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Chairman's Message: NFPA Standards
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Chairman’s Message: NFPA Standards

One of the more important functions of your association is to monitor and provide input to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. AFSA has voting seats that represent contractors on all the major standards: NFPA 13, 13R, 14, 20, 25 and 409 just to name a few. Our technical engineering team headed up by AFSA Senior Vice President of Engineering & Technical Services Roland Huggins, P.E. is the point man for this effort. We fill this need between our AFSA technical staff and our large and experienced network of contractors from across the country. Watching and being a part of the standard-writing process is a fascinating glimpse of democracy, technical skills, manufacturing innovations, and insurance and Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) needs and wants. All facets of our industry are represented.

The proposals the committees receive run the gamut of minor to major. The intent of the submitter is sometimes obvious and sometimes more obscure, but for the most part the intent is to improve the standards by tweaking the documents that hopefully clear up issues real or perceived. Sometimes new technology or new information comes along that changes the way we look at fire protection and forces us to adopt new language. The advent of nitrogen inerting is a good example, and the codes are acknowledging this influential trend. Sometimes proposals come along that are well intentioned but are often impractical to implement or hugely expensive to the end user. A good example of this is full forward full backflow testing that has been a requirement now for the past two cycles. The practical implication of forward flowing backflows at system demand flow requirements is challenging to say the least (some real-world scenarios include tight constraints on backflow locations, discharging large flows in our dense downtown cities, temperature issues, hose locations issues, water conservation issues, etc.). If done properly, this requirement is very expensive when compared to our previous testing protocols. Often times the implications of these changes are not felt (or even known) by the fire protection community until many years after their acceptance as many states and localities are very slow to adopt the newest standard.

The present NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, cycle under review is for the future 2018 edition and provides another example of a well-intentioned proposal that has significant cost and liability implications. The intent of the proposal is to have NFPA 13 institute a safety factor on water supply curves, which would in effect make NFPA reduce available water supplies by 10 percent. On the surface to some factions this may sound like a grand idea. In practicality, it would lead to significantly increased costs to owners via increased sizes in backflow preventers and pipes sizes. Pumps would be required in many cases, with all the added electrical and maintenance demands. On top of the cost implications, another strong argument against the proposal can be made that for years numerous safety factors have already been baked into the standards via remote areas water flow design densities, response times and head spacing characteristics. There are potential liability scenarios that can come into play. This is a slippery slope for the document, contractors and owners. Water supplies are provided by others; we design to them, we have no control over them, and we have no liability for them. Consequently, AFSA speaks against this proposal.

As in any deliberative and democratic process there are things we don’t like. But rest assured, your association is vigilant in monitoring the standards process and doing what it can to keep the standards smart, fair, and balanced.

About the Author:

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Michael Meehan is Chairman of the AFSA Board of Directors.
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