Commissioning Fire Protection Systems
The NFPA is currently working to develop a new document, NFPA 3, “Commissioning of Fire Protection Systems.” The scope of the document is to provide guidelines for the commissioning process and requirements for the integrated testing of fire protection and life safety systems. Often, these systems are tested individually without regard to the other, compromising the performance of all systems. The proposed document can be utilized in any building with integrated fire protection and life safety systems that will undergo commissioning.
NFPA 3 defines integrated systems as “a combination or group of systems either interconnected or separate but required to operate together as a whole to achieve the fire protection and life safety objectives.” Automatic sprinkler, fire alarm, and smoke control systems are examples of systems with such interdependency. These systems are often designed and installed in a vacuum. The designers and installers of one system may not fully understand the impact their design may have on another interconnected system. This issue is prevalent in today’s practice, resulting in last-minute design and installation changes, project delays, and unanticipated project expense.
For example, consider a smoke control system found within a modern high-rise or a covered mall building. Such a system is considered vital to occupant safety, especially for a high-rise building, where the height of the building limits exterior fire department operations and prolongs occupant egress time. A smoke control system receives initiation inputs from the fire alarm and sprinkler systems and sends activation outputs to the building’s mechanical system. Additionally, the secondary power, elevator, passive construction, and electrical systems must respond to the actions of the smoke control system. Failure to coordinate any of these systems with each other will result in system failure.
APPLICABILITYNFPA 3 will not require commissioning of any fire protection and life safety systems, but it will serve as a scoping document outlining recommended practices for how to perform these processes. These procedures can be used by design teams to increase efficiency as well as ensure the owner that the building will meet their expectations and the requirements of the applicable codes.
Currently, code officials can require integrated testing and commissioning, but no specific procedures exist for project teams to follow. The establishment of a recommended procedure would provide code officials with a specific document to reference for any project within their jurisdiction containing integrated fire protection and life safety systems.
COMMISSIONING PROCESSCommissioning is defined in the draft version of Commissioning of Fire Protection Systems NFPA 3 as a “Systematic process that provides documented confirmation that specific and interconnected fire and life safety systems function according to the intended design criteria set forth in the project documents and satisfy the owner’s operational needs, including compliance requirements of any applicable laws, regulations, codes, and standards requiring fire and life safety systems.”
The document outlines the commissioning process as beginning before the design phase of the project. In this pre-design phase, the fire protection and life safety commissioning team will be established. It will consist primarily of the building owner, the agent coordinating the commissioning of the fire protection and life safety systems, and the registered design professionals. As the project progresses, additional stakeholders will be added as the project scope requires their participation.
The team may ultimately consist of the following stakeholders: building owner, commissioning authority overseeing the entire commissioning process, fire commissioning agent, registered design professionals, installation contractor(s), construction manager or general contractor, manufacturer’s representative(s), owner’s technical support personnel, insurance representative, third-party test entity, and the authority having jurisdiction.
However, commissioning is a fluid process that will not be the same from project to project, and NFPA 3 identifies these stakeholders as potential commissioning team members but does not require their involvement. In the pre-design phase, the team would be responsible for developing the owner’s project requirements for these systems, identifying applicable code requirements, developing the commissioning scope, and preparing the preliminary commissioning plan (CP).
The CP will be a working document for the design team throughout the design, construction, and life cycle of the building. NFPA 3 outlines what is required to be in this plan, including project information, stakeholder information, required tasks, schedule, required documentation, testing procedures, recommended training, and establishment of periodic testing frequency. All information in the CP must be specific to the project and the individual systems.
During the design phase, the design intent of the systems is established. The basis of design (BofD) is created, and project documentation is reviewed for coordination with the BofD. The commissioning team works alongside the members of the design team to ensure that the project requirements are being met and that the CP is updated as required. Prior to the construction phase, a preconstruction conference will ensure the team and those performing the work understand the schedule, procedures, and processing outlined in the commissioning plan. Installation and testing will occur as required by the CP. The team will be involved throughout the acceptance testing and will provide closeout documents. These will include an outlined list of deficiencies and resolutions, O&M manuals, testing results and certificates, sequence of operations, and a plan for periodic integrated testing (recommissioning).
PERIODIC INTEGRATED TESTINGIntegrated testing is defined as “performance verification of the interaction and coordination of multiple and separate fire and life safety systems.” NFPA 3 outlines how interconnected systems will be tested periodically to verify correct operation of these systems over the lifespan of the building. The periodic testing of many of these systems is regulated by the individual standards; NFPA 72 for fire alarm systems, NFPA 25 for automatic fire sprinkler systems, etc.
However, buildings that undergo the commissioning process outlined in NFPA 3 will have a commissioning plan in place that identifies how the integrated testing of these systems will be performed. This plan will take into account the requirements of all these individual standards and apply a schedule for testing the systems individually or as part of the integrated fire protection and life safety strategy. Completion of this testing is documented in accordance with the requirements of the individual component system standards.
Existing buildings that did not undergo the commissioning process outlined in NFPA 3 can still be subject to the integrated testing requirements. If new systems are added, existing component systems become interconnected, or the interconnections or sequence of operations of existing integrated systems are modified, the integrated testing requirements may be applied.