Frequency Between Fire Pump Tests

Q: How long is a grace period for the annual fire pump test to be past due?

A: Well, technically, there is no grace period. Either you are compliant or you are not. But most AHJs usually have their way of determining time when it involves frequencies for testing and inspection.

One AHJ may be “by the NFPA book” and when the NFPA code or standard says annually, that means it needs to be done within 12-months of the previous annual test. CMS typically does not allow for more than 12-months for an annual test. In other words, there is no “12-months plus 30-days” for CMS.

But accreditation organizations (AO) seem to have a slightly different interpretation of time. Where NFPA says annually, one AO could mean 12 months from the previous test, plus or minus 30 days. But, as mentioned, CMS does not like the “plus” side of the equation, meaning they don’t mind if you do your flow-test before 12 months has pass from the last test, but they don’t care for one day beyond 12 months. So, state agencies surveying on behalf of CMS would likely cite an organization if the test is one or more days beyond 12 months from the last test, but many accreditation organizations would allow up to 30-days past the 12-month date.

This is one area where NFPA has not clearly defined how they interpret the different time periods for testing or inspection. They purposefully leave this open for the AHJ to decide, but the problem is, hospitals typically have 5 or 6 different AHJs who inspect them for compliance with the Life Safety Code. Chances are, you will never get all 5 or 6 AHJs to agree on what it means. It’s a crap-shoot sometimes. You don’t know how one particular AHJ will respond until they are onsite and write a citation. So, the hospital has to follow the most restrictive interpretation.

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 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 of NFPA 25-2011).

Section of the 2014 edition of NFPA 25, says: “Except as permitted in and, 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 says a monthly test frequency shall be permitted for electric fire pumps not identified in section; and section 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 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.

Sprinkler Testing Certification

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.

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 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 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.

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.

Research for an Article

imagesJCU1DVQ4I would like to do some research for an article that I want to write about and I am addressing this appeal to those of you who have an active role in a facilities management department (or related department) in a hospital.

I am interested in learning what surveyors are looking for and finding in respect to sprinkler inspection, testing and maintenance at your facility. As you know, NFPA 25 is the primary document for inspection, testing and maintenance for water-based sprinkler systems and it appears that not all of the accreditation organizations (AO) are enforcing it the same way. Many of you are Joint Commission accredited and some of you are HFAP or DNV accredited. It would be interesting to learn if there are differences between the AOs, and if there are, what those differences may be. Also, if you recently had a CMS validation survey performed by a state agency, I would be interested in learning what they identified as well.

There is a form that you can use as a comparison tool that identifies what NFPA 25 (1998 edition) actually requires for inspection, testing and maintenance of water-based sprinkler systems. This tool is located under the “Tool” heading, and then search under the “Life Safety Document Review Session” heading. It would be interesting to find out if there is anything on the form that the surveyors decided not to ask to see documentation of compliance. Feel free to use it as a tool comparing it with your AO / state agency survey experience.

So, if you are interested in participating, please respond back to me at:   with your comments on what the surveyors/inspectors identified on your survey deficiency report as well as what they stated unofficially, in regards to inspection, testing and maintenance of your water-based fire protection system. I will keep your comments anonymous in the article unless you grant me permission to quote you.

If possible, I would like your reply by August 18, 2014.

Thank you…..

Main Drain Tests

Q: Where are main drain tests required to be done? This is a large medical facility with nine story towers. Several fire mains feed the various campus buildings. Is the main drain test required to be done only where the fire mains supply the system risers, or does it also need to be done on each floor at the riser as well? Would you please supply your rationale for your answer?

A: According to the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code, main drain tests are regulated by NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, 1998 edition. Section 1-5 of NFPA 25 defines a main drain as the primary drain connection on the system riser and also is utilized as a flow test connection. Section 9-2.6 requires a main drain test must be conducted annually at each water-based fire protection system riser to determine whether there has been a change in the condition of the water supply and control valves. NFPA 25 does not adequately define what a ‘system riser’ is, so we turn to the Handbook for NFPA 13 Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems which identifies a ‘system riser’ as the above ground horizontal or vertical pipe between the water supply and the mains (cross or feed) that contains a control valve (either directly or within its supply pipe) and a waterflow alarm device. A system riser is more than just a subset of the term riser, which is broadly defined as any vertical piping within the sprinkler system. As indicated by the definition, a system riser can be any aboveground pipe in a vertical or horizontal orientation installed between the water supply and the system mains that contain specific devices. By this definition it appears one could loosely define the locations of a main drain test to be conducted wherever there is a control valve and waterflow alarm switch. In a large multi-story facility such as yours, that would most likely require a main drain test at least on every floor, possibly more. The Accreditation Organizations (AOs, such as Joint Commission, HFAP and DNV) typically do not seek this level of compliance. Most of the AOs only expect main drain tests to be conducted at the base of the risers of the sprinkler system, not at every floor. However, depending on your state agency surveyors who conduct CMS validation surveys, it is very reasonable and possible that they will expect the main drain tests to be conducted at every floor. To continue with additional information, the purpose of a main drain test is covered in the Annex section A-9-2.6, which says main drain tests are used to determine whether there is a major reduction in waterflow to the system, such as might be caused by a major obstruction, a dropped gate, a valve that is almost fully closed, or a check valve clapper stuck to the valve seat. A large drop in the full flow pressure of the main drain (as compared to a previous test) normally is indicative of a dangerously reduced water supply caused by a valve in an almost fully closed position or other type of severe obstruction. After closing the drain, a slow return to normal static pressure is confirmation of the suspicion of a major obstruction in the waterway and should be considered sufficient reason to determine the cause of the variation. A satisfactory drain test (i.e., one that reflects the results of previous tests) does not necessarily indicate an unobstructed passage, nor does it prove that all valves in the upstream flow of water are fully opened. The performance of drain tests is not a substitute for a valve check on 100 percent of the fire protection valving. The main drain test is conducted in the following manner:

  1. Record the pressure indicated by the supply water gauge [Static Pressure]
  2. Close the alarm control valve on alarm valves
  3. Fully open the main drain valve
  4. After the flow has stabilized, record the residual (flowing) pressure indicated by the water supply gauge
  5. Close the main drain valve slowly
  6. Record the time taken for the supply water pressure to return to the original static (nonflowing) pressure
  7. Open the alarm control valve

Sprinkler Main Drain Test

Q: Where is the main drain test supposed to be conducted? Is it supposed to be at the sprinkler riser or low point drain?

A: According to NFPA 25 Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems (1998 edition), the main drain test of the sprinkler system is to be conducted at the sprinkler system riser. The purpose of the main drain test is to determine whether there has been any change in the condition of the water supply piping and control valves. There has been some confusion about main drain tests, as one accreditation organization permits their hospitals to conduct the main drain test at the low point drain where the supply main enters the building. But they are confusing the NFPA 25 standard which does allow the main drain test to be conducted at low point drains on standpipe systems, only when standpipe systems are separated from sprinkler system risers. Main drain tests for sprinkler systems must be conducted annually, and after every time a control valve has been closed. A successful main drain test will record the static pressure of the water, the residual pressure after the main drain valve is opened, and the time to restore to static pressure after the main drain valve has been closed. The results of each test must be compared to previous test results to determine if there is any change in the water supply.

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.