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NFPA 25 The Indirect Route

A special post, thanks to Jeff Hugo

The NFSA has driven down the road of getting communities to adopt specific NFPA 25 requirements for several years. It is one of our grassroot Regional Operations goals in several areas and has been a battle in some of these areas too. However, there is good news to municipalities who don’t have a specific ordinance or a fire department to enforce them. There is also good news for service oriented sprinkler contractors. The good news is that it is already required in the building code, in a round about sort of way.

The ICC just issued a news release that now all 50 states have adopted the “I” Codes. Hawaii’s building code will become effective July 1, 2007 and the new California codes will take effect January of 2008. Several other states just updated to 2006 editions while several other states are in the process. The bottom line is, whether you have the International Building Code (IBC) effective statewide or just locally, the ICC reports there are over 21,000 municipalities have adopted a form of the “I” code family. The most popular of the “I” codes being the building and residential codes. Having the IBC adopted is the good news for enforcing the NFPA 25 the indirect way.

As we all know traversing through any code can be like driving in an unfamiliar city. There are switchbacks, shortcuts, dead ends, round a bouts, lack of direction, etc. Any code can be confusing to say the least even to the most experienced designer. I, a Michigan registered Building Official, Building Inspector, and Plan Reviewer for over 12 years still took some time to get a grasp on traversing through the multiple codes. Many other building and fire officials will agree with me that experience in code enforcement takes several years.

So how do we get to enforcing NFPA 25 on a building owner without adopting a specific ordinance or a local code change? Or how do I a building inspector without an adopted fire code or fire prevention office accomplish this? Simply put, follow the code in one of several ways. If your jurisdiction has the International Building Code, that is the starting point. Starting with Section 901.2 it states,” Fire protection systems shall be installed, repaired, operated and maintained in accordance with this code and the International Fire Code”, and also in Section 903.5 the code reiterates the point again,” Sprinkler systems shall be tested and maintained in accordance with the International Fire Code”.

Well, you won’t find any specific wording in the building code on how to maintain a sprinkler system. You also won’t find NFPA 25 referenced in Chapter 35 along with the other NFPA standards. However, you will find in Chapter 35 under the referenced ICC section, references to the International Fire Code. Of these 98 different references to the fire code the two above will lead you to your next step. Since, these sections are specifically referenced in the building code, your community or jurisdiction does not have to legally adopt the fire code to enforce these specific sections. The fire code, even though you may be a building inspector, now becomes your tool to NFPA 25.

In Chapter 45 of the International Fire Code (IFC) you will find the NFPA 25 referenced under the NFPA section. In the sections following the NFPA 25 you will find several sections, the one of importance is Table 901.6.1. This table will take you legally to the latest or referenced edition of NFPA 25. Other sections in the fire code that take you directly to NFPA 25 are Sections: 904.7.1 for foam systems, 912.6 for fire department connections, and 913.5 for fire pumps.

Another point to take note if your jurisdiction does have the IFC legally adopted, is to look below Section 901.6.1 and Table 901.6.1 at the record retention time in Section 901.6.2, which differs from NFPA 25, and will take precedence. Remember a code (in this case the fire code) always overrides a standard.

Of course there is also another way to take you directly to NFPA 25 without using the fire code, but through the building code. Since sections from Chapter 9 of the building code are referenced several times under NFPA 13 and 13R in Chapter 35, and both 13 and 13R refer to NFPA 25 several times for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Sprinkler Systems.

The building department can now become the enforcing agency for the requirements of NFPA 25, and this also allows the building department to enforce building owners to maintain their sprinkler systems to a nationally recognized and enforceable standard. This also will allow property maintenance inspectors to have the same authority under their code, the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) under Section 704.1. However, in jurisdictions where a fire prevention office or officers are present, this responsibility usually becomes theirs.

Any inspector with the task of enforcing NFPA 25 should become familiar with the standard as some important changes have been made in recent editions. Sprinkler systems are only effective when properly maintained as with any plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and building system. Failed sprinkler systems (and Hollywood) always make the news and give this industry a bad rap, and negatively impacts our efforts in convincing building owners, and designers to install them.

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