It’s essential that Strata Councils understand the requirements for the testing, inspection, and maintenance of their life safety systems.
While some forms of maintenance and repair can be temporarily or almost indefinitely postponed, such as painting or re-carpeting; Fire Alarm System inspection, testing, maintenance, and repair is legally mandated by the B.C. Fire Code. All systems and equipment in the building must be inspected and tested on a regular, ongoing basis and, at minimum, on a monthly and annual basis as per the Code and its referenced documents. Despite many people’s belief that it is the responsibility of the local fire department to ensure that all safety requirements are met in buildings, the onus falls squarely on the shoulders of the Owners.
British Columbia Fire Code (2018)
Division C – Administrative Provisions – Sec. 2.2 Administration
1) Unless otherwise specified, the owner or the owner’s authorized agent shall be responsible for carrying out the provisions of this (B.C. Fire) Code.
The fire code requires that building fire protection and life safety systems receive a variety of regular inspections, service, and maintenance.
- Check – means a visual observation to ensure that devices or systems are in place, and no obvious damage or obstructions to proper operation exist.
- Inspect – means a physical examination to determine that the devices or systems will apparently perform in accordance with its intended function.
- Test – means operation of the devices or systems to ensure that it will perform in accordance with its intended operating functions. It is generally required to have a certified system technician perform tests.
Most inspections are generally quick checks to ensure that the specific system is operational and not in need of service. Some inspections do not require a high degree of technical knowledge of the actual system, but rather the ability to check for a specific problem, and have it corrected. Such inspections could be adequately performed by selected supervisory staff daily, providing that adequate insurance to mitigate risk is in place and confirmed.
Semi-Annual and Annual Inspection, Testing and Maintenance procedures generally involve technical procedures and will be performed by qualified individuals or private contractors specializing in the specific field.
Contractors may perform their own unique inspection and testing procedures; however, their procedures and records must meet the requirements set by the B.C. Fire Code and Underwriters Laboratories of Canada. The repair or cleaning of equipment and the periodic replacement of components must be as per manufacturer’s specifications and recommendations, must not reduce the level of performance of the equipment, and must be recorded on separate repair reports. The B.C. Fire Code requires that all records regarding the life safety systems must be kept for a minimum of two years, however, we recommend their retention for as long as the equipment in question remains operational in the building.
When the system or any part of it is shut down, the supervisory staff are to be notified and alternative measures are to be followed as outlined the fire safety plan and in accordance with BC Fire Code, Division B, sentence 126.96.36.199 (1) – Protection during Shutdown:
1) When any portion of a fire protection system is temporarily shut down, alternative measures shall be taken to ensure that protection is maintained. (See Note A-188.8.131.52. (1).)
NOTES: A-184.108.40.206. (1) Interruption of normal operation of a fire protection system for any purpose constitutes a “temporary shutdown.” Types of interruptions include, but are not limited to, periodic inspection or testing, maintenance, and repairs. During a shutdown, alternative measures are necessary to ensure that the level of safety intended by the Code is maintained.
In the shutdown of a fire alarm system, alternative measures should be worked out in cooperation with the fire department to ensure that all persons in the building can be promptly informed, and the fire department notified, should a fire occur while the alarm system is out of service.
For more information, please see Appendix G– Fire Watch.
Most building Owners will have a chosen fire safety service provider who comes in once a year to provide the annual servicing of the equipment in the building. Unfortunately, despite delegating the inspection to said company, the fact remains that it is the Owner(s) who are responsible for ensuring that the Code required testing has been conducted and properly documented in an Underwriters Laboratories of Canada compliant report; as well as seeing that all deficiencies are remedied, that the building is protected during any disruption to the life safety systems, and a final repair report provided and retained.
This holds true for the Code required monthly testing as well, which is often not completed at all or is sometimes delegated to volunteers on site, who may or may not have the training, background in fire alarm systems, or insurance coverage to be operating and resetting the fire alarm system.
Fire Detection and Alarm System
CAN/ULC-S536, Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems
CAN/ULC-S552, Maintenance and Testing of Smoke Alarms, and
CAN/ULC-S1001, Integrated System Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems.
NOTE: All testing, inspection, and reports MUST adhere to CAN/ULC requirements and the reports must provide an accurate record of the testing and inspection conducted on the Fire Alarm System by a qualified contractor.
- Check Fire Alarm AC power lamp
- Check Fire Alarm trouble lamps
Record Keeping: None
- Notify the alarm monitoring company, the fire department, and the tenants that you are testing the system. Notify all parties when you have completed testing.
- Under emergency power, one manual alarm initiating device shall be operated on a rotation basis and shall initiate an alarm condition.
- Intended function of all alarm audible signal appliances shall be ensured.
- The annunciator panel shall be checked to ensure that the tested devices annunciated correctly.
- Intended function of the audible and visual trouble signals shall be insured
- Fire alarm batteries shall be checked to ensure that:
- terminals are clean and lubricated where necessary,
- terminal clamps are clean and tight where necessary,
- electrolyte level and specific gravity, where applicable, are specified by the manufacturer.
Record Keeping: Monthly Inspection & Testing Report
Procedure: Contractor shall perform service in accordance with CAN/ULC-S536, Inspection and Testing of Fire Alarm Systems and CAN/ULC-S552, Maintenance and Testing of Smoke Alarms.
Record Keeping: CAN/ULC-compliant Annual Inspection & Testing Report
References: CAN/ULC-S552, Standard for the Maintenance and Testing of Smoke-Alarms
Procedure: Smoke alarms shall be replaced if:
- AC powered smoke-alarm does not sound
- Battery powered smoke-alarm does not sound after battery replacement
- Smoke-alarm is not operating normally or is physically damaged
- Smoke-alarm has been painted
- Age of smoke-alarm exceeds 10 years of original installation date
- Ensure smoke-alarm is not removed or tampered with
- Test smoke-alarm monthly using the test button
- Replace battery when a low battery signal sounds
- Report any smoke-alarm issues to the Fire Safety Director
Annual Inspection and Testing
Procedure: Contractor shall perform inspection and testing in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and CAN/ULC-S552, Maintenance and Testing of Smoke Alarms:
- Inspect visually to ensure smoke-alarm is not physically damaged
- Inspect visually to ensure battery is not corroded or leaking
- Vacuum exterior of smoke-alarm with a brush attachment
- Test smoke-alarm using simulated smoke intended to test smoke-alarms
- Test interconnected smoke-alarms individually
Record Keeping: CAN/ULC-compliant Annual Inspection & Testing Report