Ensure your fire system installation meets code

Guest Commentary
Saturday, October 1, 2005

You want your new fire system installations to follow the most current design and installation guidelines and meet or exceed insurance requirements, and local and/or national fire and building codes as required by the authority having jurisdiction. But where can you find the latest information?
There are three main sources of requirements that building owners, architects and contractors should be aware of: codes, AHJs and insurance companies.
Whether fire or building, codes contain provisions that are mandated for the type of fire system being installed. These include classification of structure, contents, protection criteria and reliability.
You should note that the code in effect for the facility you are working with is usually a specific edition of a specific standard.
For example, the 1999 edition of NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems, is a specific standard that is often incorporated into local codes.
Few jurisdictions automatically adopt the latest edition of a standard as soon as it is revised and re-issued.
So the designer and the installer must be aware of the specific edition and any mandated revisions, additions and deletions that the local jurisdiction has placed in effect.
It is common for a municipality to add a specific requirement such as mandating backflow preventors for all sprinkler systems installed in their jurisdiction.
Usually the individual or organization in charge of approving the fire system installation and enforcing the code in effect for the area.
This may be a specific department or individual at the municipality or it may be someone at the county or state level depending on the local laws and jurisdictional responsibilities.
AHJs can make exceptions to requirements and can determine if your proposed or actual installation meets the intent or letter of the code in effect.
Because of the nature of their business, your insurance company can provide recommendations or protection criteria for your fire systems.
Meeting the insurance company's provisions are often necessary to obtain the best fire insurance rate and to properly protect your company's assets.
The criteria are usually based on national standards or codes such as the NFPA standards and are taken from the latest edition of the standard.
They do not take into account local variations so that the same criteria can be applied country-wide ensuring that the same protection requirements are given for the same arrangement and exposures regardless of facility location.
It is important to note that the code and AHJ requirements described above are minimum standards. Additional protection and safeguards above and beyond the minimum requirement are often desirable and necessary.
For instance, the 2002 edition of NFPA 13 has considerable enhancements from the 1999 edition and these changes should be utilized even though they may not yet be in effect in a particular jurisdiction.
You want your system to be ready when the local code in effect is updated to include more recent editions and the AHJs modify their requirements to meet the updated codes.
By knowing and meeting the local codes, AHJ and insurance company requirements, you can be assured your new fire system installation meets code requirements and uses the most current technology available.

Charlie Bauroth manages all account engineers for Liberty Mutual Property's broker, direct and specialty operations. He can be reached at the company via email at charles.bauroth@libertymutual.com.