Examples of projects that used NFPA 3 and 4

If NFPA 3 and 4 are implemented by building owners, compliance will greatly increase the chances that they will not have a serious fire that impacts the occupants and viability of their property.

By Bruce G. Campbell, FSFPE, JENSEN HUGHES, Baltimore March 28, 2018

The following are a few examples of projects supported by JENSEN HUGHES that illustrate the importance of meeting NFPA 3 and 4 requirements:

  • JENSEN HUGHES is currently working with a state fire marshal as a third-party reviewer/inspector for a significant expansion on an Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) facility. JENSEN HUGHES is also performing commissioning services, since it’s expansion is mostly performance-based (common to these types of facilities) and requires close observance of all integrated design criteria and engineering specifications as opposed to just codes and standards. The project also requires extensive integrated testing (e.g., foam suppression, secondary containment, drainage, alarms, and shutdowns, to work together on single-hazard areas). These types of fire protection and life safety systems are vital to ensure worker and public safety.

  • JENSEN HUGHES supported a number of hospitals where the assigned task was meant to be just suppression, but because of the expectation of coordination between smoke/fire barriers, smoke control (if any), private-mode notification, and other systems, coordinated testing was needed. The additional scope was accepted to ensure the client achieved their goals for the project.

  • A major airport in the United States has taken on a massive undertaking for coordinated testing. The firm is not acting as a third party, but as the engineer of record on behalf of the owner. JENSEN HUGHES is performing the commissioning work because much of the fire alarm and mass notification testing has been necessarily coordinated with audio and video override systems, smoke control, fire department operations and controls, and mechanical and electrical shutdowns, among other tasks.

  • A lab building with an atrium underwent smoke-control testing (retro-commissioning) under emergency power, where it was discovered that the smoke-control exhaust and lab exhaust, both operational under emergency power, were drawing from the same supply-air source (double counting the same supply). The issue was that either the smoke control would draw more air from the lab environment and exhaust potentially flammable fumes into the atrium (bad) or the lab exhaust would be dominant and draw smoke from the atrium into the labs (also not desirable and unsafe). The rectification involved adding additional supply-air locations, evaluating the smoke-control system to dial back the required exhaust rate, and reconfiguring the atrium doors to have automatic closers/openers.

  • A JENSEN HUGHES senior engineer was involved with three different system discharge tests involving NOVEC 1230 prior to joining the company. Of the three systems, only one passed as intended.

  • The first system had the door fan test (permitted by NFPA 2001: Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems) completed, and it showed the system would perform with no issues. Upon a full discharge, however, the system failed early in the test. The failure mode was due to the room leaking. The leakage was not identified by the door fan testing. Further investigation indicated that an error in the door fan programming coupled with the fact there are minimum agent was provided resulted in the failure. After the room was reinspected for points of leakage, which were then sealed, as well as additional agent added to the bottles, a new test was conducted and the system passed. In talking with the subcontractor, who was a reputable contractor, it became clear that they put only the bare-minimum amount of agent in the bottles to help reduce costs. Since they never had to do concentration tests and were in competition with other less-reputable firms, every dollar counted—they had no reason to put extra agent in the bottles to help ensure success.

  • The second system that failed was due to a calculation error involving excessive agent being put in the bottles. The original design had an included vault area that was later removed, but the calculation was never corrected. As a result, when the discharge test was conducted, the concentration in the room was over the maximum allowable; which can result in personnel safety concerns. While this room also had a fan test conducted, it could not identify the over-concentration issue.

  • The third system had everyone concerned due to the HVAC system design and associated interlocked dampers, but the fan test said the room would pass. In this case, it did better than the door fan test indicated.

  • Based on these tests, we can conclude that one should only specify environmentally friendly clean agents, with the strong recommendation that full-discharge tests be included in addition to the door fan tests. The basis for this recommendation is that combining the fan testing with the dump tests will help ensure the system passes the first time and will provide baseline information to use in the future when trying to determine if the room conditions had changed significantly over time.

  • JENSEN HUGHES was involved with a large high-rise building, performing troubleshooting and commissioning for the smoke-control system. While performing normal fault testing on the fire dampers or combination fire/smoke dampers, several issues were identified, such as power faults (wired to close instead of open and vice versa), dampers failing to register a fault due to lack of power monitor relays, and physical faults (damper not closing fully due to track damage). Additionally, accordion fire-door issues were documented because of additional airflow generated due to the lack of a bottom track on a door due to architectural aesthetics.

  • While performing zone-configuration management, we identified dampers included and excluded from activation sequences in the program, labeling errors in field locations as well as on drawings and in the program, incorrect activation of status lights on the smoke-control board, fan-speed issues resulting in fire doors not closing completely due to air pressure imbalance, and initiating devices not properly programmed to sequence the system correctly. These were all typical types of bugs that get worked out in the functional testing of a large and complex integrated system.

  • It is critical for building owners to ensure their property is protected by fire protection and life safety systems whose combined functions will operate in concert. Local fire and building authorities need to adopt NFPA 3 and NFPA 4 to ensure all facilities in their jurisdiction prepare and carry out commissioning and integrated testing. Initially, the authority could concentrate on new construction projects, and when possible, determine which properties would benefit from retro-commissioning or recommissioning.

    If NFPA 3 and 4 are implemented by building owners, compliance will greatly increase the chances that they will not have a serious fire that impacts the occupants and viability of their property. A building owner doesn’t want to be in a position where personnel within their facility are injured or killed due to a failed system that wasn’t properly tested. Building owners have the responsibility to implement NFPA 3 and 4 regardless of whether it has been adopted by the AHJ.

    Bruce G. Campbell is vice president, Department of Energy services, at JENSEN HUGHES. Campbell has been a fire protection engineer for more than 40 years, during most of which he has been involved with heavy industry. He is chair and principal member of NFPA 241: Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, immediate past chair and principal member of NFPA 80 and 105, principal member of NFPA 80, and an alternate (former principal) member of NFPA 3 and 4.