In the United States alone, emergency response teams receive fire alerts about every 24 seconds on average. With a total of 1,318,500 fires in 2018, the annual number of accidents involving fire has decreased across the U.S. by 2.5% from 2009. However, since 2009 the number of deaths has increased by 20.5% with well over 3,500 deaths a year, while the number of injuries has dropped by 17%.
To break it down even further, the third highest number of fires in 2018 took place at storage facilities with more than 22,000 fires, causing a total of 32 deaths. Assemblies, businesses, and health care centers came after with less, yet still devastating numbers. Aside from casualties and injuries, the cost pertaining to property loss in 2018 amounted to billions of US Dollars.
Considering these numbers, employers and homeowners alike should take care in the realm of finding and maintaining fire protection and prevention systems. However, this article will be discussing the importance of following the NFPA 25 code for large business facilities and manufacturing/storage plants. Following local and government mandated fire codes such as this one provides an extra layer of protection for business owners, employees, and the property they own and produce.
What is NFPA 25?
The NFPA 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems is considered the baseline for exactly as its title states—a guideline for inspecting, testing, and keeping up with maintenance for water-based fire suppression systems, technology that almost every facility has installed. By following this code, fire incidents have the chance to be resolved quickly and effectively, and it allows for employee and employer confidence in their own fire protection equipment.
All the codes and standards that the NFPA has created are considered to be “living documents.” With that being said, technology rapidly changes around us constantly. Because of this, the NFPA as a standard setting body has to regularly update its materials to be able to offer the public with the most up-to-date information and strategies for staying safe. Updates to any of the NFPA’s standards and codes usually come out once every three to five years, only after a rigorous process of reevaluation that may take up to two years to complete.
Just like every other NFPA standard, NFPA 25 has also had some important updates announced in 2020, of which shall be gone over in detail near the end of this article.
Is NFPA 25 Mandatory?
The short answer is yes, the NFPA 25 code is mandatory and absolutely must be followed for safety reasons. However, it is not mandated by OSHA. Instead, NFPA 25 is specifically required by the International Fire Code, also known as the IFC, and referenced in the International Building Code, also known as the IBC. Both the IFC and the IBC are baseline codes that the International Code Council created for individual states to adopt into their laws. They may or may not add additional requirements for the local jurisdictions to follow.
This chain of command is a little complicated, however, the main thing to remember is that it is not under the enforcement of OSHA directly, but rather in the hands of the individual state’s government. On the other hand, NFPA 25 and other NFPA codes are considered best practice methods, so theoretically OSHA does have the ability to cite the general duty clause if employers are not providing the safest place for their employees to work.
The bottom of the line is that businesses and facilities need to look into their local laws and do deep research on what they absolutely need to have at the very minimum to protect their employees. After that, then they have the ability to go the extra mile to customize protection and prevention systems that work well within their unique working environment.
Types of Fire Protection Systems
Fire protection is primarily concerned with the installation of equipment that works to put out fires and save lives. To put it simply, think of fire alarms, water-based fire protection such as sprinkler systems, fire suppression systems, fire extinguishers, and anything else that helps alert and stall the progression of a fire.
There are two broad categories of fire protection systems that every facility must look into when preparing for emergencies:
- Active fire protection – This category of fire protection refers to equipment that takes physical action against the spread of fires and smoke.
- Passive fire protection – This category of fire protection focuses on static building modifications that prevent fires from spreading further.
Before designing the building’s active and passive fire systems, the builders must reference the appropriate standards that their building needs to have to be code compliant. Performing this task will effectively keep their workers and the surrounding community safe after the building is complete. Try starting off with OSHA’s General Industry standards found in 29 CFR 1910. NFPA 25, of course must also be on that list.
Aside from standards and codes, there are several types of fire protection systems, both active and passive, that can be chosen from. The following are only some examples of the many forms fire protection equipment can take on.
Fire detectors are forms of active fire protection as they begin the whole process of evacuation and triggers other fire related systems within the building.
- Ionization smoke detectors – When the electrical current running through two metal plates is disrupted by smoke, the alarm is triggered.
- Photoelectric detectors – These alarm systems are useful for detecting small fires as smoke will disrupt a beam of light within the alarm chamber, setting off the fire alarm.
- Heat detectors – Triggered by a temperature rise in the facility, these detectors take a much longer time to respond than the previous two options.
- A combination of ionization and photoelectric detectors – By using both types of fire detection technology, these are often favored by many as they produce the fastest response times.
Sprinkler systems are forms of active fire protection. Water-based fire protection methods like these are very common.
- Wet pipe sprinkler systems – Pressurized water, also known as fire water, stored in the sprinkler pipes are immediately released when heat is detected by individual sprinkler heads.
- Dry pipe sprinkler systems – Filled with pressurized air, once the sprinkler head detects heat the pipe then fills with water and activates.
- Pre-action sprinkler systems – This is a two-step system that behaves in the same way as a dry sprinkler system. However, it activates only individual sprinklers when heat is detected.
- Deluge sprinkler systems – Again, the same as the dry sprinkler system, but once activated every sprinkler goes off.
Fire suppression systems are forms of active fire protection. These are non-water sprinkler systems that either put out the fire completely or mitigate the fire until emergency personnel arrive.
- Carbon dioxide suppression – Only use C02 in areas where there are never any human workers as it can be dangerous to their health.
- Dry chemical suppression – This system is used to put out fires caused by combustible and flammable liquids.
- Wet chemical suppression – This type of fire suppression substance prevents re-ignition. It is often used in kitchens for grease fires.
- Clean agent fire suppression – This system leaves no residue to clean up. It is often used in areas with irreplaceable assets like museums.
Fire extinguishers are forms of active fire protection and are used by employees to extinguish small fires.
- Class A extinguishers – Use for regular combustibles.
- Class B extinguishers – Use for flammable liquids.
- Class C extinguishers – Use for energized electrical fires.
- Class D extinguishers – Use for flammable metals.
- Class K extinguishers – Use in kitchen environments.
Fire doors are forms of passive fire protection. They prevent the spread of smoke and fire for a duration of time depending on the fire rating.
- Self-closing – This door has no capability to hold itself open.
- Automatic closing – These close upon the triggering of a fire alarm.
- Power-operated fire doors – These become manually operated once a fire alarm goes off and are unable to hold themselves open after that occurs.
Firewalls are forms of passive fire protection. They provide structural stability while also being fireproof.
- Double firewall – This involves two firewalls separated by flashing and are completely independent of each other. It separates one building from the other next door.
- Cantilevered firewall – These are only connected to the foundation; the height is limited to thirty-two feet.
- Tied firewall – These gather their structural strength from the building’s frame, each wall is connected to the fame separately on either side.
Fire rated ductwork is a form of passive fire protection. They prevent the spread of smoke and fire.
- Smoke extraction ductwork – These work to expel smoke from within a building to the outside.
- Fire rated ventilation ductwork – These work to prevent the spread of a fire between two building areas or compartments.
Fire Protection System Components
As can be seen from above, all the fire protection methods a company chooses to implement work together to create one harmonic system. Imagine if the detection system didn’t work, any of the passive fire protection systems didn’t do their job, or if the fire sprinklers were defective. Any one mistake within this system could, and would most certainly, result in catastrophe involving both lives lost as well as property damage.
Speaking of these interlocking components of fire protection, that leads us into our next topic of discussion—the fire prevention system.
What is a fire prevention system?
A fire prevention system relies primarily on the concept of scheduled maintenance to ensure everything is in working order. A notice of guideline maintenance may even be issued to impose the minimum level of maintenance required on these systems.
Reducing hazards that prevent fire protection systems from working means identifying problems with overloaded circuits, improperly contained flammable materials, and heating and electrical systems in bad shape. Maintaining a robust fire prevention system primarily involves three things:
- Maintenance/testing – Regular maintenance is one of the most important actions an employer can take to protect his or her employees in areas with a high possibility for fires to occur. Referencing the local fire codes as well as all relevant NFPA standards will guide those who are wanting to make sure their facility is in tip-top shape, and safe for all its occupants.
- Inspection – Whether the building owner is ready or not, fire inspections are a part of normal protocol when it comes to fire protection. They must have all their fire protection equipment and systems inspected for usability and code compliance regularly to ensure they are working.
- Risk assessment/job hazard analysis– These are the last important aspect of a fire prevention system. Actively working to identify further fire risks is a good way to be able to identify areas needing improvement, replacement, and repair.
The NFPA 25 code covers maintenance, testing, and inspection of water based sprinkler systems, a common fire protection system for all buildings and facilities, whereas OSHA works to enforce appropriate risk assessment and hazard identification protocol. The combination of NFPA 25 and OSHA’s mandates on risk and hazard identification must be used together to have a fully rounded fire prevention system.
NFPA 25 2020 Updates
As technology changes, so does the regulations and rules that govern its safe use. The NFPA 25 standards were updated this past year to include some important changes that will hopefully expand options for employers as well as provide more guidance on particular hazards where necessary. Those key changes include:
- Recognition of electric sprinklers – The NFPA has determined that electric sprinklers have the ability to not only detect fires faster, but also put them out more efficiently since the sprinkler system is able to identify which sprinkler heads to release water from.
- The allowance of an automated system to simulate water flow for ITM purposes – Remote controlled devices such as a flow switch have the ability to check to see if a fire suppression system is in shape to put out a fire in the event there was one. This saves on inspection labor costs, reduces corrosion from wet pipes, and conserves water.
- Inspectors now cannot open fire pump controllers unless they’ve been properly de-energized – This reduces the danger of arc flash and shock hazards for the inspector. The standard now also officially states that if any work on electrical equipment must be done, then an electrician is required, and the employer must follow the standards presented in NFPA 70E.
- There is clearer guidance on how to deal with equipment recalls – The identification of material that have been recalled by manufactures is now not just the employer’s responsibility. The responsibility is now shared between contractors, site managers, the building owners, and the inspectors themselves.
- Requirements for water mist systems – These fire systems have become popular since the use of Halon gas was banned in the U.S. The new guidelines include a slew of new protocol for these systems and can be found in chapter 12.
- Dry sprinkler testing – Lab testing on dry sprinkler systems can now be done after the fifteen-year mark since installation. Every ten years after it must be checked.
- New dry hydrant requirements – Added to chapter seven, the new addition now has ITM requirements.
- NFPA 855: The Installation of Stationary Energy Storage Systems
- Fire Prevention in the Workplace [OSHA 1910.39]
- Fire Safety in the Workplace
- OSHA Ear Protection Requirements (Standards for Hearing Safety)
- NFPA 70E [Workplace Electrical Safety]
- A Guide to Pipe Marking Standards
- NFPA 99: Understanding the Health Care Facilities Code
- Your Guide to Pipe Labeling Standards
- OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134)