NFPA 3 and 4: What You Need to Know

NFPA 3, Recommended Practice for Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems, and NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing, are two NFPA documents that everyone should become familiar with. NFPA 3 is a recommended guide intended to address the administrative and procedural concepts of commissioning fire protection systems while NFPA 4 addresses testing the performance of the interconnection between multiple fire protection and life safety systems.

NFPA 3 and 4 are neither adopted nor referenced by 780 CMR, Massachusetts State Building Code; however, the concepts contained within these documents have already been embraced and implemented by many building owners. It’s for good reason too. The fire alarm, fire protection and other life safety systems of today are complicated and often require integration with building automation, audio/visual and security systems, to name a few. Implementing NFPA 3 and 4 allows building owners have confidence that the life safety systems they are purchasing will work beyond the initial acceptance test of the fire department.

With 527 CMR, Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code, requiring existing smoke control systems to be tested semi-annually if dedicated, annually if non-dedicated, the need for NFPA 3 and 4 to become adopted standards is more apparent than ever. The documentation associated with existing smoke control systems that were designed and installed in buildings during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s has left a lot to be desired. In many instances, reverse-engineering these systems becomes necessary as their entire design is often limited to 2 or 3 notes on a fire alarm drawing. Had these NFPA documents existed 20-30 years ago, many of the recurring issues that we encounter when recommissioning existing smoke control systems would not exist.

Though many people have heard of NFPA 3 and 4 but since their inception 5 years ago, very few engineers, owners and/or contractors have been involved with projects where they have been implemented. This underscores the importance of having a well-qualified fire commissioning agent. In the Annex of NFPA 3, Section A.4.2.1.1, it states that the fire commissioning agent should have a minimum of five years of experience in facility construction, inspection, acceptance testing or commissioning as it relates to fire protection and life safety. Finding someone with said experience and starting the commissioning process during design are probably the two most critical aspects to successfully commissioning of life safety systems. While there is certainly a cost associated with commissioning life safety systems, our experience has shown that early involvement with commissioning can pay for itself by avoiding costly last-minute change orders that in some instances can delay occupancy.