Use NFPA 3 to coordinate fire and life safety projects

NFPA 3 takes a contemporary approach to construction and focuses on commissioning the fire and life safety systems throughout a project, rather than at the end.


Southland Industries installs fire protection systems at a data center project in northern Virginia. Courtesy: Southland IndustriesWhen NFPA released the 2012 edition of NFPA 3: Recommended Practice on Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems, a much-needed comprehensive commissioning document for the fire protection industry was made available. Without the use of NFPA 3 as a guideline, projects with complex system arrangements and testing requirements risk portions of their interface being overlooked by both the design team and the installation contractors.

Such complexities of the fire and life safety system interactions are often the reason for scope gap, causing stakeholders to remain unaware of issues until the project is near completion—a course of action that can generate chaos when the contractor is attempting to turn over the project to the owner and meet the scheduled project deadline. Rather than waiting until the end of the project to begin coordination of testing procedures, projects should use preplanned and fully coordinated fire and life safety commissioning plans.

Most codes are vague or even silent on the coordination of the various trades and disciplines, especially as it pertains to integrated system testing and confirming that the fire protection systems function as intended by the owner and design team. These codes do an excellent job of covering individual sub-system testing requirements but can often lead to conflicts between the testing requirements of the integrated system.

Failing to coordinate fire and life safety commissioning activities can raise the following questions:

  • How does the double interlock pre-action system operate with the fire alarm system during testing, and will both systems be ready for testing at the same time?
  • What is an acceptable test result specific to the project with complex requirements?
  • How does the clean-agent gaseous suppression system operate with the fire alarm system?
  • How is the integrity test for the room with gaseous suppression conducted?
  • How does the smoke control system react to the fire sprinkler system flow switch, and what type of annunciation is chosen?
  • Is the flow switch on the standpipe system to generate a supervisory or alarm signal?
  • Where does drainage occur when testing fire sprinkler systems?
  • What disruptions occur after occupancy during future testing, and how has this been coordinated?
  • What are the proper metrics for current and future testing of the systems?
  • At what stage of construction will the testing occur, and does the schedule support this goal?

Existing methods and tools

Jurisdictions such as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New York City, as well as the U.S. government have vast experience with large and/or complex facilities. Similar jurisdictions regularly use the fire and life safety report option to address unique scenarios. The purpose of the fire and life safety report is to designate one person or organization responsible for illustrating how the different fire protection features interrelate to provide the appropriate level of protection for the facility. In addition, the report is intended to address any aspects of the fire protection strategy that are unique to the facility or that may contradict base code requirements. The ultimate goal is to gather consensus from the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and the design professionals prior to the construction phase because doing so allows the overall design concepts of each discipline to operate cohesively. However, the missing step is gathering these same important pieces of the puzzle and incorporating them throughout the construction phase, commissioning phase, and the entire lifecycle of the building.

Many large projects require the development, documentation, and implementation of testing procedures. Reports generated during this activity provide the owner and maintenance entity with testing requirements that are unique to the property. Specific codes are addressed, but so are requirements that fall in a grey area not truly addressed by codes. Often this testing document is developed in isolation from the other disciplines, which can cause the testing procedure to become an afterthought. Instead, a commissioning plan established early in the project scope development can be tracked to anticipate and resolve conflicts before they occur.

Documents such as the Unified Facilities Criteria 3-600-01 used by the U.S. Dept. of Defense and the General Services Administration (GSA) P100 document clearly recognize the need for a fire protection engineer and a fire and life safety report to align all aspects of fire protection on a project. The P100 document takes an additional step in section 7.17 by directly addressing “Commissioning Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems” through the use of the GSA Building Commissioning Guide. The GSA commissioning guide requires much of the same documentation prescribed by NFPA 3. However, the NFPA 3 document provides a detailed guide to meet the requirements of a comprehensive and well-planned commissioning scheme for various jurisdictions, rather than just those of the GSA. Furthermore, the NFPA 3 document sets basic requirements, standardizing the appearance of the report. For these reasons, the development of this document by the NFPA will be more readily adopted by local authorities and provide more flexibility for project specifics.

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