The time for testing fast response sprinklers is now!

Testing Fast Response Sprinklers

May 14, 2014
In the late 80’s, early 90’s, the fast response sprinkler concept became an industry practice as many of our clients installed either quick response sprinklers in the racks or Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers at the ceiling of their warehouse.  The time for testing these sprinklers is now.
Fast Response Sprinklers
Left: glass bulb quick response sprinkler - Right: ESFR sprinkler
Both require testing after 20 years

NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspecting, Testing and Maintenance of Water Based Suppression Systems outlines the responsibilities of the owner when a suppression system is installed in their building.  The days of “hang it and forget it” are gone and the owner is tasked with ensuring that their sprinkler system is properly maintained.  Chapter 4 of this document states in part:

"The property owner or designated representative shall be responsible for properly maintaining a water based fire protection system."
This is not a new standard with the first edition of the standard having been written in 1992, twenty two years ago.  That first edition placed the responsibility for maintenance on the owner too.  The current edition of the standard is the 2014 edition and in the Origin and Development section of the document it states:
"This document provides instruction on how to conduct inspection, testing, and maintenance activities. It also stipulates how often such activities are required to be completed. Requirements are provided for impairment procedures, notification processes, and system restoration. This type of information, where incorporated into a building maintenance program, enhances the demonstrated favorable experience of all water-based fire protection systems."
An owner cannot claim they were not aware of the standard since they are required to be given a copy of NFPA 25 after a system is installed in the building.  Although there are numerous inspection, testing and maintenance issues identified in the document, the one that this article is addressing is the testing of automatic sprinklers.  The standard response sprinkler is to be tested every 50 years and every 10 years thereafter.  Everybody seems to understand this and for the most part attempts to comply.  The one that seems to be being missed is that there is a different frequency for the fast response sprinkler.  As stated above, it was the late 80’s and early 90’s when we were just at the advent of fast response sprinklers and the NFPA technical committee charged with maintaining this Standard felt that they needed to increase the frequency of testing a fast response sprinkler because they did not know how the lighter fusible elements in these sprinklers would age.  The committee required fast response sprinklers to be tested at 20 years and every 10 years thereafter.  The consensus of the committee was that until they gathered sufficient information, tests would be done at 20 years and they would reevaluate this number as data was collected.
We are now at or beyond the 20 year cycle for testing fast response sprinklers and the testing of these sprinklers is now required.  The standard requires one to test 10% of the sprinklers installed on a system or a minimum of 4, whichever is greater.  This is a destructive test and requires the sprinkler to be taken out of service and sent to either Factory Mutual (if an approved FM sprinkler) or Underwriters Laboratories.  These labs test the sprinkler and send back a report stating whether the sprinkler can remain in service or whether all sprinklers must be replaced.  If one sprinkler fails, then all sprinklers must be replaced.  Information on testing and submitting to UL can be found at:
Note that the concept of fast response applies to various sprinklers and includes a quick response sprinkler like that which was used as an in rack sprinkler in many installations as well as the Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers provided at the ceiling in many warehouses. Quick response sprinklers may also be found in the office areas of your warehouses.
This article is intended to make you aware of this issue and allow you to plan accordingly.  If you should need assistance in determining what sprinklers require testing, call The Fire Protection International Consortium, Inc. at 630-985-3106.

NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-based Fire Protection Systems

NFPA 25 is the baseline for inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection systems. Compliance helps maximize system integrity to avoid failure....

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