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Simplifying the management of life and property protection

Jan 20, 2011 | Archive, Blog, Text Only Article | 0 comments

According to the National Fire Protection Agency in 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1.3 million fires that resulted in over 3,000 civilian fatalities and an estimated $12.5 billion in direct property loss. This equates to one civilian fire death every 175 minutes. Fire code and testing requirements are critical to maximizing safety and protection of life and property. Recently, there have been several tragic fires that remind us of the importance of being up to date and informed about critical life safety issues, testing requirements and advancements in technology that increase safety. In addition to an overview and ideas for fire systems management, a review of emerging industry trends including wireless radio monitoring, carbon monoxide detection, third party notification and quarterly sprinkler inspections will put you in the know.

Simplifying the management of life and property protection

 Identify the systems

The first step in ensuring compliance and safety is to understand what type of fire and life safety systems you have. A survey with the assistance of a life safety professional should be conducted to identify the fire alarm system components. Fire alarm components to look for are smoke and heat detectors, manual pull stations and audio visual devices like horns and strobes. Next identify components of the suppression systems: fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers, fire department connections and backflow assemblies. Fire systems should have a tag identifying when the system was last tested and when the testing is due again. Lastly, identify if monitoring is in place, and if so, what type. Central Station monitoring is the link between fire detection equipment and a monitoring station that notifies authorities of an alarm. Monitoring is a requirement for most commercial and multi-residential properties.

Confidence testing

Local fire code requires a fire protection system be in good working condition at all times and that these systems be tested on a regular basis without notification from the fire department. This is called confidence testing. Confidence testing is conducted by a certified service technician. The frequency of testing is determined by the “Authority Having Jurisdiction” or AHJ. Testing frequency and requirements generally depend on the system being tested and size of the building- most AHJs use National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) standard for testing frequency. The standard is for high rise buildings to have ¼ of the system tested each quarter so that the entire system is tested annually and anything not high-rise, be tested once annually. Testing allows the identification of system failures, so in the event of a fire, the probability of your system working is greatly increased.

Notification of testing

NFPA and local code require 100% of a system’s components be tested annually. In order to test 100% of devices inside private residences, cooperation to allow access is necessary. Coordinating access to private residences can present a challenge for life safety professionals and association managers. Although confidence testing is inconvenient, there are simple ways to increase homeowner participation. Start by providing adequate notice of the confidence testing date and time. A good rule of thumb for advance notice is a 2-4 week initial notice with a 24-48 hour reminder.  Mail the notification of testing in conjunction with posting a notice at mailboxes and common areas. If a homeowner is absolutely not able to be present at the time of the testing, homeowner associations often have come up with creative solutions like designating a trusted neighbor a “key” person to allow access. Reminding homeowners that the testing is a critical safety issue that impacts their safety, and the safety of family, pets and neighbors with close or common walls usually goes a long way in increasing turnout.

Emergency planning and safety protocol

There are many resources available online for emergency planning and safety tips. Most AHJs websites have information on emergency planning and safety protocol. A map distributed or posted in common areas that indicates the location of all fire exits, manual pull stations and fire extinguishers is critical to fire safety. Mark “you are here” according to the location of a posted map. Then mark the two closest fire exits. Simple instructions for homeowners when fire strikes can be posted or included in a community newsletter:

  • Do not use elevators, head to the nearest stairwell
  • If there is smoke, crawl low and test doors for heat before you open them
  • Make sure people along the way are evacuating the building also
  • Once outside, stay clear of smoke and fire, do not go back into the building until authorities allow
  • If authorities are not already on-site, call 911

Industry trends and new regulations

The life and property safety industry is constantly subject to changes in regulations and technology. A few of the most prominent changes taking place right now involve emerging industry trends including wireless radio monitoring, carbon monoxide detection, third party notification, and quarterly sprinkler inspections.

Wireless radio monitoring

NFPA states occupants have on average 120 seconds to escape a building safely in the case of fire. The wireless radio is a technology based on a military mesh network that increases the speed of transmission from 24-36 seconds using digital to an average 4-6 seconds. In fire safety, saving seconds saves lives. Currently, the most common form of monitoring is the use of primary and back-up telephone, or POTS (plain old telephone service). However, in a recent article in Security Systems News by Daniel Gelinas, “Plain old telephone service—the mainspring of traditional burg and fire alarm signal transmission—could be coming to a mandatory end.” The predicted eventual sunset or termination of POTS, coupled with this advanced technology, makes radio monitoring a popular trend. The radio uses a network of multiple communication nodes or paths. If any path is compromised, it utilizes a smart grid or “self-healing” technology that reconnects the path of communication within nanoseconds, greatly enhancing the reliability of monitoring.

Carbon monoxide detection

New Washington state law requires all new construction to have carbon monoxide detection starting Jan 1, 2011. Existing buildings require mandatory retrofit by July 2011. Fire protection engineers and AHJs are navigating this slowly to see what modifications or changes may take place in regard to adoption and implementation.

NFPA-25 Quarterly sprinkler inspections

The NFPA 25 2002 edition listed water based fire suppression sprinklers to be inspected quarterly. The quarterly sprinkler inspection is a lesser inspection than the annual and mostly tests sprinkler alarm devices, hydraulic nameplate, fire department connection and main drain function. However, most local AHJs in Washington have yet to enforce this quarterly inspection.  If they do start to enforce it, be prepared for increased inspection costs.

Third party notification-Tegris

Third party notification is the use of a private company contracted by an AHJ to assist in notification of testing compliance and deficiency correction. Third party notification thru Tegris has already been adopted by the City of Lynnwood and many adjacent AHJs appear to be considering it. Third party notification will increase inspection and reporting fees, however, if widely accepted, increased compliance may assist in an improved Property Protection Classification, which could drop insurance premiums for all business under a jurisdictions authority- thus possibly off setting increased costs.

Implementing an annual review of fire and life safety systems will assist in ensuring compliance with constantly changing code. Following the easy steps above and staying informed on emerging trends will increase safety and reduce liability while simplifying the management of life and property safety.

By Erin Gilliam

Account Executive, Guardian Security

Erin Gilliam, Account Executive with Guardian Security, specializing in fire systems confidence testing and monitoring. She can be reached at 206-349-5702 or egilliam@guardiansecurity.com.
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