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Commissioning clean agent fire extinguishing

Commissioning of clean agent fire extinguishing systems
goes beyond acceptance testing to verify that connected
systems accomplish fire protection goals.
By Daniel Kobb, PE, CCRD Partners, Richmond, Virginia
occupants, and preserve the building structure, water-based systems have their limitations !ome
"acilities include sensitive e#uipment and contents that would lose signi"icant value i" wet $ire
suppression systems that do not use water provide an attractive option %hese systems use
chemical agents or inert gases to e&tinguish the "ire Because these "ire e&tinguishing agents do
not leave a damaging residue, they are called clean agents
Clean agents are electrically nonconductive, so they can
be discharged to "ight a "ire without causing additional damage to electronics %hey are typically
installed in server rooms and data centers where minimi'ing water damage and downtime a"ter a
"ire is very important %he agent is generally used in a concentration that is sa"e "or people, so it
can be used in occupied areas without threat to the users (aseous "ire e&tinguishing systems are
designed to #uic)ly put out a "ire minimi'ing the amount o" "ire and smo)e damage to the
"acility and its contents %his is critical in protecting assets including highly sensitive e#uipment
or property having intrinsically high value such as data, archives, or artwor)
$ire protection systems using clean agents include many components that must be properly
designed, installed, and maintained in order "or the system to "unction as intended Because these
systems are "ar more comple& than typical water-based protection systems, clean agent "ire
protection systems must be commissioned to con"irm that the systems "unction as intended %he
systems must be installed properly, be complete, and be "unctioning %hey must be started and
operated properly, and the owner must be provided with documentation and training
Recommended practices
*n +ugust ,-.., the /ational $ire Protection +ssn 0/$P+1 published its "irst consolidated
commissioning document, /$P+ 23 Recommended Practice on Commissioning and *ntegrated
%esting o" $ire Protection and 4i"e !a"ety !ystems %his document represents a big step "orward
in standardi'ing the practice o" commissioning as applied to the "ire protection industry %he
/$P+ chose to publish this "irst edition as a 5recommended practice6 rather than a 5standard6 to
give users and the authorities having 7urisdiction 0+89s1 the opportunity to wor) with the
document be"ore ma)ing it a standard +s a recommended practice it provides guidance in
trac)ing the design and construction process /$P+ 2 ta)es the user through the "ollowing "our
commissioning steps3 planning, design, construction, and occupancy
/$P+ ,--.3 !tandard on Clean +gent $ire E&tinguishing
!ystems includes re#uirements "or testing the clean agent systems 4i)ewise, other /$P+
standards such as /$P+ .23 !tandard "or the *nstallation o" !prin)ler !ystems and /$P+ :,3
/ational $ire +larm and !ignaling Code include testing re#uirements "or the systems that they
govern But /$P+ 2 gives guidance "or testing how the various "ire protection and building
systems are to interact + new /$P+ document, /$P+ ;3 !tandard "or *ntegrated %esting o" "ire
Protection !ystems, is under development
Currently, commissioning and integrated testing is only re#uired by the building codes "or smo)e
control systems +89s may sometimes re#uire commissioning o" certain building systems, but
it<s usually le"t to owners to ma)e sure that associated "ire protection systems wor) together
Consulting engineers need to help owners identi"y this necessity and meet it by o""ering the
services o" commissioning and integrated testing =ith the new /$P+ 2 document in hand, we
have a tool to provide guidance "or how commissioning o" "ire protection systems should be
%ogether, commissioning and integrated testing can ensure that the "ire protection systems can be
relied on to protect li"e and property
%he owner is responsible "or the commissioning o" the "ire protection systems and integration
with related systems %he owner usually hires a commissioning engineer and delegates the
responsibility "or developing and administrating the commissioning process %he commissioning
team should be established early and begin wor) during the planning phase o" a pro7ect
During planning, the owner<s pro7ect re#uirements should be created, establishing the owner<s
vision "or the "acility and e&pectations o" how it will be used %his is the time when the
commissioning plan should be created, and then it should be continuously updated throughout
the design and construction process
During design, a basis o" design should document the concepts used to meet the owner<s
re#uirements and the codes %his includes establishing testing criteria "or the "ire protection
systems >peration and maintenance documents will be necessary to develop a training program
"or the operations sta""
!ystem design documentation should include all o" the in"ormation re#uired "or installation,
testing, operation, and maintenance o" the system + system manual should include a description
o" the "unction and operation o" the system, calculations, and any special considerations *t
should also provide instructions "or installation, maintenance, and inspection
During construction, submittals should be reviewed "or compliance with the basis o" design,
ma)ing sure that the installed systems comply with the contract drawings and calculations, the
manu"acturers< instructions, and the codes +s-built drawings should include "loor plans
indicating dimensions and e#uipment locations, installation details, schematics, and e#uipment
%he inspection and testing program should include passive "ire protection systems in the plan
Per"orm completion and acceptance testing and chec) that the "ire protection systems comply
with the basis o" design
%he owner is responsible "or the continued per"ormance o" the "ire and li"e sa"ety systems, and
must see to it that integrated systems are inspected, tested, and maintained according to the
commissioning plan +s such, ma)e sure that the owner is trained in the use o" the systems, and
see to it that the closeout documents are submitted and properly understood
Integrated testing
%esting o" integrated systems should be per"ormed to veri"y that connected systems per"orm as
intended + narrative should be included in the construction documents to e&plain the re#uired
system interactions %he design should consider the interactions o" the systems and include a
se#uence o" operations *n order to provide accountability, speci"ic assignments and
responsibilities need to be assigned "or testing the systems and their connections
%he "inished systems should comply with the owner<s pro7ect re#uirements and the basis o"
design Document the testing to veri"y that the systems operate in se#uence ?a)e sure that the
systems have been installed and interconnected according to the manu"acturers< instructions %he
as-built drawings must include diagrams that show e&actly how the installed systems are
Retro-commissioning applies the commissioning process to e&isting "acilities and systems
+cceptance testing has long been practiced, but the concept o" commissioning is relatively new
to the "ire protection industry ?ost e&isting "ire protection systems in buildings were not
commissioned when installed *n order to provide documented con"irmation that the "ire
protection systems "unction as intended, a retro-commissioning plan should be developed and
Problems that occurred during the original construction can be resolved through retro-
commissioning, and problems that developed during the li"e o" the building can also be
addressed %he per"ormance o" the "ire protection systems is con"irmed, corrected, or improved@
and documented %he goal is to provide a sa"e environment that meets the needs o" the users,
with "ire protection systems well maintained by trained personnel
?ost buildings were not commissioned when they were originally constructed, and even i" a
building was commissioned when it was built, changes can be made over time that might
negatively a""ect the "ire and li"e sa"ety systems< per"ormance
Commissioning e&isting systems may not include bringing them bac) to their original design
%he original design may no longer be relevant to the current use o" the "acility, or the technology
may have changed signi"icantly %he per"ormance ob7ectives o" the system must be revised to
meet the current and anticipated needs o" the users
%he retro-commissioning plan should be developed "rom a survey and evaluation o" installed "ire
protection and li"e sa"ety systems design and e&isting conditions %he team should complete the
activities o" the normal commissioning process that apply to an installed system *ntegrated
testing o" "ire and li"e sa"ety systems should be per"ormed
>wners bene"it "rom retro-commissioning o" "ire protection systems by providing a sa"er
environment "or their occupants and an assurance that systems will per"orm when needed *" the
owner "ollows a regular testing, maintenance, and training program, the insurer may grant lower
Basis of design
%he basis o" design describes the decision-ma)ing process "or the system<s layout, based on the
ha'ard to be protected =hen designing clean agent "ire e&tinguishing systems, there are several
special considerations
$irst, the system must avoid e&posing personnel
to unsa"e levels o" the clean agent gas Design concentrations and e&posure times are critical
"actors, so the system must be coordinated with the building egress design >ccupants are
allowed to be e&posed to the agent "or up to "ive minutes, but unnecessary e&posure to the clean
agents must be avoided Personnel must be evacuated promptly and must be prevented "rom
reentering the protected space during or a"ter agent discharge %he reasons "or the evacuation are
two"old $irst, even though the agent is nonto&ic in low doses, it is best to get occupants to a sa"e
area outside o" the "ire 'one !econd, )eeping the doors open "or too long will reduce the
concentration o" agent and can diminish its inerting capability Clearly, training the owner and
occupants is a critical component, and a commissioning process is re#uired to ensure that this
ta)es place
Critical systems are o"ten protected with clean agent "ire protection systems !ometimes
uninterrupted protection is re#uired *n these cases, reserve agent supply is permanently
connected so that i" the system discharges the primary agent supply, the system can be made
operational again immediately ?ore o"ten, a short interruption in clean agent system protection
is permissible@ however, until a new agent is installed, the area will be unprotected 0unless other
systems such as sprin)lers are provided1 %he commissioning engineer should con"irm and
document that arrangements are made "or agent replacement
?ost systems use automatic detection and actuation systems to release the agent + total "looding
clean agent system uses open no''les to distribute the agent throughout the ha'ard volume *n
this way it is similar to a deluge sprin)ler system %he agent is held in the storage containers by a
normally closed valve or device *n an automatic actuation system, a "ire detection system is used
to detect heat, "lame or smo)e, and then causes the valve to open at the proper time *" a new
agent system is installed in an area with an e&isting detection system, the engineer must analy'e
the e&isting detection system to ensure that it is operating properly and that it will respond
promptly to a "ire
+n alarm system is installed with these systems to indicate that there is a ha'ard to the
occupants, or that the system has operated %his alarm must continue until the alarm has been
ac)nowledged, and then the appropriate actions must be immediately ta)en Personnel must be
trained to respond to an alarm appropriately and must be trained to use manual release and abort
switches properly %his must be an ongoing training process, since personnel "re#uently change
%he commissioning engineer must not only veri"y that such training has ta)en place once, but
that an ongoing program is in place to ensure that "uture occupants o" the ha'ard area will be
trained as well
?ost ventilation systems serving the protected area must be shut down automatically when the
"ire protection system is activated %he clean agent control panel is connected to the 8V+C
controls to e""ect this so that agent is not lost through the mechanical system %he engineer must
veri"y that this system interaction per"orms properly
Enclosure integrity
%he volume in which a total "looding system is installed must be enclosed to contain the agent
>nce the agent discharges, it must be contained at the design concentration long enough to
e&tinguish the "ire Asually this is easier said than done But it<s a critical considerationBi" the
agent is not contained, the system will not "unction as intended
*n new construction it is easier to comply with the re#uirement that the unclosable openings be
)ept to a minimum %he structure and walls must be designed to withstand the pressure
"luctuations o" an agent discharge Doors, windows, and other openings should be designed to
minimi'e lea)s Ventilation systems should be designed with tightly closing dampers /$P+
,--. does not re#uire the enclosure to pass an integrity test@ however, it does permit the +89 to
re#uire such testing in order to assure per"ormance
%he commissioning engineer should re#uire enclosure integrity testing, especially in the case o"
an e&isting "acility %ypically, the e&isting room was not designed to contain clean agent %he
engineer must con"irm and document that the enclosure "unctions as re#uired "or the clean agent
system to per"orm +nne& C o" /$P+ ,--. details the recommended test procedure "or enclosure
integrity %he commissioning engineer administrates this procedure, documents the actions ta)en
to correct de"iciencies, and veri"ies that the test is passed
%he con"iguration o" the protected space should be compared to the design documents *" the
volume o" the enclosure has changed since the original plan, the intended design concentration
will not be met *" the volume o" the space has increased, the agent concentration will be too low
to be e""ective *" the volume has decreased, the agent concentration will be too high "or sa"e
human e&posure
+gent containers should be located where shown on plans %he containers should be weighed to
veri"y that the "ill level is as engineered Piping should be inspected and tested %he si'e and
con"iguration o" the piping and "ittings are critical to ensure even distribution o" the agent to all
o" the no''les /o''les should be located as designed, and no''le locations should be
coordinated with e#uipment installed in the room /o''les should not be located where they will
discharge directly on personnel, or send stored items "lying
Detectors should be o" the type speci"ied and located as planned %he location o" the detectors
should be coordinated with the 8V+C design so that detection is not hindered by supply air vents
or other conditions that might prevent smo)e or heat "rom reaching the detectors in a timely
manner ?anual stations should be installed as designed and located "or easy access by personnel
leaving the room %heir "unction should be clearly indicated with permanent signage identi"ying
their "unction
Acceptance testing
+"ter construction is essentially complete, the contractor must complete the acceptance steps
re#uired in /$P+ ,--. to "inish the installation o" the clean agent system 8e or she must noti"y
the +89, who may choose to witness the tests %he commissioning engineer should witness and
document this testing
%he clean agent system should be inspected and tested by technicians trained by the
manu"acturer /$P+ ,--. lists the re#uirements "or inspection, testing, maintenance, and
training %est system wiring, and chec) system controls according to the manu"acturer<s
instructions Calibrate and test the "ire detection system, and test the releasing circuits %est the
abort switches and manual stations ?anual stations should override the operation o" abort
Discharge tests usually are not re#uired nor recommended %hese tests have been replaced with
pressure and pu"" tests to chec) the piping and door "an tests to chec) the air tightness o" the
room Cears ago, when discharge tests were re#uired, "ailure was most o"ten a result o" an
enclosure that would not contain the agent "or the re#uired time
Essentially, nondestructive tests o" all system "unctions and interactions should be per"ormed,
veri"ied, and documented be"ore the system is accepted
Integrated testing of clean agent systems
+cceptance testing alone may not veri"y that all o" the systems interact with one another in the
way that they were intended to !ince a clean agent system will not be e""ective i" this interaction
"ails, it is imperative that it pass a program o" integrated testing to ensure that the systems
properly operate together +ll interconnected systems must be tested to ensure the proper
"unction o" the clean agent system
%he contractor that installs the clean agent system might be contracted only to per"orm
acceptance tests on the clean agent system *t is up to the commissioning engineer to ensure that
the inter"ace between the systems, and the overall "unction o" the "ire protection systems, wor)
as planned +s such, the coordination o" the subcontractors re#uired to test multiple systems
simultaneously is an important tas)
=hen an owner recogni'es the need to commission the "ire protection systems in its "acility, the
speci"ications should identi"y the important inter"aces between systems %he design re#uirements
should include a description o" proper interaction o" the "ire protection systems and "eatures o"
the building !ystem interconnections should be speci"ied to ensure that they are compatible and
operate properly De"ine who is responsible "or what tests, and when multiple contractors are
re#uired to per"orm interactive testing
+"ter all o" the integrated systems have passed the tests, obtain a certi"icate o" inspection signed
by the contractor and the +89
Clean agent systems involve many component systems that must interact as designed to protect
li"e and property %he challenges mount when commissioning an e&isting system or installing a
new system in an e&isting building + well-e&ecuted commissioning program goes beyond
acceptance testing to ma)e sure that all interconnected systems wor) together to accomplish the
"ire protection goals