Clean Agent Inspections & Testing

Posted February 02, 2021 by Koorsen Fire & Security


Clean agent suppression systems have advanced capabilities to protect IT and other sensitive equipment from fire. A price tag cannot be put on how much time and money these systems could save your business in the event of a fire.

Yet, because they are not considered life-saving systems like fire sprinklers, the NFPA and many jurisdictions typically do not require businesses to install them.

However, if you, like many business owners, choose to have a clean agent suppression system protecting your assets, the NFPA guidelines and most local jurisdictions do enforce codes for how the system should be maintained through routine inspections and testing.

Failure to adhere to these regulations can result in fines, or worse, an ineffective or failed suppression system.

Continue reading to learn what you need to do to ensure adherence to the codes and a reliable clean agent system.

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Who is Responsible for Inspections and Testing?

Ultimately, the only one who will be held accountable for keeping your clean agent suppression system up to code/standards with its inspections and testing will be you, the system's owner.

However, you will not be expected to be the one doing all of the inspections and testing, as this requires specialized equipment. You will need to hire a fire protection agency, like Koorsen, to schedule your regular maintenance.

While you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that your system is properly maintained, you should be able to find a vendor you can trust who can explain to you what your system needs and requirements so that you can avoid any issues.

Koorsen always informs their clients about their particular system and sets up schedules for routine maintenance. Koorsen makes sure that no inspections are missed and no fines incurred by their clients, helping to remove the burden from the client so they can focus on other things.

If a vendor is not willing or able to do this for you, you should continue looking for a better service provider.

How Often Should Clean Agent Suppression Systems be Inspected?

An inspection means a visual inspection performed with your eyes.

There are two types of inspections that your suppression system needs to get on a regular basis:

  • Weekly Visual Inspection: Once a week, you or a designated employee should perform a visual inspection of your system to ensure it stays in working order. During this inspection, you should check the system's:
    • Pressure
    • Cylinder's exterior for damages or wear
    • Release and control panel to verify the lights are still green
    • Pathway is clear, with no objects blocking access to it
    • Integrity of the protected enclosure to ensure doors not being propped open, missing ceiling tiles, etc.

You should document these visual inspections at least once a month, if not weekly. They only take a minute or two and can prevent a serious issue from going unnoticed.

  • Semi-Annual Inspections: semi-annual inspections should be performed by your fire protection vendor every six months.

    During these inspections:
    • the cylinders holding the suppression agent must have their pressure and/or weight checked
    • batteries will be checked
    • charging voltage will be inspected
    • room integrity will be verified by looking for out of place ceiling tiles, unpatched holes, propped open doors, etc.
    • the overall appearance and condition of the system and clean agent cylinders will be inspected to make sure there are no dents, rust, gouges, or other damages that could hinder the system
    • the pathway to access the system will be inspected for obstructions

What the inspection entails will vary depending on the type of system you have and the clean agent it uses.

    • Halocarbon systems, such as FM-200 and 3M™ Novec™ 1230 Fire Protection Fluid, which store the suppression agent in compressed liquid form, must have both pressure and weight checked every six months, in addition to a visual inspection.

      To check the weight, a technician must disconnect the discharge hose, unhook the agent cylinder from its wall bracket, and place the cylinder on a scale to get the weight. Once the weight of the cylinder is recorded, the technician will hook it back up. However, the technician will never attempt to check weight without proper safety devices installed on the cylinder.

      The newly recorded weight will be compared with the cylinder's weight that should be listed somewhere on the cylinder itself. The new weight should be close to the original – within 5%. If there is too significant a difference in the weights, it could indicate a leak, and the cylinder will need to be taken in for closer inspection.

      If your halocarbon cylinder has a liquid level indicator, and you still have the manufacturer's reference materials listing where the indicator ought to be, then the technician can measure the indicator rather than having to unhook the tank to get the weight. If the indicator is within an acceptable range of its original measurement, then there is no leak.
    • Inert systems, like INERGEN, Argonite, and Nitrogen, which store their suppression agent in gas form, must also receive inspections every six months. However, with inert systems, only the pressure, not the weight, matters.

      If the pressure is too low, it could indicate a leak, and the cylinder(s) will need to be removed. If the pressure is too high, it could indicate a malfunction and impending danger, and the tank will need to be removed. If the pressure reading is in the middle, it may remain in service. Temperature also plays a part with the pressure, so although pressure maybe low or high, pressure might be okay due to the temperature.

If no problems turn up during these visual inspections and weight and pressure checks, the system is turned back on, and no further maintenance or testing needs to be performed.


Annual Testing

Once every year, your clean agent suppression system must receive an annual test. Koorsen Fire and Security elects to perform these tests every six months since the system has to be disarmed during the semi-annual inspection anyway.

During this test, the suppression system's bells, horns, smoke detectors, abort stations, maintenance stations, and all of its components will be tested and inspected.

Additionally, the discharge piping and fittings will be inspected to ensure that they are the correct ones for the system and are still mechanically supported. Nozzles will be inspected to make sure they are still on correctly and correct orientation.

It is vital to ensure that all of these visual inspections and tests are not a waste of time, that you keep your system's as-built drawings and flow calculations and present them to your fire protection vendor. These two items should have been given to you in either paper or digital form when the system was installed. Only by these documents will your vendor be able to confirm that all of the system's components are the correct ones and that they are installed correctly.

Unfortunately, without these documents, while everything could look visually in good shape, the system could be set up for failure if, for instance, an incorrect discharge pipe was installed.

How Long do Inspections Take?

Typically, these inspections and tests can last for about two to two-and-a-half hours, depending on the system's size.

If you wish to expedite the process, and make it as valuable and effective as possible, be sure to have:

  • Flow calculations
  • As-built drawings
  • Manufacturer's information
  • Maintained enclosure integrity

These materials will provide your technician with quick reference points to check their measurements. They will also contain the information they need to confirm that all of the system's components are the correct ones and installed correctly.

Furthermore, having these materials and protecting your enclosure integrity ensures that your clean agent suppression system can work when you need it to.

Other Tests

In addition to the semi-annual and annual inspections and tests, your system may also require:

  • Hydrotesting: depending on the type of system and its DOT stamping, many clean agent cylinders may need a hydrostatic test. However, if the vendor and technician have been properly trained, a five-year external visual inspection can be performed. As long, the cylinder meets respective indicators, and has never discharged or leaked, the five year can be done in lieu of the hydrostatic test.  
  • Five-year external visual inspection: every five years, your cylinders will need to be examined more closely for potential damage and defects. These include bulging, neck defects, damage to head and foot rings, denting, etc.

    Some cylinders, such as those used in inert systems, will only receive this five-year visual inspection. They will not need to be hydrotested unless they get discharged and need to be refilled or if damage is observed during the visual inspection.

Who Must be Trained on the Suppression System?

According to the NFPA and many jurisdictions, any person that could be working inside or around the protected enclosure shall be trained on the functions of the system.

This individual needs to understand what clean agent your system uses, what the lights on the system panel means, the basics of how the system functions, how to do a manual override, etc. A standard operating procedure also needs to be in place in the event of a fire and the system triggering.

This training will also help your staff know the importance of room integrity and how to maintain it – keeping doors closed, replacing ceiling tiles, filling holes that were made for wiring, etc.

Having at least one, and ideally more, members of your staff trained will go a long way in ensuring that your clean agent suppression system can do its job in the event of a fire.

Does Your Clean Agent Suppression System Need Its Inspection?

When's the last time your system received its visual inspection? Keeping up on weekly, semi-annual, and yearly inspections and testing will ensure that your system is ready to protect your assets if and when the time comes.

If your system is due for inspection, or if you need help getting it back on a regular maintenance schedule, give Koorsen a call today. We will send one of our highly trained and certified technicians out to get your system on track.

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Topics: Fire Suppression, Inspection/Testing, Fire Safety & Security

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Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is believed to be reliable, but Koorsen Fire & Security assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this article. It does not constitute professional advice. The user of this article or the product(s) is responsible for verifying the information's accuracy from all available sources, including the product manufacturer. The authority having jurisdiction should be contacted for code interpretations.