Fire suppression system inspection and testing best practices

Independent disaster recovery consultant Paul Kirvan discusses fire sprinkler system inspection and testing best practices in this Expert Answer.

How do you test a fire sprinkler system? And how often should you test? And are there any resources available to help determine if a fire suppression system is to code, or is that something you need to have an inspection to find out?

Self-testing a fire suppression system may be performed, but this isn't generally recommended. Fire suppression systems are fairly complex, and handling of the system by an untrained employee may cause unintended problems such as a system malfunction that could result in the system's failure to accurately respond to a possible fire condition.

Ideally, the organization that installs your system should conduct tests, preferably with the local fire department in attendance. This is important so the fire department knows what you are doing for fire detection and suppression, and may be able to offer additional suggestions for improving how you handle this important activity.

In most cases, local fire inspectors are responsible for inspecting fire systems and certifying they are up to code. Don't assume that because you have a new system it is up to code. Have the local fire inspector inspect the system and certify that it is set up correctly and satisfies the fire code. If the system fails inspection, have your fire system installation company make the corrections needed to bring the system up to code. Going forward, the fire inspector should inspect the system after periodic tests to re-certify it and note the certification and date on the main system control panel.

Fire suppression technologies are designed to handle different types of fire causes, e.g., chemical or electrical. Each of the suppression approaches mentioned can perform its duties quickly and effectively, in the right situation.

A key planning goal is to select a system that can address as many fire types, e.g., Class A, B or C, as possible so it won't be necessary to buy multiple fire suppression systems. Fire suppression systems typically use dry chemicals, gas or water to extinguish fires. Systems should be selected based on the most likely types of fire events that may occur.

In data centers you will usually see a combination of handheld fire extinguishers (Class A, B, C) and high-pressure gas (e.g., FM-200) dispersing systems that typically remove one of the three components needed for a fire: fuel, oxygen and heat; in the case of FM-200 the oxygen in the air is dramatically reduced so that the fire can no longer burn, and is quickly extinguished.

Check with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) for specific rules, regulations and guidance on fire suppression systems.

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