Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance (ITM): Third-Party Online Reporting
By Vincent Powers, NFSA ITM Specialist
It was not too long ago that when a code official needed to see an NFPA 25 inspection report, they had to visit a building owner, request the record to view it, and then take action if the report noted system deficiencies or impairments.
The digital world has changed how a code official or Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) can receive and review inspection reports. The practice of a fire sprinkler contractor or an inspector of a contractor uploading a report through a third-party reporting platform using standards such as NFPA 25 and NFPA 72 is becoming increasingly popular in the past decade. While there are several positive aspects of the third-party inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) online reporting, it also creates several areas of concern. Currently, third-party reporting is utilized in at least 37 states, with many more jurisdictions inquiring and implementing programs.
The intent and benefits of third-party ITM online reporting
Several jurisdictions are taking advantage of third-party ITM reporting to enforce and track system statuses throughout their municipalities. These reporting programs are intended for the AHJ to receive inspection reports from fire protection system service companies electronically, to identify non-compliant fire protection systems as soon as possible. This can be beneficial in many jurisdictions that do not currently inspect buildings on their own, as well as benefit the ones that do. For example:
- Reports save AHJ staff the expenses involved in visiting compliant buildings.
- There is access to a list of reports submitted by contractors online. AHJs will then be able to determine the severity of a deficiency if any were cited. This allows them to either send out an automated letter to the building with a time frame for repairs or visit the site and investigate the deficiency on their own and take appropriate action. Some of the jurisdictions have shown a significant increase in compliance with NFPA 25 inspections and repairs since this reporting has been implemented. How the reports are uploaded to the AHJ varies with each third-party reporting service company.
- Submittals or inputs to the software can be as simple as a PDF, but some providers require a specified form to be completed before being uploaded to a website. One of the items these programs may not address is the lack of resources to review reports and enforce repairs. Also, the remaining uninspected buildings across the country will still not be addressed. These programs will only address structures currently conducting inspections and with reports uploaded to the AHJ.
Potential concerns for third-party online ITM reporting
The idea of third-party reporting seems relatively simple and has an overall appeal. But there are several fire sprinkler contractor concerns when it comes to these programs, such as:
- Fees and associated costs in many jurisdictions will be absorbed by the building owner or representative. There are no standardized fees for this service, and fees range drastically across the country. These expenses could be based on a per-site, per-riser, per-fire pump, per-page, or per-system fee. Costs also depend on how the ordinance is adopted by each jurisdiction.
- Uploading reports is an increased workload for the contractor and AHJ, as they now must add staff to upload and review these documents. Some contractors and building owners see this as a “tax” to be collected by the contractor that is passed to the owner.
- Conflicts in relationships between contractors and customers may arise due to increasing fees, or contractor-shopping from owners. However, if the program is being enforced properly, then this issue should disappear, as all parties in the jurisdiction will be required to comply.
- Data and information security is a large concern. “How are the reports stored?” “If stored on the cloud, is it secure?” “If reports are stored on the AHJ server, what information is available through open reports laws and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?” These and other data security issues concern contractors and owners. Typically, once a report is filed and it’s in an AHJ database, it becomes public information. That public information, if released, may include contract pricing and other private contract details. And it could include a variety of additional information such as device lists and the number of systems installed in a building.
The future of third-party online ITM reporting
There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument, depending on the individual view. But whichever side of the fence you are on, it appears that third-party reporting is here to stay and is growing rapidly. The adoption of these programs across the country has the potential to boost system reliability and performance, thus benefiting contractors with an increased level of work, AHJs with safer communities, and building owners with operating and maintained systems.
Have more questions about third-party online ITM reporting? NFSA members can reach out via our website or by calling 443-863-4464 for answers and support from our code and engineering experts. Not an NFSA member yet? Join today!
For over a century, the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) has served as the voice of the fire sprinkler industry. Our mission: advocating to protect lives and property through the widespread acceptance of the fire sprinkler concept. To join NFSA or learn more about the ways membership can benefit your organization, visit nfsa.org/join.