A Reasonable Degree of Protection?

The NFSA exhibited at the recent BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) conference in Salt Lake City in June 2019. One of the most asked questions from building owners was:

How do I know the services I am getting from my fire protection contractor are correct?

Why do so many building owners/representatives ask this question? The answers vary broadly across the country and the perspective changes from the fire protection contractor’s viewpoint (and their legal representation) to the building owner and the enforcing Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

One answer can be; not every fire protection contractor offers the same Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance (ITM) frequency information. It could be in some part due to what edition of NFPA 25 is adopted, what the local AHJ is enforcing (or not enforcing), and in some cases, a contractor is attempting to gain an advantage of winning an ITM contract. For example, some ITM contracts are only awarded on a year-to-year basis. A three-year full flow test of the dry pipe systems are not being conducted because their customer will only sign an annual contract. Because of the short-term contract options, the contractor uses this as a way charge additional fees for a three-year full flow test. Rightfully so for the contractor and the enforcing AHJ, but from the owners’ perspective, the optics of this practice look different to them. There are many other examples, such as writing in a contract that visual sprinkler inspections are to be completed in common areas only. This week I witnessed an annual ITM of a building where the control valves were not fully operated and the visual inspection of the sprinklers was not completed.

While the system is imperfect, we must educate all parties involve to achieve a common goal. The building owner often chooses only what is being enforced by the AHJ, assuming this meets minimum requirements. Unfortunately, most AHJs do not have time to verify that every required inspection is being completed and, in many cases, the AHJ will ask only for the annual report. The reality is that the AHJ does not have the resources to verify all weekly, monthly and other required inspections are completed. As we in the industry know, it is the responsibility of the owners to ensure that their buildings are compliant with NFPA standards. The building owner relies on contractors to conduct ITM based on NFPA 25, the minimum standard for Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes for a moment. You hired a contractor to provide an annual ITM service for an appliance at your home, but they did not provide the minimum recommended service and the appliance failed to work a week later. I am certain that you would call that company back to determine the cause, but would they be responsible? If the services provided were in the contract you signed, it would be your responsibility for the repairs. But why? You consulted an expert to provide you with the correct ITM for the appliance. Would you use or recommend this company again? Doubtful.

It is our job as an industry to educate our staff, customers, and AHJs on the codes, standards and best practices to ensure fire protection systems will function when they are needed the most. We all need to communicate to ensure 100% compliance.