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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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 and 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.

Replacement Fire Pump

Q: We recently replaced our old fire pump with a brand new unit that is up to date with the current requirements of NFPA 20 Standard for the Installation of Stationary Fire Pumps for Fire Protection. During a recent inspection by a consultant, he said the new fire pump had to be installed in its own room that has fire rated walls. We didn’t do that, and only installed the new pump in the exact same place as the old pump. Do you believe this will be a problem?

A: Well, this will invoke the old non-answer: “It depends”. It depends on what type of room the new pump was installed in, it depends on which authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) you talk to, and it may depend on when you installed the new fire pump. To be clear, NFPA 20 (1999 edition), section 2-7.1.1 does require the installation of new fire pumps to be separated from all other areas of the building by 2-hour fire rated construction if the building is not fully sprinklered, or 1-hour fire rated construction if the building is fully protected with automatic sprinklers. But, many AHJs will allow you to install new fire pumps in existing mechanical rooms provided the mechanical room meets the 2-hour or 1-hour fire rated construction requirements. Typically, Joint Commission will follow along with a new fire pump installation in an existing mechanical room as long as the project was submitted to and approved by the local and state AHJs. But in lieu of a state or local review and approval, then the Joint Commission will make an assessment and a decision on a case-by-case basis. The requirements of NFPA 20 are not retroactive to existing installations, meaning when the old fire pump was installed, it had to meet the code requirements that were in effect when it was approved for installation. The current NFPA 20 requirements for new installation cannot be enforced in existing situations. Joint Commission states in their Hospital Accreditation Standards that all projects that have been approved by the local AHJ prior to March 1, 2003, will be considered existing conditions.(CMS has a similar date of March 11, 2003 for the same designation of existing conditions.) Therefore, as far as Joint Commission is concerned, if the new fire pump was installed before March 1, 2003, they will consider it existing conditions and not require compliance with new installation requirements in NFPA 20. But your local and state AHJ may see this differently, and require the new fire pump installation to meet NFPA 20 requirements no matter when it was installed. My advice is to contact the local and state AHJs (if you haven’t already) and ask them if the pump needs to be installed in separate room with fire rated walls. You may be able to negotiate an answer that you all could agree on.

Differing fire pump test requirements

Q: What is the requirement for water flow testing fire pumps under emergency power? I have heard some hospitals are being cited for not doing this, but a surveyor once told me they don’t ask to see that documentation. What is actually required?

A: Good question. Why don’t all AHJs require the same level of testing and inspections when it involves fire safety equipment? There are multiple answers for this problem:
•§ Not all AHJs know and understand the requirements of the codes
•§ Some AHJs purposely decide not to enforce some codes and standards
•§ People are people and some either forget to ask to see the documentation, or don’t feel it is important

Section of the LSC requires compliance with section 9.7, which in turns requires compliance with NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems (1998 edition). NFPA 25 section 5-3.3.4 clearly states during the annual water flow test all electric-powered fire pumps that are connected to emergency power via a transfer switch must test the pump under emergency power at peak (150% of nameplate rating) capacity. This is not a new requirement and has been in the book for at least 15 years that I know of. My advice is to always perform this and all NFPA testing and inspection requirements even though one AHJ may not ask to see the results. The next AHJ knocking on your door may very well ask to look at that documentation.