Words Matter 

Like all NFPA documents Chapter three of NFPA 25, The Standard for Inspection Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems contains definitions.  This chapter is much more important than most understand.  Definitions are broken into two categories in NFPA 25, if a definition cannot be found in the standard, we must use Merriam-Webster.

3.1 General. The definitions contained in this chapter shall apply to the terms used in this standard. Where terms are not defined in this chapter or within another chapter, they shall be defined using their ordinarily accepted meanings within the context in which they are used. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition, shall be the source for the ordinarily accepted meaning.

3.2 NFPA Official Definitions. The definitions for these terms are found in all NFPA standards.

Authority having jurisdiction (AHJ)

3.3 General definitions. These definitions are used in NFPA 25 and are either extracted from another standard or written solely for this standard.

Below is a list of key terms that are frequently used when conducting ITM:

  • Sprinkler System
  • Adjust
  • Clean
  • Rebuild
  • Remove
  • Repair
  • Replace
  • Valve status test
  • Maintenance
  • ITM Service
  • Qualified
  • Deficiency (Critical / Non-Critical)
  • Impairment-Emergency / Preplanned)
  • Inspection
  • Test
  • Testing
  • Frequencies

As an industry many terms are used interchangeably but have completely different meanings.  Take the word, “inspection” for instance. Many people use the term inspection all the time as a general term to cover all ITM completed or to be completed in a contract.  Below is the definition of inspection, which has nothing to do with testing or maintenance. Many times, when the term is used, it is implied that it means more than what the definition states, however when things are documented on a report the meaning becomes official.  This is where things can get complicated and words can be used against as well as benefit the person documenting it.

Definition of Inspection, NFPA 25, 2017

3.3.23 Inspection. A visual examination of a system or portion thereof to verify that it appears to be in operating condition and is free of physical damage. [820, 2016]

One of the biggest changes in definitions is how sprinkler systems are defined.

3.6.4* Sprinkler System. A system that consists of an integrated network of piping designed in accordance with fire protection engineering standards that includes a water supply source, a water control valve, a waterflow alarm, and a drain. The portion of the sprinkler system above ground is a network of specifically sized or hydraulically designed piping installed in a building, structure, or area, generally overhead, and to which sprinklers are attached in a systematic pattern. The system is commonly activated by heat from a fire and discharges water over the fire area. [13, 2016]

This change was extracted from NFPA 13, 2016, into the 2017 edition of NFPA 25. This is a significant change and specifically affects five internal assessments.  Prior to this change if a fire protection company was conducting an internal assessment of a ten story building with floor controls assemblies on each floor in two stairwells, this would be considered a single system.  With the change in the definition, this now becomes twenty systems.  In accordance with NFPA 25, every other wet pipe sprinkler system can be assessed, so this means the change in definition requires ten of these systems to be assessed rather than just one as in previous editions of NFPA 25.

Let’s say that someone stated that they were onsite to conduct an ITM service. What they have really stated is that they are there to conduct all ITM requirements for all of the water-based fire protection systems installed in that property.  All daily, weekly, monthly, such and so on ITM services.

3.3.24* Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance Service. A service program provided by a qualified contractor or qualified property owner’s representative in which all components unique to the property’s systems are inspected and tested at the required times and necessary maintenance is provided.

One of the biggest misconceptions is from the building owner.  Typically, when an AHJ visits a building they will ask for the annual inspection.  In many cases it is then assumed by the building owner that only an annual ITM is required.  There is no such requirement in accordance with NFPA 25 that would encompass all components of a water-based sprinkler system to be inspected, tested, and maintained annually.

Remember that words matter and how we use them will affect us.  When in general conversation it is assumed that we understand what one another is saying.  As mentioned above the understanding of what we say and what is meant can be different, but when documented can only be interpreted by what the definition is.