkler water is being discharged in the elevator machine room. The presence of a shunt trip conflicts with the needs of an occupant evacuation elevator, as it disconnects the power without ensuring that the elevator is first returned to a safe floor so as to prevent trapping occupants.

So, no… you should not install sprinklers in the elevator machine rooms.

Sprinkler System Exceptions

Q: Are there any exceptions in NFPA 13 for smoke detectors in lieu of sprinklers in areas such as radiology rooms or other high tech equipment rooms and still be considered “fully sprinklered”?

A: No. There is an exception in Section 8.15.10.3 of NFPA 13-2010 that allows electrical rooms not be sprinklered, and the building can still be considered fully sprinklered, provided the room is dedicated to electrical equipment only; only dry-type electrical equipment is used; equipment is installed in a 2-hour fire-rated enclosure including protection for penetrations; and no combustible storage is permitted in the room.

And, you can install clean agent suppression systems in lieu of wet sprinklers and the building is still considered fully sprinklered, but there are no exceptions allowing smoke detectors in lieu of sprinklers in any type of room, and still consider the building “fully sprinklered”.

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Q: In regards to fire extinguisher inspections… when the annual fire extinguisher maintenance is done, say in June, does the monthly fire extinguisher inspection still need to be completed?

A: Yes. According to NFPA 10-2010, there are distinctly different requirements for the annual maintenance and the monthly inspection. Typically, the annual maintenance does NOT include the actions required for monthly inspections, although there is no reason why the same person could not perform both duties during the annual maintenance process.

Annual Maintenance requires the following to be confirmed:

  • A thorough examination of the following:
    • Mechanical parts of all extinguishers
    • Physical appearance
    • Components of electrically monitored systems
    • Hoses on wheeled-type extinguishers completely uncoiled and examined for damage
  • Tamper seals on rechargeable extinguishers must be removed and replaced with new seals
  • For extinguishers that require a 12-year hydro-static test, once every 6-years the extinguisher must be emptied and subjected to an internal examination
  • A verification collar must be installed on the outside of the extinguisher, underneath the valve after an internal examination
  • CO2 hose assemblies must have a conductivity test

Monthly Inspection requires the following to be confirmed:

  • Location in designated place
  • No obstruction to access or visibility
  • Pressure gauge reading or indicator in the operable range or position
  • Fullness determined by weighing or hefting for self-expelling-type extinguishers, cartridge-operated extinguishers, and pump tanks
  • Condition of tires, wheels, carriage, hose, and nozzle for wheeled extinguishers
  • Indicator for non-rechargeable extinguishers using push-to-test pressure indicators

So, you can see an annual maintenance activity does not meet the requirement for a monthly inspection, but there should be no reason why the same person could not perform both duties.

Warning Placards Above Class K Extinguishers

Q: We recently were cited for not having the placard placed on the wall above the K Fire Extinguisher, however, the “warning” on the front of the extinguisher is in red and it states: “WARNING” “IN CASE OF APPLIANCE FIRE, FIRST, ACTIVATE FIRE SUPPRESSION SYSTEM OR TURN OFF APPLIANCE TO REMOVE HEAT SOURCE”. The instructions on how to use the extinguisher is above that warning on the actual extinguisher. Does this meet the intent of the standard?

A: I don’t think so… While some surveyors and inspectors may accept this as meeting the intent of the standard, I’m not sure that it does. According to NFPA 10-2010, section 5.5.5.3, it says a placard shall be conspicuously placed near the Class K extinguisher that states that the fire protection system shall be actuated prior to using the fire extinguisher. A warning label on the extinguisher itself is not necessarily placed “near” the extinguisher. If the Technical Committee at NFPA wanted the sign on the extinguisher, they would have said that. Also, a warning label that is part of the fire extinguisher label is not necessarily considered to be “conspicuously” placed. People will not see the warning label on the extinguisher as easily as they will see a separate placard affixed to the wall above the extinguisher.

Also, the Meriam Webster definition of ‘Placard’ is: “A poster or sign for public display, either fixed to a wall or carried during a demonstration.” I don’t think a warning label on the extinguisher meets this definition. Also, section A.5.5.5.3 in the Annex says the placard should be 11 inches by 7 5/8 inches in size. That size sign is not typically possible on a Class K extinguisher. While the Annex section is not part of the enforceable section of the standard, it is considered to be explanatory material to assist the reader to understand the intentions of the Technical Committee who wrote the standards. I would conclude the Technical Committee wants a separate sign posted on the wall near the extinguisher.

I’m sure some surveyors may accept this warning label, but I would not. [Perhaps that is good that I’m not a surveyor anymore….?]

Sprinkler Inventory

Q: We are a life safety service company that provides consultation services for multiple hospitals. We had a hospital go through a survey recently, and the surveyor wrote them up for not having an inventory of sprinkler heads. Would you know where we could find this requirement for this inventory?

A: The surveyor may be looking at NFPA 13-2010, section 6.2.9.7, which does require the facility to have a spare sprinkler list, which is based on the different types of sprinklers in your facility and the quantity of those sprinklers. While this is not the same as saying an inventory of the sprinkler heads is required, you do need to know the types and quantities of sprinklers in your facility.

Or the surveyor may be looking at NFPA 25-2011 section 5.2.1, which requires an annual inspection of all the sprinkler heads. Usually, the hospital will contract this out to a sprinkler contractor and often the report simply says “All sprinkler heads inspected”, or something like that. The problem is, how does the hospital know that the contractor actually inspected every sprinkler head in the hospital? Did the contractor enter every room, every closet, every office, every OR, every equipment room, etc. in the facility? Without a detailed inventory or documentation (such as drawings of sprinklered areas) showing the heads were inspected in the respective areas, what assurance does the hospital (and the surveyor) have that every head was inspected?

But to be sure, there is no direct NFPA standard that says “Thou shalt inventory every sprinkler”, but it is well within the right of the authorities to request documentation that assures how the facility documented the spare sprinkler list and that the contractor inspected every head.

Sizing Fire Extinguishers

Q: I can find a lot of information about portable fire extinguishers but nowhere can I find what size is required for use in a hospital. Can you point me in the right direction? We specified 2.5 lbs. and 5 lbs. and no one can tell me what is correct.

A: Section 9.7.4.1 of the 2012 Life Safety Code says portable fire extinguishers must be selected, installed, inspected, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 10. NFPA 10-2010, section 5.1 says the selection of fire extinguishers for a given situation shall be determined by the applicable requirements of Sections 5.2 through 5.6 and the following factors:

  1. Type of fire most likely to occur
  2. Size of fire most likely to occur
  3. Hazards in the area where the fire is most likely to occur
  4. Energized electrical equipment in the vicinity of the fire
  5. Ambient temperature conditions
  6. Other factors

So, you must first determine the classification of the potential fire (Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class K) and then place an appropriate fire extinguisher nearby. How far away from the potential fire is determined on the capacity of the fire extinguisher and the hazard of the potential fire.

For example, Table 6.2.1.1 identifies the fire extinguisher size and placement for Class A hazards. The hazards are listed as Light, Ordinary, and Extra and the selection of the capacity of the fire extinguisher is dependent on the level of hazard and the area served by the extinguisher. For a fire extinguisher that has a capacity of 2-A, the maximum floor area of light hazard (most areas of hospitals are light hazard, other than Laboratories, Pharmacies, Central Storage, Boiler rooms, etc.), it can serve up to 6,000 square feet (3,000 sq. ft. for each unit of ‘A’… 2-A = 6,000 sq. ft.), and the maximum travel distance to get to a Class A extinguisher is 75 feet.

But be careful… as the level of hazard goes up, the area served by the same size extinguisher goes down. Even though they may have the same travel distance to get to an extinguisher (75 feet), the total area served by the extinguisher is reduced. Similarly, Class B, Class C, and Class K have their design limitations as well. You will note that the travel distance for a Class B extinguisher is either 30 feet or 50 feet, depending on the level of hazard and the capacity of the extinguisher. Also, all Class K extinguisher have a maximum travel distance of 30 feet.

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Q: In regards to portable fire extinguishers, I have a fully sprinkled building but my room that my hot water heaters are in are on the outside of the building. My furthest hot water room is more than 75 feet from the closet fire extinguisher. I looked in the Life Safety Code and have not found any reference on this. Do I need to place a fire extinguisher in this room?

A: Yes, you do… Section 9.7.4.1 of the 2012 LSC requires compliance with NFPA 10. According to chapter 6 of NFPA 10-2010, the installation of portable fire extinguishers is based on the classification of the extinguisher, the capacity of the extinguisher, and the level of hazard the extinguisher is expected to address.

For Class A extinguishers, the maximum travel distance to an extinguisher is 75 feet. For Class B extinguishers, the maximum travel distance is either 30 feet or 50 feet, depending on the capacity of the extinguisher and the expected level of hazard. For Class C extinguishers, the fire is started by electrical current, but the material that burns is either a Class A material or a Class B material, so you space the extinguishers on the class A or Class B requirements. For a Class K extinguisher, the maximum travel distance is 30 feet.

You need to install an extinguisher to be within the maximum travel distance limits.

Sprinkler Obstructions

Q: My question is in regard to NFPA 13 sprinkler obstruction compliance…We want to install some surveillance monitors in our security office along a wall. How much vertical clear space is required between the monitors to the ceiling, if the monitors will be 30 inches away, horizontally from the sprinkler head?

A: Those monitors may extend vertically up to the ceiling as long as they are not directly underneath a sprinkler head, and they are attached to the wall. You said they were 30 inches away horizontally from the sprinklers, so you should be okay.

The Annex section A.8.6.6 of NFPA 13-2010 says the following:

“The 18 in. (457 mm) dimension is not intended to limit the height of shelving on a wall or shelving against a wall in accordance with 8.6.6, 8.7.6, 8.8.6, and Section 8.9. Where shelving is installed on a wall and is not directly below sprinklers, the shelves, including storage thereon, can extend above the level of a plane located 18 in. (457 mm) below ceiling sprinkler deflectors. Shelving, and any storage thereon, directly below the sprinklers cannot extend above a plane located 18 in. (457 mm) below the ceiling sprinkler deflectors.”

While the monitor may not be shelves, the concept is the same.