Is a Fire Watch Necessary?

Q: We have a complete gut renovation project that consist of two buildings (Admin. Bldg. & Lab Bldg.). The buildings are connected in all three levels and will be unoccupied. Both buildings are connected on the first level only to the adjacent occupied building. A one-hour barrier will be built to separate the occupied building from the construction areas. Is a fire watch required once the sprinklers system and fire alarm system is demolished?

A: According to section 9.6.1.6, whenever a required fire alarm system is out of service for 4 or more hours in a 24-hour period, you are required to do the following:

  • The AHJ must be notified. Don’t forget to notify your state AHJ, your insurance company AHJ, as well as your local AHJ. There is no need to notify your accreditation AHJ.
  • The building must be evacuated, or an approved fire watch must be conducted. An approved fire watch consists of a designated, trained individual who has no other responsibilities, continuously patrols the entire area affected by the outage looking for signs of fire and potential situations where fire could start, and has the ability to communicate to call the local fire responders in case of fire. This individual cannot leave the impaired area until the fire watch is discontinued or is relieved by another designated, trained individual.

So, you are saying these buildings will be unoccupied, so it appears you do not have to conduct a fire watch for the impaired fire alarm system, provided you have a 2-hour fire-rated barrier separating the unoccupied building and the occupied building. But let’s look at NFPA 25-2011, section 15.5.2 which says this about sprinkler impairments: Before authorization is given, the impairment coordinator shall be responsible for verifying that the following procedures have been implemented:

  1. The extent and expected duration of the impairment have been determined;
  2. The areas or buildings involved have been inspected and the increased risks determined;
  3. Recommendations have been submitted to management or the property owner or designated representative;
  4. Where a required fire protection system is out of service for more than 10 hours in a 24-hour period, the impairment coordinator shall arrange for: A) Evacuation of the building or portion of the building affected by the system out of service; B) An approved fire watch, which must be the same as the approved fire watch described above; C) Establishment of a temporary water supply; D) Establishment and implementation of an approved program to eliminate potential ignition sources and limit the amount of fuel available to the fire;
  5. The fire department has been notified;
  6. The insurance carrier, the alarm company, property owner or designated representative, and other authorities having jurisdiction have been notified;
  7. The supervisors in the areas to be affected have been notified;
  8. A tag impairment system has been implemented;
  9. All necessary tools and materials have been assembled on the impairment site.

So, again since you have an unoccupied building, it appears to me that you do not have to conduct a fire watch for an impaired sprinkler system, provided you have a 2-hour fire-rated barrier separating the unoccupied building and the occupied building. Item #4 above clearly states a fire watch is not required if you have evacuated the building.