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Ways Your Fire Protection System Could Fail You

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The fire suppression industry has experienced a number of recent changes, including an increased need for suppression in varying situations– from wildfires, to installation of commercial suppression systems, there is great demand for fire suppression services.

With this growth comes increased risks— it’s important to make sure you are protecting your business and your employees from potential threats. In recent news, firework ordinances are tightening around the country, and fire suppression systems are more liable than ever for the holiday tradition. Central Insurance Agency is prepared to provide you with a custom insurance solution to fit your needs.

Ways Your Fire Protection System Could Fail You

By Janelle Penny for

Why Fire Protection Systems Need Maintenance

If you haven’t kept up with a regular maintenance schedule, catch up now to avoid the potential legal nightmare that could result if you have a fire and your system doesn’t function the way it should.

“One of the first things your property insurance carrier is going to ask for after a fire is a copy of your inspection, testing and maintenance requirements, and if it turns out you haven’t been maintaining them in the way they’re intended, they could use that as justification for denying a claim,” explains Rob Neale, principal of Integra Code Consultants. “If there’s a tort involved – maybe someone got hurt or was killed and there was a proximate cause related to the fire detection system – there could be legal ramifications.

“If you have a hotel fire, for example, and someone is hurt or killed and the family discovers that you haven’t had the fire alarm system inspected or tested in four or five years, they’re definitely going to go after you for that on a civil matter.”

3 Fire Protection Basics for Commercial Buildings

No matter what type of building you manage, there are three duties that you need to either take care of on a regular basis or bring in a third-party contractor for, Neale says.

1. Inspection

You need to do regular visual checks of each fire detection, notification or protection device and make sure everything is still intact and the unit appears to be in operating condition. This should happen as often as every month if possible, Neale recommends. This task is easy enough for a building owner or facilities department to handle in-house.

2. Testing

A formally qualified tester has to come in and test the equipment to see how it will perform during an emergency. This task is generally farmed out to third-party testing services, Neale says.

3. Maintenance

The manufacturers of each part of the fire protection system will require certain maintenance to keep the various components in good shape. Think of the fire protection system like a new car, Neale suggests: “The first thing you do when you get to the lot is walk around the car, sit in it and look it over. That’s an inspection. Then you take it for a test drive to see how it performs – that’s a test. When you buy it, there’s an owner’s manual in the glove box that tells you how often to change the oil – that’s maintenance.”

Depending on the type of system and the components, you might have to run pumps weekly and document whether they performed, Neale suggests. You might need to make sure a sprinkler system’s valves are lubricated or even periodically disassembled to check that the system isn’t corroded or blocked. 

In addition to manufacturer-specific requirements, you’re also bound by local codes and standards, explains Rodger Reiswig, vice president of industry relations for Johnson Controls. Local requirements are often based on either the International Fire Code (IFC) or codes issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Find out what your municipality or state has adopted (and which version) and use that to inform your inspection, testing and maintenance schedule.

You’ll likely need to become familiar with NFPA 72, which covers installation, testing and maintenance of fire alarm and signaling systems, as well as NFPA 101 (the life safety code) and NFPA 1 (the fire code). Your local authority may also have declined to adopt certain parts of the code or added local requirements based on geography or other factors, Reiswig says, so it pays to find out exactly what the local version is and follow that to the letter.

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