In most cases, building owners, the contractor, and even the auditor tends to believe that fire protection and life safety systems are tested and delivered with a holistic approach. Still, in most cases, the systems are being delivered by the installers or required by the representative or the owner of the building individually. This means that, on the one hand, the alarm system is delivered according to the NFPA 72 standard. On the other hand, the sprinkler system is delivered entirely according to the NFPA 13 standard. However, an integration of the systems is not performed. In 2007 requested by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) created a new document that compiles the process of verification and accreditation (commissioning) and integrated testing of fire protection and life safety systems. Currently, these standards are classified respectively as NFPA 3 and NFPA 4. The objective of this article is to show the difference and applicability of these new standards. Also, to show the difference between these with the acceptance tests of the individual systems.
Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing (NFPA 4) and the acceptance of individual systems (e.g., NFPA 72 or NFPA 13) are activities that are developed as part of the validation and accreditation of integrated systems, called commissioning. However, these are just two steps into the whole process. Commissioning begins from the moment the owner decides to build a building. It is a highly administrative process. And the focus is to document all phases of construction of fire protection and human safety systems. This documentation includes planning, designs, and construction up to the occupation phase of the buildings. The validation and accreditation document belongs to the owner. This commissioning document specifies the minors of the systems implemented in the building. Including the owner’s project requirements (OPR), the design of basis (BOD), the systems implemented, their frequency of test, operating mode, among others. For this reason, the owner is responsible for initiating the commissioning process. It is important to mention that the owner must decide to carry out the process or not since not all buildings require this step; this depends on the complexity of the integrated system and the knowledge of the owner.
On the other hand, the integrated systems test is defined in NFPA 4 as: ‘A test performed on fire protection and life safety systems, to confirm that operation, interaction, and coordination of multiple individual systems perform their intended function.’ This definition implies that the objective is to verify the interaction and joint operation of multiple individual systems. This test intends to verify the performance of the interconnection of the systems; it is not intended to review the operation of the individual systems. For the latter, there are acceptance tests, which are carried out before the test of the integrated system. For example, if the integrated systems are being tested according to the NFPA 4 standard, and in one scenario, it is specified that when a flow of water is recorded in the pipe of the sprinkler system, the building alarm is activated. Then, the integrated test should focus on verifying that the evacuation alarm turns on as defined in the scenario. Compliance with specific characteristics of the system’s design (flow pressure, flow, among others) is verified with the acceptance tests of each system. It should be clarified that confirmation of the operation of individual systems may be required when testing an end-to-end integrated system.
Finally, acceptance testing of individual systems is described in standards such as NFPA 13 for sprinkler systems, or NFPA 72 for the alarm system. The objective of these is to verify that the systems comply with the approved designs and that they were installed following the applicable regulations. An individual system in the context of commissioning, not only refers to the systems that are not connected with others in the building, but also to those that make up the integrated system.
When considering the design and implementation of fire protection and human safety systems, it should be determining if initiating a commissioning process is necessary. In case it is not due to the low complexity of the system, then it is convenient to integrate the systems, which means that the integrated test described in NFPA 4 must be performed. An individual system reduces the existing risk to a lesser extent than when performing systems integration. Therefore, it is necessary that the systems function, interact, and coordinate as a single protection system.
EHR S.A. has the experience and excellent professionals trained to advise you on the design, implementation, and tests required to implement integrated fire protection and human safety systems in your buildings.
Design Engineering Department