1. #1
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    Default Alarm/Sprinkler System Questions-Code Enforcement

    I'm not at all familiar with building codes, etc. regarding alarm and sprinklers, so I'll give the scenario.

    Located in PA, we have a large building (Walmart sized) that is used for manufacturing and storage that has both a fire alarm system and a sprinkler system with it's own water supply. The building is 95% vacant with the exception of less than 5 employees working part-time hours in the small portion during the weekday. We haven't had a keyholder respond for at least 2 years and we continue to use a key they provided us before then to gain access to the building.

    For the past several years we have been getting water flow alarms from the same specific location (a riser in the system) in the building. We believe we have found that the sprinkler system malfunctions and sets the alarm off due to a build up in the riser which needs to be cleaned due to being only flow tested once a year, however it still functions to the point that it passes itís yearly test (if that's the requirement?). Apparently the building owner wonít spend the extra money to have the system cleaned out because itís for sale. We have had our police dept. cite the building owner each year for every alarm after 3 false alarms according to PA state law and we include restitution for each call and they continue to pay the citations. At first we didnít mind the additional income however the alarms have gotten numerous to the point that weíd rather have the system repaired and fully functional than the extra income, additional responses, and save our personnel from needless alarms which has affected the # of personnel who turn out for this particular call.

    Our question: Is there anything we can do that may be covered under a state law or code enforcement that could put a stop to the malfunctioning alarms? Can anyone provide any other sort of help?
    Ryan A. Zerbe
    Assistant Chief
    Womelsdorf Volunteer Fire Company
    Home of "Barney's Bandits" and the "Route 422 Express"
    www.womelsdorffire.com

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    I am a Code Enforcement Official in Montgomery County, Pa.

    The short answer to your question is YES.

    Under the International Fire Code, the Fire Code Official (usually your local Code Enforcement Official or the Fire Marshal) enforces the fire code.

    Now, if I read your post correctly, you are maintaining that the system does get it's yearly testing, however they will not perform the required maintenance that the Sprinkler Contractor finds that it needs during the yearly check outs. In Pennsylvania, the Fire Code Official does have the power to require the repairs be performed.

    Who is your local Fire Code Official and are they involved in the situation?
    "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

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    Chances are the system is not being tested and inspected in accordance with NFPA 25 if it's only being checked once a year. In a system with supervisory switches and water flow valves tis standard requires quarterly and/or semi-annual inspection or testing. Take a look in NFPA 25, table 5.1.

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    Ok, now that I am at work and have the IFC in front of me.....

    IFC/2006 Chapter 1, section 104.1 GENERAL: The fire code official is hereby authorized to enforce the provisions of this code and shall have the authority to render interpretations of this code, and to adopt policies, procedures, rules and regulations in order to clarify the application of it's provisions. Such interpretations, policies, procedures, rules and regulations shall be in compliance with the intent and purpose of this code and shall not have the effect of waiving requirements specifically provided for in this code.

    As far as sprinklers are concerned, Chapter 9, section 901.6 INSPECTION, TESTING AND MAINTENANCE: Fire detection, alarm and extinguishing systems shall be maintained in an operative condition at all times, and shall be replaced or repaired where defective. Nonrequired fire protection systems and equipment shall be inspected, tested and maintained or removed.

    Table 901.6.1 adopts all requirements of NFPA 25.

    The Fire Code Official should be all over this.
    Last edited by FWDbuff; 06-29-2009 at 04:47 PM.
    "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

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    What everyone has said up to this point is completely correct. Alarm devices need to be tested at least quarterly (per NFPA 25), and some other system components should be getting a visual inspection on a monthly basis. Everyone is also correct that your fire marshal or other fire code official should be investigating this issue and taking steps to bring the building owner into compliance.

    However, the theory that "We believe we have found that the sprinkler system malfunctions and sets the alarm off due to a build up in the riser which needs to be cleaned due to being only flow tested once a year, however it still functions to the point that it passes itís yearly test..." is a little bit troubling. The purpose of conducting the quarterly flow test for the sprinkler system alarm is just that.. to test the function of the flow switch that activates the alarm. There shouldn't be "build up" in the riser causing an alarm. The only thing that should activate the alarm is active water flow through the riser. Even if there's some debris or other gunk in the system, this shouldn't cause an alarm, in and of itself, absent the flow of water. The only way that the something "building up" in the system could cause false alarms would be from something like a rock getting stuck in the alarm check valve at the base of the riser, which would leave the water flow / alarm switch vulnerable to changes in water pressure from wherever the supply is coming from. This isn't the type of thing that would happen consistently or repeatedly, unless there was a bunch of debris in the main connecting the water supply to the riser, and/or unless there are severe changes in water pressure. If there is a significant amount of debris in the main, and/or severe changes in water pressure, you might actually have a situation where the water supply is not adequate for the system, and the system could be useless during a fire. This is obviously a bigger concern than just the false alarms that you're running on.

    Also, does "95% vacant" really mean that the building is empty? Or does it mean that there are no people, but still a whole bunch of stuff stored in there. If there is stuff being stored in the "vacant" building, depending on the type of material, quantity, and storage arrangement/height, the sprinkler system may not be adequate... even if it was functioning properly.

    The solution is still the same... get the fire marshal/ fire code official involved.

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    Going with what Greg suggested (which I agree with completely) my own theory is that the sensitivity settings on the flow activation switch are set way too high, and the slightest backpressure (waterhammer, what have you) is setting off the alarm. Sounds like it may need to be backed off.

    However if the sprinkler company is documenting that the system needs maintenance, cleaning, repairs, etc. it must be done in accordance with the provisions I outlined in my previous post.
    "Loyalty Above all Else. Except Honor."

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