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FARS FAQs: A Look At Air Quality and Reliability

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RescueAir_HP_517Firefighter air replenishment systems (FARS) have been getting a lot of attention lately.  FARS are building-installed systems — an air standpipe system — that deliver a safe, reliable, constant supply of breathing air when and where firefighters need it most. Firefighters can safely refill their air bottles under full respiration in an IDLH environment at stations located throughout a structure, making ground air management achievable in mid- and high-rise buildings and eliminating the need for a bottle brigade manually transporting air bottles. FARS are also applicable in large horizontal structures like “big box” retail stores, warehouses and manufacturing facilities, as well as in tunnel systems and large marine craft.

No other method of air delivery can match FARS for the speed, volume and reliability with which air can be delivered to firefighters inside a structure.  FARS were included in the 2015 International Fire Code (IFC) under Appendix L.

As more jurisdictions become aware of these systems, FARS advocates are often asked about air quality, inspection and maintenance.  Here are some frequently asked questions and answers.

Q. How is air quality ensured?
A. FARS are clean, dry, closed breathable air systems. In accordance with 2015 IFC Appendix L, all FARS are equipped with an air monitoring system, which allows the Fire Department to monitor the system’s moisture, carbon monoxide and pressure 24/7.

“L104.15 Air monitoring system. An approved air monitoring system shall be provided. The system shall automatically monitor air quality, moisture and pressure on a continual basis. The air monitoring system shall be equipped with not less than two content analyzers capable of detecting carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, moisture and hydrocarbons.”

The system is monitored via the building’s fire alarm system and panel as a supervisory signal. FARS can also be monitored around the clock by the private sector via web-based monitoring.  Should any air quality readings exceed IFC 2015 Appendix L or NFPA 1989 requirements, signals are immediately sent to the fire alarm panel, activating audible and visual alarms.  The AHJ and private sector monitoring companies are notified of the supervisory signal and respond according to the AHJ protocol.

In addition, the system is equipped with isolation valves that allow firefighters to isolate the system remotely from the Fire Command Center or manually at any of the fill panels.

Q. How is the system certified?
A.  All jurisdictions that require these systems have rigid specifications regarding the design, installation, testing and certification processes. Certification typically occurs at five checkpoints in the process of installation and is always part of an on-going safety maintenance program.
•    Check One: The installing contractor provides design drawings, engineered calculations and complete product data sheets that include all components of the FARS. The complete submittal package is referred to both the Building and Fire Departments for approval.
•    Check Two: Officials from Building and Fire perform field inspections during the installation process.
•    Check Three: Air samples are taken from the installed system and sent to an independent lab for analysis and certification.
•    Check Four: The Fire Department performs practical tests and drills using the system to confirm the functionality and compatibility of the system with the Fire Department’s existing equipment.
•    Check Five: The building owner presents proof of an on-going testing and certification program to the Building and Fire Department prior to receiving a final certificate of occupancy.
•    On a go-forward basis: The building owner is required to provide an on-going periodic testing and certification program in accordance with IFC Appendix L Section L106 Inspection, Testing And Maintenance. The owner is required to provide the Fire Department with the name and contact information of the testing and certification contractor.  The contractor is notified by the Fire Department that the contractor must give notice to the Fire Department if the building owner cancels the testing and certification contract.

Q: We’re concerned about private sector testing and certification for a life safety system. How do we know the air is safe to breathe?
A: Every Fire Department relies on the private sector to test and certify its breathing air equipment.  Fire Department personnel typically do not collect air samples or perform testing or certification of their SCBA cylinders, breathing air compressors or the air within the Fire Department cascade systems.  They hire private sector companies to perform these functions. FARS are tested and certified in accordance with NFPA 1989 by private sector companies just as the Fire Department’s SCBA/breathing air program are tested and certified.  The air quality in the FARS system can always be trusted to be as good as the air in the Department’s SCBAs.

Q. OK, but SCBA cylinders, cascade systems and compressors are all housed within our department.  How can we be sure of air quality in a system that is building-installed and outside of our control?
A.  FARS are comparable to other building-installed systems, such as those in hospitals for delivery of medical gasses like oxygen. These systems are regulated under NFPA-99 CH-5 Gas & Vacuum Systems, and serve hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis without incident.

Q: How can we be assured the system will be reliable when needed?
A:  Through inspection, testing and maintenance (ITM) requirements as outlined in Appendix L of the 2015 International Fire Code (IFC), FARS are routinely inspected for reliability of proper air quality and proper component function.  According to 2015 IFC Appendix L:

“L106.1 Periodic inspection, testing and maintenance. A FARS shall be continuously maintained in an operative condition and shall be inspected not less than annually. Not less than quarterly, an air sample shall be taken from the system and tested to verify compliance with NFPA 1989. The laboratory test results shall be maintained on site and readily available for review by the fire code official.”

Q:  Who owns and is responsible for the care and maintenance of the FARS?
A: As is the case with other building protection and life safety systems such as fire alarm systems, fire sprinklers systems and smoke control systems, the FARS is owned and maintained by the building owner.

 Q: Who ensures that the air monitoring systems is being supervised and attended too?
A: “L104.15.2 Alarm supervision, monitoring and notification. The air monitoring system shall be electrically supervised and monitored by an approved supervising station, or where approved, shall initiate audible and visual supervisory signals at a constantly attended location.”

Q: Who is qualified to install FARS and perform ITM work on FARS?
A:  Trained and certified fire protection, plumbing and mechanical contractors are qualified to perform this work.  RescueAir, the industry leader in FARS, has developed a certification course for those responsible for these functions.  RescueAir recommends that code enforcement agencies require, through state or local ordinances, that any individual who installs or performs work on FARS should have this certification.

As is the case for all building-installed life safety and protection systems, it is crucial that code enforcement officials ensure that building owners maintain their systems so that they will function properly in an emergency situation.  With proper installation and ITM standards, meaningful code enforcement, responsible ownership, and adherence to the 2015 IFC Appendix L, FARS can be guaranteed to deliver a safe and reliable source of breathing air in time of need.  For more information on FARS, please visit http://rescueair.com.

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