ITM Frequencies during COVID-19

The National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and its members have been communicating constantly to discuss the challenges related to COVID- 19. The challenges are different from state to state and county to county within each state. One of the main conversations is the impact the virus has on the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance (ITM) of fire protection systems. Where fire codes require fire protection and life-safety systems to be inspected, tested and maintained on a regular basis, NFPA 25, the Standard for Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water Based Fire Suppression Systems, does not have a contingency in place for epidemics or pandemics.

When owners and facility managers have a NFPA 25 ITM plan in effect and frequencies are followed, this should be easy. Daily and weekly inspection items continue to be completed by facilities maintenance and centered on things like ensuring appropriate control valves are open and water supplies are available.

While frequency schedules and tables have always been a part of NFPA 25, the 2014 edition of NFPA 25 provided definitions of frequencies. These definitions allow some flexibility in conducting monthly, quarterly and annual inspections and tasks. It also allows ITM frequencies to be planned and scheduled so workers and building occupants can be properly protected. Just because there is a pandemic, it does not mean the ITM requirements change, nor does it mean the testing frequencies are inflexible. Below are the current definitions for the range of frequencies:

NFPA 25-2020

  • 3.7.1* Frequency. Minimum and maximum time between events.
  • 3.7.1.1 Daily Frequency. Occurring every day.
  • 3.7.1.2 Weekly Frequency. Occurring once per calendar week.
  • 3.7.1.3 Monthly Frequency. Occurring once per calendar month.
  • 3.7.1.4 Quarterly Frequency. Occurring four times per year with a minimum interval of 2 months and a maximum of 4 months.
  • 3.7.1.5 Semiannual Frequency. Occurring twice per year with a minimum interval of 4 months and a maximum of 8 months.
  • 3.7.1.6 Annual Frequency. Occurring once per year with a minimum interval of 9 months and a maximum of 15 months.
  • 3.7.1.7 Three Years Frequency. Occurring once every 36 months with a minimum interval of 30 months and a maximum of 40 months.
  • 3.7.1.8 Five Years Frequency. Occurring once every 60 months with a minimum interval of 54 months and a maximum of 66 months.

For example, a semi-annual test of waterflow alarms is due in April. By definition, NFPA allows for the test to be completed between the months of November and July and still be compliant.

Inspections and interaction with the public, residents and occupants have changed dramatically. It is important to take precautions with workers and customers during this pandemic to reduce exposure and spread. The following are suggestions to consider for conducting ITM related tasks during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Communication with the building owner during this time is critical.
  2. Develop a clear plan with the building owner to determine the best time and sequence to conduct the required ITM tasks.
  3. Determine if any occupants will be affected by the ITM.
  4. Determine if there will there be any close quarter contact with anyone during the services.
  5. Ensure an impairment coordinator will be onsite while the services are being conducted.
  6. Focus on the buildings that have been cleaned and are now vacant, such as schools, restaurants, and offices.
  7. Contact colleagues in states that have already experienced ‘shelter in place’ and speak with them about their experiences.

Occupants in buildings with fire sprinkler systems depend on functioning and operating systems. The requirements to conduct ITM do not cease during times of crisis, including our current COVID-19 pandemic. Buildings that were typically vacant or under-occupied during an inspector’s workday are now operating at capacity and vice versa. Persistence, flexibility and caution are all necessary during this changing business environment. Ceasing or relaxing ITM requirements beyond the minimum requirements of NFPA 25 or fire codes puts our buildings and occupants at greater risk during this time.

Other blogs on ITM and construction practices during the COVID 19 pandemic