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Checking and recording the water pressures on the fire pumps in the pump house serving the distribution centre.

Inspection, testing and maintenance of active fire protection systems

Installing an active fire protection system is no mean investment yet all too often companies are reluctant to invest the time and money in servicing and testing to ensure that their systems can continue to protect people and property effectively.

Sprinkler systems are the most common form of active fire protection in offices, shops and schools. But they need regular servicing to keep them in full working order.

Whether they consider it a low priority or are unaware of their responsibilities, some users are risking lives and property by not inspecting, testing or maintaining their systems regularly.

Given the spend on their sprinkler system and the vital role it plays in the event of a fire, it is surprising just how many companies wait until they hear the beeping noise from their system alerting them to a problem before they give service and maintenance their full attention.

The British Standard BS EN 12845, as incorporated within Part 1 of the Loss Prevention Council Rules for Automatic Sprinkler Installations, makes clear the responsibilities of the user to carry out certain inspections and checks.

Checking and recording the readings on the pressure gauges for the valvesets controlling the water to sprinklers for a distribution centre.

Checking and recording the readings on the pressure gauges for the valvesets controlling the water to sprinklers for a distribution centre.

Avoiding them could invalidate any certificate of conformity for the installation of their sprinkler or make any insurance warranty void.

There may also be statutory requirements to keep the system serviced such as under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order to satisfy a risk assessment for premises, in which case the owner or occupier has a building control responsibility to ensure the system is maintained to the British standard.

The more specialist service and maintenance routines should be carried out, as the standard strictly specifies, under contract by either the system installer or a similar qualified company, who may also offer to carry out some of or all the user checks as well.

Choosing a Level 4 approved company under the LPC Board’s LPS 1048 Scheme provides the user with the reassurance that the specialist provider is qualified to service and maintain their sprinkler installation to the highest quality levels.

Companies should test their sprinkler systems once a week and record the results to ensure that water and air pressures and water levels in the firewater storage tank and the pump priming tank haven’t fallen significantly, reducing their effectiveness in the event of a fire.

They should seek the advice of their maintenance provider if any falls are significant, or if the water motor alarm fails to sound on test.

Whether they have a diesel pump or an electric pump, it is also up to the user to carry out weekly automatic pump starting tests which involve reducing the water pressure on the starting device to simulate automatic starting. They should also check fuel and engine lubricating oil levels and the flow of cooling water through open circuit cooling systems on their diesel pump.

Immediately after their automatic pump starting test, diesel pump users should carry out a diesel engine restarting test by running the engine for 20 minutes, stopping it and then restarting it using the manual start button. Again, checks should be made on water levels, oil pressures, and engine temperature and coolant flow, as well as for any leakages.

Checking that the main valves on the water storage tanks next to the pump house are operating correctly.

Checking that the main valves on the water storage tanks next to the pump house are operating correctly.

To prevent freezing in winter, the user should check that heating systems in the sprinkler system are working properly. If water freezes inside a sprinkler system it can damage the joints between pipes and affect the sprinkler heads too.

BS EN 12845 specifies a monthly routine of checking the level and specific gravity of the electrolyte in the cells of all lead acid batteries including diesel engine starter batteries and those for control panel supplies. If the specific gravity is low and the user has checked that the battery charger is working normally then the time has come to replace the batteries.

The standard also lists a series of quarterly checks and tests that should be made by a maintenance company including the cleaning of sprinklers, multiple controls and sprayers and the replacement of any with paint deposits or that have become distorted.

The servicing company should check for corrosion and renew any paintwork, repair tape wrapping, and check for any unlawful electrical earthing connections on pipework and pipe supports.

It should also test the water supply and their alarms, check any secondary electrical supplies from diesel generators, operate all the stop valves controlling water flow, and check the flow switches to ensure everything is in full working order

As well as servicing current parts, BS EN 12845 requires the service company to check the number and condition of replacement parts held as spares.

The quarterly requirements also extend to a review of hazard, which will involve the user’s insurance company checking whether there have been any building changes that may require a change in design of the sprinkler installation.

On a half-yearly basis, the servicing company should follow the manufacturer’s instructions in exercising the moving parts of any dry alarm valves in dry pipe installations.

Carrying out a weekly run on the diesel set in the pump house.

Carrying out a weekly run on the diesel set in the pump house.

Alternate valve systems, which typically comprise a dry and wet control valve, an accelerator, sprinkler heads and a dedicated water supply system, need to be charged up with air in the autumn ready for the cold weather to avoid freezing, and put in wet mode during spring for the warmer months.

Once a year the service company should check that each water supply pump delivers the pressure and flow rate as stated on the nameplates at full-load condition using the test line connected from the pump delivery pipe.

It should also check that the automatic starting sequence makes six attempts to start the diesel-engine for the fire pumps when the fuel supply is turned off and that it switches over to the other duplicate starting batteries after each attempt, and then resets itself automatically.

Ensuring the float valves on the water storage tanks work properly is also on the yearly inspection list. The pump suction strainers and settling chamber and their respective screens also need to be cleaned where necessary, and the diesel engine serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

BS EN 12845 also recommends that certain sprinkler system checks take place although less frequently. As they require protection from the elements, service providers should check the outside of storage and pressure tanks for any signs of corrosion every three years. If there are any such signs, the tank will need to be drained to check for any internal corrosion, with repainting or repair work carried out if necessary.

The provider should also check and overhaul, or replace, any water supply stop valves, alarm and non-return valves every three years. While the inside of all storage tanks need to be checked and cleaned or repaired every ten years.

Outside regular inspection visits, it is essential that the end user reviews all their service reports and follows up any faults immediately with the maintenance company. A typical contract with a fully qualified maintenance provider will include 24-hour call outs for 365 days a year.

What is especially important is that any remedial work carried out following a service is undertaken by a fully accredited specialist sprinkler specialist and that users should not attempt to repair systems themselves.

A specialist provider such as Argus Fire with LPS 1014 (fire alarm) and LPS 1048 (sprinkler) accreditation will service and maintain not only sprinkler systems but wet and dry risers, hose reels, fire extinguishers, hydrants and gas suppression systems as part of a maintenance contract and agree a full schedule of inspection, testing and maintenance routines.

For more information, go to www.argusfire.co.uk

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Richard Allen is an Executive Board Director at Argus Fire. He has more than 25 years of experience in the fire protection industry at director level and holds a degree in business from the University of Wolverhampton.

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