Step Toward Better Fire Protection: NFPA 4 Finally Recognized in Model Codes

In the last year or two, I have written a few articles about NFPA 3, Recommended Practice for Commissioning of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems, and NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing. These were both part of NFPA 3 starting in 2013. Unfortunately, they have not received much attention as they were not previously referenced in any model building or fire code. 


That is changing. NFPA 3 will become a standard in the 2018 edition and should be included in the next edition of the International Building and Fire Codes (IBC and IFC) and NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. Through the efforts of individuals representing multiple segments of the industry, NFPA 4 was successfully added to the 2018 editions of the IBC, IFC and NFPA 101. 


This is important because NFPA 4 is the only document I am aware of that requires for end-to-end testing of integrated fire protection and life safety systems. This is important to ensure all of these systems work together correctly in the event of a fire emergency. Without a referenced standard, some system tests could slip through the cracks. This is one of the most significant changes in the 2018 codes.


During the I-Code cycle for 2018, through the collaboration of the various interested parties, it was agreed to require all integrated systems to be tested end-to-end at the acceptance test, but only integrated fire protection systems installed in high-rise buildings and buildings with smoke control systems will be required to meet all of NFPA 4’s requirements.


The reason for this is NFPA 4 is a new standard and still has a few bugs to get worked out. Some feel it would be too restrictive and expensive for the benefits provided. I’m not sure I agree with that, but this is a good start. These tests are to be conducted at the acceptance test and at 10-year intervals unless the test plan, which both NFPA 4 and 72 require, necessitates a shorter interval.


A reference to NFPA 4 was also accepted in both NFPA 101 and NFPA 5000 for all integrated systems, but once again, some felt it was too much and too soon. NFPA 101 and 5000 requirements would be more than the IBC requirements, so there was concern about code conflicts. A notice of intent to make a motion (NITMAM) was submitted for both NFPA 101 and 5000, and it would totally remove the requirement from both of the documents.


Again, through the efforts of interested parties, a reasonable compromise was reached that would leave the NFPA 4 requirements in those codes. A tentative interim amendment (TIA) was requested to modify the language to match the IBC language, and the NITMAM proponents withdrew their motions. I am happy to report all of the committees involved approved the TIA, so there will be a uniform reference in our model building, fire and life safety codes in the 2018 edition.


The requirements in the IBC and IFC will be in Section 901.6.2. Section 911.4 will provide the primary requirement in NFPA 101. Each occupancy chapter has requirements to test integrated systems in accordance with Section 911.4. The IBC and NFPA 101 have two totally different formats, but at least the requirements will be the same. Here are examples of the wording:


IBC


“[F] 901.6.2 Integrated testing: Where two or more fire protection or life safety systems are interconnected, the intended response of subordinate fire protection and life safety systems shall be verified when required testing of the initiating system is conducted. In addition, integrated testing shall be performed in accordance with Sections 901.6.2.1 and 901.6.2.2.


“[F] 901.6.2.1 High-rise buildings.


“[F] 901.6.2.2 Smoke control systems.”


NFPA 101


“9.11.4* Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Test.


“Where required by Chapters 11 through 43, and where two or more fire protection or life safety systems are integrated, the integrated system shall be tested to verify the proper operation and function of such systems in accordance with NFPA 4.”


The asterisk denotes explanatory text in Annex A, which reads as follows: “A.9.11.4 NFPA 4 requires that integrated fire protection and life safety systems be periodically retested as specified in the integrated system test plan. In addition, for existing systems, an integrated system test plan must be developed within 5 years of adoption of NFPA 4.”


As you can see, the wording is not exactly the same, but the intent is. Get familiar with NFPA 4, and feel free to offer your opinions on this new document.


I believe this is a good step toward better fire protection. I also see opportunity for fire alarm contractors to provide their services as integrated testing agents. It goes to show what can be accomplished when a group works together to improve fire and life safety standards.

About the Author
Tom Hammerberg

Thomas P. Hammerberg

Life Safety Columnist

Thomas P. Hammerberg, SET, CFPS is president of Hammerberg & Associates Inc. Retired from the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA) after 23 years, he represents the AFAA on the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee and Protected Premises...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.