Are you ready for the newest and most-talked-about fire protection standard, NFPA 4? Also known as the Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing standard, it is a significant new commissioning protocol that details the minimum requirements for testing of integrated fire protection and life safety systems. If this is news to you, it’s time to prepare for these new compliance regulations that are coming down the pike.
I’ve already seen requests for adherence to NFPA 4 included in specifications from design professionals regarding the commissioning of fire protection systems. It is possible that compliance with NFPA 4 could be mandated in the upcoming editions of the International Building Code (IBC), the International Fire Code (IFC), NFPA 1, or NFPA 101. Therefore, you might not want to wait any longer to learn about the requirements.
So what exactly is NFPA 4? For starters, it ensures that buildings with interconnected systems (fire alarms, emergency communication systems, sprinklers and more) “operate as intended, using testing protocols, proper oversight and verification documentation,” according to the Standard. While NFPA 4 does not specify which occupancy types require this testing, it’s intended for more complex buildings that would usually include some or all of these systems—including high-rise buildings, other office buildings and hospitals.
Up until now, we could anticipate testing covered by the requirements in NFPA 72 or 92 standards, but in the grand scheme of things, each of those standards has some limitations within its scope. Let’s take a look at them:
- NFPA 72 addresses the testing of the fire alarm system. It mandates how to test smoke detectors or the water flow switches that are used to initiate fire alarm systems.
- NFPA 92 provides the testing criteria for the fan, damper and air movement portions of a smoke control system.
None of these system standards require you to test all integrated systems at the same time to make sure interconnection is functioning properly. Issues can occur if this kind of testing does not happen; for instance, a fire alarm and sprinkler system might operate separately but, without a proper connection at the relay, a component of the alarm system might not sound or a control function might not operate properly when the sprinkler is activated during an emergency.
NFPA 4 is intended to test the entire system—the fire alarm system and smoke control system to ensure that the separate units work as a whole. For example, compliance will require that the fire alarm system functions in conjunction with fans and smoke detectors. With this integrated system testing, at the end of a job the integrated systems will be tested together to make sure everything works together.
For fire alarm contractors, NFPA 4 offers an opportunity to coordinate systems and ensure proper integration. Responsibility for compliance testing will be assigned to an “integrated testing agent.” Due to the high level of integration that’s integral to a fire alarm system, the fire alarm contractor is a likely candidate for the position.
Furthermore, NFPA 4 requires systems to be “tested periodically,” but it doesn’t establish a specific time frame or frequency. It tasks the agent with preparing a test plan that should include “post-occupancy testing requirements.” If a plan is not developed, then the test must occur within a five year period.
While NFPA 4 hasn’t been implemented by codes yet, the day will soon come. So, do yourself a favor and learn all about it beforehand.
About the Author
Bill Koffel, president of Koffel Associates, is recognized as an expert in the fire protection and life safety aspects of codes and standards. The firm provides a broad range of fire protection engineering and consulting services to clients worldwide. Koffel serves on many NFPA technical committees including the Life Safety Correlating Committee, which he chairs, and the Technical Committee on Commissioning and Integrated Testing.