The world we live in is saturated with machinery, both old and new. The common factor that ties both modern and antique machinery together is the need for upkeep to stay operational. In the case of the fire protection industry and fire sprinklers this is known as ITM, or inspection testing and maintenance. ITM of automatic sprinkler systems is an important part of the National Fire Sprinkler Association’s (NFSA) mission “To protect lives and property from fire through the widespread acceptance of the fire sprinkler concept.” The National Fire Protection Agency documents these suggested ITM methods and strategies in document NFPA 25.
Since the inception of NFPA 25 in 1992, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) have been performing standardized routine inspections of fire prevention systems and components. This may include but is not limited to fire sprinklers, fire pumps, valves, pipes, and everything in between. These inspections usually are a face to face two-person evolution consisting of the AHJ doing the inspection and the property manager or owner. The industry standard of doing inspections on site and face to face has shifted gears to compensate for the Covid 19 pandemic. While the maintenance and testing component of NFPA 25 is still a face to face interaction for obvious reasons, the “new normal” has moved to doing inspections remotely.
With traditional inspections, a building fire safety inspection plan needs to coincide with a jurisdiction’s permitting process and needs to be approved by the AHJ. With social distancing guidelines in place, the NFPA has standardized the way for remote visual inspection by releasing RVI guidelines. The need to comply with codes and standards set by the NFPA has not changed, just the means of collecting the data. To ensure that these standards are met, inspection testing and maintenance (ITM) activities are still required.
The industry’s new remote ITM process enables the user (inspector) to conduct the inspection using a common desktop and or mobile device. Simply put, inspectors conduct safety inspections over a desktop computer from their home or office, while a technician, contractor, building manager or customer is on-site showing the inspector what they need to see. The remote inspector observes the shared video feed while capturing pictures and taking notes throughout the process. This is made possible by leveraging third party software designed for remote fire protection inspections. In some cases, this has been accomplished by leveraging everyday applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Facetime. There are many software options available on the market, all of which share similar capabilities. This new process has created a safer working environment by the elimination of personnel risk exposure to hazardous conditions and dangerous tasks in harsh environments. The RVI process affords an inspection cost reduction, real-time feedback, flexibility and global collaboration and optimization of workforce use. Not only that, an RVI has opened the calendars to those involved with the inspection, providing them with more time back to their day and less windshield time. Less windshield time is ecofriendly and helps reduce the overall carbon footprint.
Those who have implemented remote video inspection measures for their inspection processes have reported an increase in efficiencies, quality control, and safety. Many report that remote inspections allow for more detailed, thorough documentation and record-tracking than an in-person inspection. For example, on-site inspections prevent an inspector to focus on one area of the installation compared to a remote video inspection. Looking at an object through a video screen allows an inspector to zoom in and focus on critical aspects of a subject that may have been missed in an on-site inspection that requires the attention of the AHJ to be drawn everywhere at once.
The United States military has a saying that is widely used and accepted by its members, Semper Gumby-Always Flexible. Gumby representing the fun flexible green guy we all know and love from our childhood. With the state of the country and current market and supply chain issues, Semper Gumby-Always Flexible is a mantra all industries need to embrace to survive. With the development and adoption of the new methodology put out by the NFPA to do remote inspections, the fire protection industry has maintained a flexible approach to the country’s condition and current situation. Change is often hard to accept, but in this case is a win win for all parties involved. Working in front of a computer screen and moving operations to a remote posture looks to be the new standard for how the country functions day in and day out.