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Fire Protection: Keeping Up with Inspection, Testing and Maintenance Training

Continuous education via digital online and on-the-job training are key facets of professional development for managers

By Bartholomew Jae, Contributing Writer  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: Digital Training Addresses Labor Challenges

Facility management is always changing, especially as innovations, climate change and regulatory changes disrupt buildings, systems and codes. With new global initiatives such as renewable or alternative energy, new building methods and materials, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligent (AI) fire protection and life safety systems, facility managers are encountering hazards, opportunities, regulations and requirements they have never experienced. Understanding the way these disruptions impact facilities and operations is critical to protecting the property and maintaining the safety of occupants. 

The facility management role has never been more challenging yet vital. Regulations, codes and standards are constantly updated to keep up with disruptions and changing the requirements that managers must follow. As managers' responsibilities shift, they are encouraged to double down on advanced business knowledge coupled with advancing their skills in strategic planning, emergency management, compliance, standards, leadership and communication. 

Continuous education via online and on-the-job training are key facets of professional development for managers, especially when considering the building and hiring environment. To provide the highest level of quality and safety, managers must prioritize expanding knowledge across several facets. 

Managers are the heart of any building. They are typically present for the entire structural lifecycle of a building, from conceptualization to design and construction to regular inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM). Through each step, managers are responsible for critical issues, including technician and contractor oversight, documentation, record keeping, vulnerability and hazard identification, and incident readiness and emergency management. 

Contractor and technician oversight 

When technicians and contractors are hired for a job, they typically focus on an area of expertise or a specialty. As such, they are most likely unfamiliar with the way specific systems in a building interact. For example, when buildings are due for ITM of fire protection systems, a manager typically schedules a technician to perform ITM for the sprinkler system, while another technician comes in to evaluate the fire alarm and signaling system. 

The contemporary approach is to test the systems together as prescribed by NFPA 4, Standard for Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety System Testing. This step is important because one system triggers the other to properly perform its intended function and provide the highest level of safety. A manager is responsible for communicating background information and guiding contractors and technicians as they perform their intended jobs. 

Not only is the manager responsible for job-specific oversight of technicians and contractors. They are also responsible for scheduling a technician to come in for ITM regularly, ensuring that the facility meets all inspection requirements for frequency and recordkeeping. 

Documentation and walkthroughs 

Facility managers contribute substantial value to organizations and stakeholders by providing insightful perspectives on buildings’ long-term maintainability, safety and operational costs based on their pre-existing knowledge of various factors. 

Consider documentation. Managers are responsible for maintaining and abiding by decades worth of documentation that includes information on the latest code requirements, historical building renovations, zoning measurements and systems in use, whether in physical form or through digital recordkeeping tools. 

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At any moment, a manager must be prepared to make sound decisions based on historical documentation and provide a bird's eye view of the way an action could impact the facility. Housing all information in one digital platform enables managers to quickly locate and eliminate hours spent searching for a specific code variance or authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) approval. Digitalizing documentation processes also eliminates the concern of physical damage or loss of critical information. 

Facility managers also are expected to conduct routine walk-throughs and proactively identify hazards, violations and security risks that might not be visible to building occupants. For example, when managers walk into a room, they know exactly where a fire extinguisher should be located according to NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. If a large, heavy object such as a filing cabinet is blocking the extinguisher, the manager will request the filing cabinet to be moved immediately to avoid a safety violation. 

Similarly, if a manager opens an electrical closet and notices moisture or dampness near open circuits, they will immediately prioritize working with their electricians to mitigate the situation and avoid electrical hazards that do not comply with NFPA 70, National Electrical Code. 

Hazard identification 

Every facility contains hazards, but some facilities pose greater risks than others, due to the specific systems and equipment they contain. Consider chemical laboratories, which contain such materials as flammable gases and liquids that can create an extremely hazardous environment from one small mistake. 

Managers of chemical laboratories must be trained in incident readiness if something were to catch on fire or release a harmful gas. If a fire broke out in the chemical laboratory and the alarm started ringing, a manager must know exactly what to do and be able to perform efficiently and quickly. 

NFPA 400, Hazardous Materials Code, helps managers learn how to identify hazardous materials and to safely manage and store hazards safely. In addition to specific incident knowledge, managers must communicate pre-existing knowledge of the entire facility to first responders and present documentation to provide high-level support. For example, managers should collaborate with first responders to develop incident plans when an energy storage system is being installed. It is the manager’s responsibility to know the emergency plan, ensure building occupants are aware and execute the plan if needed. 

Bartholomew Jae is director of education and development with NFPA

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Fire Protection: Keeping Up with Inspection, Testing and Maintenance Training

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  posted on 4/12/2024   Article Use Policy

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