Fire pumps are key elements of fire protection systems. They deliver water to sprinkler heads or standpipe systems at the critical moment of a fire emergency ensuring that these systems have suitable water pressure behind them to extinguish flames. They can be booster pumps or self-contained with a tank to supplement water supply or to act as a water supply source for fire-fighting purposes.
Fire pumps, whether electrically or diesel operated, should be appropriately designed, specified and installed to meet prevailing standards and regulations and above all, fail-safe.
Regular fire pump inspection and testing by a certified professional is also required as fire pumps can lose their effectiveness over time, if they are inadequately maintained. Fire pump inspection, testing and maintenance is a legal responsibility and industry-standard and generally included in a fire pump service agreement. The only way to assess the condition of fire pump equipment is by activating it and regularly witnessing its operation.
The regulatory backdrop to fire pump inspection and testing in Chicago
All reputable fire pump inspection and testing companies follow national, state and local regulations and code. What is described here is for informational purposes only. Resource should be made to current editions of prevailing regulations (National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards, Illinois law and local Chicago Municipal Code) prior to the design, specification, or installation, testing of fire pump systems.
Meeting NFPA standards:
NFPA 20, the Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection provides requirements for pump selection and installation to ensure that systems will work as intended to deliver adequate and reliable water supplies in a fire emergency.
NFPA 25, the Standard for Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of water-based Fire Protection Systems mandates various tests at different time intervals depending on the system.
The two critical tests it describes are:
Weekly 'no flow' / fire pump churn test: diesel and electric fire pumps
- Pump Operation (Diesel only): no flow start and run test for 30 minutes
- Pump Operation (Electric only): no flow start and run test for 10 minutes
Assessing the 'no-flow' condition tests a pump without water flow. In this routine test, pump pressure is inspected and the time taken for a pump motor to achieve that pressure is evaluated to allow the necessary adjustments for valves and o-rings to be made. This test is sometimes referred to as a fire pump churn test.
Annual 'full flow' test: diesel and electric fire pumps
'Full flow' tests are conducted to ensure the water flow rate from a fire pump is enough to deliver the right amount of water at the right time. In this test pump output pressure and flows are measured and plotted on hydraulic graph paper. Field acceptance test results can then be compared to certified shop test curves. In order to pass the test, pump performance needs to meet the current industry standard.
Meeting Illinois law:
Illinois law requires that all contractors performing inspections or tests of fire protection system equipment (such as fire pumps) meet the minimum qualification requirements and are licensed from the Office of the State Fire Marshall (OSFM). The state also requires that test records be maintained and electronically stored on site by the relevant building owner. These records ordinarily included details of the following:
- Testing organization details
- Test frequency
- Procedures and activities performed
- Test results and date
- Lead test inspector name
Meeting the Municipal Code of Chicago:
The Municipal Code of Chicago requires building owners to obtain test all fire pumps, on installation and annually thereafter. The Code requires these fire pump tests to be performed by private sector contractors and witnessed by a member of the City of Chicago Fire Prevention Bureau Fire Pump Section.
This code also stipulates that where fire pumps are used to meet the water supply requirements, their minimum capacity shall be 500 gallons/min. at a pressure of at least 100psi. However, no one fire pump need have a capacity of over 1,500 gallons/min.
Other fire pump maintenance tests
Other fire pump maintenance tests are necessary on a weekly, monthly, annual or biannual basis. Not all tests require flowing water. Some of them are described here.
Pumphouse, heating, ventilating louvers: Ensure ventilating louvers are working properly.
Automatic Start: Ensure the fire pump starts automatically by simulating a system pressure drop.
Circulation relief valve (casing relief valve) test: fire pumps can overheat, so circulation relief valves needs to be tested. These relief valves keep system pressure from exceeding its design pressure. Generally they flow enough water to keep the casing from overheating, and shut off when the pump is switched off. The water flow needs to be be warm to the touch, if not adjustment may be necessary.
Fire pump system (coupling alignment inspection): fire pump system couplings should be inspected for alignment.
Fire pump alarm signals (flow switch and tamper test): Where a fire alarm monitor is present, a tamper switch sends a signal to a flow switch to inform the monitoring company that a valve has been closed. The flow switch starts the flow of water to sprinkler heads and triggers the fire alarm, so it needs to be checked.
Bypass loop inspection: bypass loops provide water supply at street pressure while a pump is non-functioning or being serviced. This ensures that water continues to flow through the system, while the system is being worked on, keeping a property covered in the event of a fire. Bypass valves also need to be checked.
Packing drip control: Control as necessary by adjusting packing glands a quarter turn to maintain low but constant water flow. Once equipment is stopped, packing leakage should be approximately a drip per second.
Packing drip drains: Verify packing drip drains are working and are unclogged.
Clean strainers on diesel pumps: Keep strainers clean on the water cooling loop. After running a diesel engine engine, visually inspect the strainer on the cooling loop and clean.
Battery check: Verify batteries are working properly on diesel fire pumps.
Engine running signal: Check an engine running signal is sent to a monitoring point if a diesel fire pump is in an unattended room.
All facility owning businesses, including those in Chicago, should obtain the appropriate fire pump inspection, testing and maintenance advice needed for fire pump design, specification, installation, maintenance and operation. Fire protection engineers familiar with national, state and local code and testing criteria can efficiently meet these needs, mark correct settings and record results to meet insurance and legal requirements.