If you read this magazine, then you already know the 2017 edition of NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems, was ready for adoption last year. You may even know whether your jurisdiction has adopted it or not. Yes, three years of your life have expired in the blink of a code cycle; but as with all decay, there is rebirth and regeneration. The NFPA 25 standard is no different. It, too, was transformed from the expiring 2014 edition in an ever-increasing attempt by its committee to refine, clarify, and make better a standard that is purposed “to ensure the operational status of a system is maintained.” If time has not afforded you the chance to peruse the new edition, this article may help summarize the changes that affect the inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems. As with most issues, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the normal disclaimers: I won’t be covering all “100-and-some” changes; the changes that get covered are the changes the author has chosen to pinpoint; the order is not indicative of importance; this is not a tutorial that once read makes an individual any more competent to perform inspections than prior to reading it; yada, yada, yada. Having said that, on a more serious note, I do hope this article piques the interest of the reader enough to want to pick up the new edition and dive a little deeper into it, whether the jurisdiction has adopted it or not.
I’ll begin by saying that chapter 2 is not represented with any significant changes. Since that chapter is Referenced Publications, the references to those publications remain unchanged, but the year of each reference has been updated to the latest edition. Chapter 12 on water mist systems only has one change in section 220.127.116.11 that basically consolidates into one location those sections that were scattered around the chapter. Chapters 14, 15, and 16 only have one change each. In chapter 14.4, the chapter on Internal Piping Condition and Obstruction Investigation, the text was rewritten to bring the wording “freezers and cold storage rooms” in alignment with the text from NFPA 13, section 7.9. That section now reads “refrigerated spaces maintained at temperatures below 32 degrees.” The change for chapter 15, Impairments, can be found in section 15.4.2 which added the term “water supply” to the list of equipment that can be impaired. In chapter 16, Special Requirements from Other NFPA Documents, the committee chose to remove the list of items to inspect and simply chose to reference NFPA 101, Life Safety Code,® as the standard by which to perform those inspections. If the Handbook is your source of reference, you will find the extracts from NFPA 101 that were removed from the body of the 2014 standard. Finally, annex F and annex G are new to the standard in 2017. So there are your second stringers… those chapters that are “sitting the bench’”with minimal changes in 2017. Now, let’s get to the first stringers that bring the weightier matters into play.
Undoubtedly, one of the weightier matters, from the perspective of an inspector, resides within chapter 8 on fire pumps. Much deliberation has been infused into chapter 8 surrounding the danger of taking the voltage and current readings during a pump test from the interior of the fire pump controller while it is under load. The committee, after an emergency interim amendment, was able to add section 18.104.22.168.1 to the 2017 standard. This change stresses the importance of having a licensed or qualified individual perform those readings. After much study, it became apparent that the joules present in those controllers is of such substantial amounts that proper protective equipment needs to be worn. The difficulty is that in many cases, the type and rating of the flash protection equipment is not known. This type of information and expertise is better suited to an electrician. Since the fire pump controllers cannot be completely de-energized, the potential for arc flash within the controller is always present. The electrical standard, NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, has safety guidance and additional information on this topic. So, the TIA was passed in late 2017 removing the requirement to take the voltage and current reading during the annual pump test. Keep in mind that the 2017 edition was already published prior to the TIA being passed, so the change in the requirement of taking the voltage and current readings will not be in your 2017 edition. However, the passing of the TIA puts the change in effect for the current 2017 edition. The TIA may be downloaded from the NFPA website, nfpa.org.
The rest of the changes in chapter 8 deal with consolidating some tables and adding subsections to clarify the frequencies identified in the tables. There are a few sections that revised some terms in order to be more consistent with other NFPA standards using those same terms. One notable section that has been beefed up is section 8.3.7 referring to test results and evaluation of the test data. In section 22.214.171.124, you will see multiple additions dealing with the pump data that is meant to help the inspector evaluate and determine acceptable tests.
Chapter 13 is the next chapter to have some pretty significant changes. For starters, it received a new name; no longer is chapter 13 called Valves, Valve Components, and Trim. Instead, it has been retitled as Common Components and Valves. This was done because chapter 13 covers pieces of equipment that are not considered part of the trim or valve components. So, with its new title, the term “common components” will be found throughout the standard’s chapters for the purpose of creating consistent terminology. Having said that, table 126.96.36.199 is still using the old title; I’m sure that will get resolved in time. The table received a pretty elaborate face lift, moving around the deluge and preaction requirements into two sections and moving the gauge requirements to later in the chapter. There is also the addition in the table of the valve status test that is discussed at the end of the chapter. There is an error, however, in table 188.8.131.52 that should be noted. Under the testing of control valves, the supervisory section indicates an annual test; that should read semi-annually as required by section 184.108.40.206.1.
Not new to the standard is the concern for minimizing damage and controlling water runoff. Inspectors frequently have to deal with upset customers over smelly water and blown out flower bed mulch from performing a main drain test or flowing and inspector’s test valve. The 2017 standard touches on that issue in section 13.2.4. Much deliberation went into trying to decide whose problem this is: the owner’s or the inspector’s. Without rehashing the entire discussion, suffice it to say that wording was created in the standard for the purpose of bringing the owner and the inspection company together to discuss where water is going and what damage may occur when it is flowed. I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up that NFPA 13 covers this at installation and requires proper drainage and splash blocks to account for the flowing of water. By no means am I insinuating that it shouldn’t be discussed; I am merely pointing out that NFPA 13 has already accounted for this issue, and it should have already been resolved at the acceptance test… upstream of a functional test and inspection.
As mentioned earlier, gauges have been moved to their own section under 13.2.7 and a new paragraph has been added to help clarify what is meant by “normal water supply pressure.” There are multiple new paragraphs under section 13.2.7 that inform the inspector of gauge calibration due dates and tolerances for gauge accuracy. Under section 220.127.116.11 the valve status test is mentioned. This is important because a main drain test was previously required after the closure and reopening of a system control valve. The 2017 standard now calls it a “valve status test,” which may include the use of a main drain, but is trying to inform the inspector that the largest orifice that can be opened downstream of the cycled valve will achieve a better result for indicating a partially closed valve. In some cases, the main drain may be all there is; in other cases, a fire pump test header or backflow forward flow test header could be used.
Supervisory devices have had some frequency overhauls, although I am a little confused on what they are. There are several discrepancies with the table and the text. The standard states that the low air on a dry system is now tested annually while those of preaction and deluge valves are still tested quarterly. However, table 18.104.22.168 still lists the dry system low air as a quarterly test and sites an incorrect standard section leading the reader to a section on deluge valves. Moreover, the correct section, 22.214.171.124.6, does list it as an annual test. In addition, section 126.96.36.199 mentions supervisory signal devices (excluding valve supervisory devices) and informs us that all have been moved to annual testing. Be careful, however, because we still have other supervisory devices that get tested more frequently than annually. Granted, they are covered in other chapters and likely not intended to fall under “common components and valves,” but this can be confusing.
Finally, I’d like to cover a few of the changes from chapter 5. Finding an inspector who has not struggled with the inspections of painted or corroded heads at one time or another would be difficult to do. I’m pleased to see that the committee has worked hard to create information that will give guidance to inspectors for assessing corroded sprinklers. That information can be found in 188.8.131.52.1 and the associated annex. In a nutshell it discusses that different metals have different properties, not all of which is corrosion. Basically, any change in the state of the sprinkler material that will detrimentally affect the operation of the head should be recorded as a deficiency. The key phrase being “detrimental to sprinkler performance.” So, not all corrosion applies. When in doubt, the option for testing sprinkler heads is a viable one. Speaking of testing sprinkler heads, recalled products will continue to be announced as long as products are being made. The committee still struggles with the complexity of this issue. Finding and replacing recalled products is important and desirable. The conundrum lies in the fact that finding recalled products through a visual means is difficult at best and in most cases, not possible. The standard alludes to the need to have the spare sprinkler legend updated and located in the spare head cabinet. This is one reasonably efficient way for the owner to identify any recalled heads that might be installed in his facility. That, together with staying updated on the information from the Consumer Product Safety Commission can reveal valuable information as to products installed in a facility. If there is a doubt about recalled heads, testing them is always an option as the testing laboratory will identify recalled heads as part of their testing procedures.
The committee made a valiant effort to create wording under section 5.2.5 that brings more conformity to the various signs. I like conformity, and there are a lot of signs that seem to be revealing similar information. Section 4.1.9 is the “information sign” and it requires that it be available on any system control riser that supplies “an antifreeze loop, dry system, preaction system, or auxiliary system control valve.” This sign must identify at least four items as listed in section 184.108.40.206. In addition, we have an “antifreeze information sign” required on antifreeze loops indicating information pertinent to the type, brand, concentration, and volume of antifreeze in the system. Section 5.2.5 references the “hydraulic data plate” or a sign indicating the system is a pipe schedule system. Finally, we have the “general information sign” which is the longer version of the “information sign” found in 220.127.116.11 and is discussed in NFPA 13, section 25.6.
Speaking of conformity and clarity, the committee has gone through great strides to discuss the antifreeze situation in section 5.3.3, its subsections, and the associated annex material. I highly recommend a perusal of that information to refresh yourself on the difficulty of the antifreeze situation. Remember, at the current time, there is not a listed antifreeze solution. So, the testing procedures listed in section 5.3.3 will remain in effect until either the deadline arrives or a listed antifreeze does.
In summary, the old saying is still alive: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Indeed, changes are inevitable in every cycle of the standard. Our hope is that the changes get more and more refined in the pursuit of a clearer understanding of how to inspect and test life-safety systems “around the common theme of ensuring operational readiness.” As time presses on, let not your values change with the standard; rather, keep them focused on the prize of performing the best inspection and test within the cycle of the standard that has been adopted in your jurisdiction.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The article and its content is not a Formal Interpretation issued pursuant to NFPA Regulations. Any opinion expressed is the personal opinion of the author and presenter and does not necessarily present the official position of the NFPA and its Technical Committee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Howard Clay is employed by VSC Fire & Security, Inc. in its Inspection Division. He received his B.A. in managerial economics from Hampden-Sydney College. Clay is NICET certified in water-based fire protection systems, fire alarm systems, and fire alarm inspections and testing. He holds state backflow prevention testing licenses in both Virginia and North Carolina and carries the FS-IT-C inspection and testing certification in North Carolina. Clay represents AFSA on the NFPA 25 committee. He has authored articles for magazines of local organizations, and has been asked to speak to local businesses, fire departments, and community associations to help them better understand fire protection. Clay is an instructor for AFSA’s ITM Inspector Development program, and is a member of the National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI) and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI). He can be reached at email@example.com.