Recognizing the improved reliability and added safety of electronically monitored fire extinguishers, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) voted to amend NFPA 10 and NFPA 72 to include electronic monitoring in lieu of mandatory physical 30-day inspections. The NFPA made its decision during its annual World Safety Conference and Exposition that took place in Orlando, Florida, June 4-8, 2006. The ruling will go into effect in September of this year following ratification by the NFPA Standards Council.
Strong support for acceptance of this technology came from fire officials, end users, and members of the fire protection industry. Mike Halligan, from the University of Utah, provided written testimony in support of the proposed changes. His school installed electronically monitored fire extinguishers in two residence halls in September of 2003. Halligan remarked that prior to their installation the university averaged 50 stolen or tampered fire extinguishers per year. After installing electronically monitored extinguishers they experienced only one tamper in three years.
Halligan also noted other benefits of electronic monitoring in his testimony. “The allowance of electronic monitoring in our state code allows our staff to focus on more life safety issues. We will gain back one full-time position once we complete the conversion of all our extinguishers over to electronic monitoring.” He also stated, “We have found that the 24/7 supervision has made our extinguisher inventory much more reliable.”
According to the NFPA, electronically monitored fire extinguishers allowed under their codes must include the ability to assess the following: proper location, access without obstruction, and pressurization. Moreover, the system must provide record keeping in the form of an electronic event log at the control panel.
Don Bliss, former New Hampshire State Fire Marshal, also testified in support of recognizing the technology as an equivalent to the mandatory 30-day inspections. After the floor vote, Bliss said, “The overwhelming support for the technology just makes sense. The technology brings better accountability to fire extinguishers, helps ensure code compliance, and improves life safety.” He added, “Isn’t that why we are all here?”
Specific changes to the NFPA codes include the addition of a definition of electronic monitoring in Chapter 3 and specific details in Chapter 7, “Inspection, Maintenance, and Recharging of Portable Fire Extinguishers,” of NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. Chapter 7 section 2.1.1 “Frequency,” newly states, “Fire extinguishers shall be inspected when initially placed in service and thereafter at a minimum of 30 day intervals or electronically monitored.”
NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm Code included the addition of electronic monitoring definitions to chapters 3, 5 and 6.
These NFPA amendments follow similar measures taken by the International Code Council that allowed electronic monitoring of fire extinguishers in lieu of 30-day physical inspections at the start of 2005.
For some buildings, which have hundreds and often thousands of extinguishers on-site, physical inspections can be very costly and time consuming efforts. Proponents say electronic monitoring reduces these expenses and improves safety. “Fire equipment industry studies show that 90% of 30-day inspections simply do not happen – representing a huge security and life-safety risk,” said John McSheffrey, Vice President Business Development, for MIJA Inc., of Rockland, Massachusetts. “I think historically speaking, today’s vote will be looked at as the turning point for fire extinguishers, the day in which extinguishers became a fully recognized component of an intelligent fire protection package. Going forth, why would anyone specify stand alone extinguishers in larger occupancies?”