Fire Tech Tips

Fire Tech Tips

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Posted January 2018, by Tom Doty, Co-Owner, Fire Tech Productions and Craynon Fire Protection

Some years ago, our service department invested in a freeze machine. For those of you who don’t know what a freeze machine is, it is a Velcro sleeve that wraps around a pipe and has a chart that defines freezing procedures based on water pressure.

For example, if the water pressure is 100 psi, charge the sleeve with a 30 second blast of CO2 initially, followed by 10 second blasts every 30 seconds thereafter to maintain the frozen pipe. This eliminates the need to shut down and drain a system and then refill the system when work is completed. It has worked great, especially for small arm-overs.

Our crew arrived at a job to relocate two sprinkler heads, not knowing at the time it was a tri-water system. At the time, the cost of copper was going through the roof and someone in their infinite wisdom came up with a tri-water system. This system essentially eliminates the need for supply and return lines to the air conditioning by running an extra sprinkler main. With one main being supply and one main being return, the system alternates the sprinkler lines — one from supply and the next from the return. The problem is there are also two shutoffs and the water circulates, which causes the chart that comes with the freeze machine to become obsolete.

Need I state the obvious? The tenant’s office got flooded, we got reamed, and the big mess had to be cleaned up. The popularity of tri-water systems did not last too long as the air conditioning people wanted to use (flammable) rust inhibitors to maintain their units.


Posted December 2017, by Shawn Lee, Fire Tech Productions Developer & Trainer

What brings this post to life was a discussion I had with a coworker about a quiz question on one of our online training courses.  The quiz question had a trick answer that could be Read More

taken one way or the other.  Unfortunately, if the person taking the quiz took it the “wrong” way, then the answer is deemed incorrect.  This happened and the person who got the answer incorrect asked for clarification on why the answer they chose was wrong.  As they were studying for a NICET exam, I consider this a very valid question.  After I provided some clarification to our customer, my coworker and I spoke about if we leave the quiz question and answers as they are, or make our questions and answers almost word-for-word out of the codes and standards.

As you may know, helping our customers prepare for the NICET exams is the bedrock of what Fire Tech Productions does.  It’s not all we do, but it is a large part of it.  When it comes to helping others prepare for the NICET exams, we feel it’s important to mimic some of what an exam taker will experience.  That can include some questions and answers that might be a little tricky.  Not every question and answer will follow this guideline, but there could be a few.  An argument for this is that the person studying for the exam would (potentially) get a taste of what the exam will be like.  This can be useful for someone who has never taken the exam before.  Making our quizzes and exams in this way could help shape the way the person studies, which in turns helps them pass the exam.

However, as often happens in life, there is more than one side to any story.  Studying to take an exam and using test taking strategies to pass the exam doesn’t always equate to learning and retaining the material.  For me, and I freely admit this is just my opinion, studying for an exam and practicing test taking strategies doesn’t make me learn the material.  It gears me to do well on the test itself.  In most cases, within a few weeks of taking, and hopefully passing the test, the information I studied is pretty much on the way out of my brain.  It’s not committed to my long-term memory.  I know everyone isn’t me, but I would guess that I am not the only person like this.  In contrast, when I make it a point to learn something from NFPA 72 for my own personal knowledge, it tends to stick.

Developing quiz or mock exam questions for customers sometimes gets a little complicated.  My main goal when providing training is to make sure that the knowledge you gain from our courses is knowledge you will be able to apply both to your day-to-day jobs and to an exam you may be studying for.  I believe it is important for any fire protection instructor to make sure that his or her students know the information in the code and how to find it when needed.  That way, it doesn’t matter if the student is preparing for an exam or preparing to discuss a code issue with the AHJ or the boss.  Either way, the knowledge is at their fingertips.

My advice to anyone who is preparing to take a certification exam with NICET or any other certification granting entity is to know the code, make sure you are familiar with the layout of that code, and know the general information located in the different chapters.  Don’t try to memorize all of it because unless the code or standard you are studying is very small, it will be difficult for most of us to retain all the information.  If you concentrate on where the information may be located, you can cut down on the amount of time to find the information you seek and you can start to retain some of the information that matters most to your day-to-day jobs.

All that being “said,” I still need to decide if we will change the quiz that brought about this discussion.  I can see both sides of the argument and I am on the fence.  As I wrote earlier, we are committed to helping our customers pass their NICET exams.  It’s what we do.  And I might have to concede the best way to do that is with a mixture of slightly tricky questions and answers along with some questions and answers that are almost word-for-word out of the codes and standards.  I’ll think on it for a little while longer and then do whatever the boss says.


Repost from

Nov 2017 – by Wills LaCrosse, Fire Tech Fire Pump Instructor.  Wills LaCrosse is the owner of LaCrosse Engineering. LaCrosse Engineering specializes in Fire Pump testing and maintenance.

Fire Pumps are a critical safety item in facilities across the world. Their purpose is to make sure a building has Read More

enough water pressure in case of a fire emergency. Of course, the hope is that they are never needed but if they are they need to perform reliably.

Fire Pumps are typically tested on an annual basis. In addition to flows and pressures the mechanical integrity needs to be verified. I typically see the same pumps year after year, however, I am also often called out on pumps I haven’t inspected previously.

There are two standards currently in use for Fire Pumps.

NFPA 20 for new construction
NFPA 25 for ongoing maintenance

Section 6.5.2 NFPA 20 states that pumps and drivers that are coupled should be aligned in accordance with manufacturers specifications and the Hydraulic Institute Standards for Centrifugal, Rotary and Reciprocating pumps. Section NFPA 25 indicates that angular and parallel (offset) alignment of the pump and driver shall be checked during the annual test and that any misalignment shall be corrected.

Here is an example of an alignment check done before the annual flow test. The coupling manufacturer’s maximum allowance was 2.6 mils/in angular and 16 mils offset. The initial check revealed that the misalignment was over 3X the manufacturer’s limit. A precision shaft alignment using the Fixturlaser GO Basic laser system was performed and took less than 30 minutes. The final alignment was left within widely accepted precision tolerances for an 1800 RPM machine (0.7mils/1” angular, 4.0 mils offset) and well below what the coupling manufacturer called for. Both results are shown below.

Initial Check

Final Alignment

I also utilize the Hawk Supervisor to check the mechanical condition of Fire Pump Systems. The Hawk allows me to check the initial condition and the final condition of the system. I receive a diagnosis at the machine in about 10 minutes. Data is compared to ISO specifications and the over health is reported. If problems exist I am given a diagnosis, what it thinks is wrong and recommended corrective actions.

In this example, the initial diagnosis was a bad outboard bearing which required replacement.

The thrust bearing was replaced and the system aligned and a final scan showed everything was acceptable.

In summary, the alignment condition of fire pumps needs to be checked and corrected, if needed, anytime a Fire Pump is serviced. New tools also allow us to not only determine the health of the fire pump but give recommendations on corrective actions.

Save Time. Save Money. Save the Machine.

This  articles original post can be found at:


October 2017, Submitted by Priscilla Duggins, Project Systems Specialist – SimplexGrinnell

When marking up drawings, use this standard multi-color pen system:  Read More

  • red – incorporate items (add)
  • green – delete items
  • blue – comments for information only, not to be added to drawing.
    (Don’t use black, it doesn’t show well on a black and white drawing.)
  • yellow – items marked as “correct”
  • orange – items addressed by drafting (pickups) – to check your own work.

I have worked in the Architectural and Engineering industry for 20 years. The use of the markup color standard used to be the norm; I rarely see this system used anymore. It works and saves a lot of time and money in the end, besides not having the headache of trying to decipher a messy single color markup. It may seem like more work and a lot of hassle, but in the end it will save a lot of time. Also if you do this regularly, you will get used to it and it won’t take you longer. For those who don’t want the inconvenience of carrying and keeping track of multiple pens, there are several brands of multi-color single pens available.

Note from Fire Tech:  We did a little research on the marking system and found several different ways various industries use the marking system.  For a little more information matching the system above, see:


Posted September 2017, by Shawn Lee, Fire Tech Productions Developer & Trainer

When it comes to personal enjoyment in the fire alarm field, my favorite activity is troubleshooting and repairing systems. I enjoy troubleshooting because Read More

it’s a challenge. For me, it’s genuine fun (most times).

There were many times when the problem seemed clear as day.  Just like there were times when I thought it would be easy and it turned out it wasn’t.  Sometimes it was because of something beyond my control, such as building construction.  It made troubleshooting more than a little difficult.  Other times it wasn’t easy to troubleshoot or repair the system because I failed to follow my number one rule of troubleshooting: “Know the system you are working on”.  I want to relay a story about one of those times.

There I was.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was stationed on Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.  It was a very long time ago…1998.  I received a call to report to the base club.  The system went into trouble and the trouble alert was really bugging the club manager.  And since it was dinner time and the building was occupied, I was directed to repair the system.  I arrived, talked with the club manager, and set out to find the problem.  I looked at the circuit board to see how everything was configured (it was Class B) and then I started searching for the problem.

This system was a conventional fire alarm system.  So that I do not unintentionally endorse a manufacturer, I will not tell you who made this panel or what its model name is, but I will say this was a very reliable panel and I had been working with this panel for the last two and half years.  I was very comfortable with it and knew its capabilities well.  In fact, when I was first assigned to the Alarm Maintenance Shop on Kadena in 1997, I spent an extra hour after work each day for a month learning this and other systems.  One of the initiating device circuits was in a trouble condition.  Probably an open in the wiring I thought.  I was confident I would be able to find the problem and be on my way home in no more than an hour.

Two hours later I was still working.  Not able to find the issue.  Fuming.  Muttering to myself.  I was using my tried and true technique of splitting the circuit in half and working towards the problem.  Since it was an open, I knew at some point there would be no voltage on the circuit.  Only, no matter which direction I searched the voltage was always there.  At first, I was a little confused.  Then came agitation.  Later still flat out anger.  Mostly at myself for not being able to get this done.

When I calmed myself down and started thinking clearly again, I decided that maybe the problem wasn’t with the circuit, but perhaps the control panel was causing the issue.  At the very least, if it wasn’t, then I could scratch it off the list of potential problems.  I went back to the control panel and looked at it again to make sure nothing was damaged or looked out of place.  Everything looked like it should.  I checked every fuse with my voltmeter.  All good. I focused on the expansion card. I think I looked at that expansion card for about two seconds when I found the problem.  It wasn’t the circuit board, the expansion card, or even the circuit out in the field.  The problem was me.  I had failed to follow my own rule: “Know your systems”.

Yes, I knew what this model of panel was capable of.  I knew how it operated.  I knew where the fuses were, their ratings, and what they protected.  I knew the panel well.  But I didn’t know THIS system.  The one in the base club.  THIS system had a mixture of Class A and Class B circuits.  THIS system had expansion cards and the circuit I was trying to repair was on one of those expansion cards.  The main circuit board was configured for Class B operation for the bells and the detectors circuits.  Yes, there were bells in that building, not strobes or horn/strobes.  This was 1998, remember? I saw that the main board was configured for Class B when I first examined the panel.  The expansion card with my circuit was configured for Class A.  I didn’t remember checking for that when I first checked out the system.  I made an assumption and got to work.  In the end, that assumption cost me time and about a year off my life due to the mental anguish I caused myself!

Once I realized that I was working with a Class A circuit, I labeled and disconnected one side of the circuit so that system voltage could only flow in one direction.  I then went back into the field and reconnected a few wires I had taken apart.  Now that everything was reconnected except for conductors I purposely left disconnected in the panel, I went back to troubleshooting.  I found the problem within 10 minutes.  I’m not kidding.  It was a bad wiring connection inside a junction box above the ceiling in the kitchen area. The time it took once I figured out the circuit I was troubleshooting was a Class A circuit to getting back in my truck to leave was approximately 45 minutes.  That included talking with the manager to let him know I was done and calling dispatch to tell them I was complete.  If I had known my system, the base club’s fire alarm system, I would have finished the job in less than an hour.

I learned some valuable lessons that day.  Don’t assume you know what’s going on because you’ve worked with a particular system before.  Each system is unique.  Check the control panel thoroughly before going out to the field wiring to troubleshoot.  Make note of how the system you are currently working on is set up.  With today’s systems, that may mean reviewing the programming or the input/output matrix if there is one.  Either way, make sure you know how the system is configured and what it is supposed to do before leaping into the unknown.

As aggravated and upset as I was that day, I look back at that job as one of the best I’ve been on.  I gained some valuable experience.  At the end of the day, I got the system back up 100% and made sure the building occupants and the building itself had a functioning fire alarm system.


Posted August 2017, by Bruce Agan, USAutomatic Fire and Security, as told to Cheryl Ryan

Bruce Agan, a fire sprinkler contractor in Carmel, Indiana, often recruits young hires from high schools and technical colleges.  The following is a story he tells to make known the importance of the fire protection industry….  It is a story that is pertinent to many of us when we make the decision
Read More

to place a loved one in a nursing home facility.  We want our loved one to be safe from unforeseen harm.  Here is Bruce’s story:

There comes a point in time in a person’s life where they need to make the tough decision to put a loved one in a nursing home.  We want to be thorough in seeing what our options are and in finding the place we feel will provide the best care.  One way to do your due diligence is to visit these nursing homes at night.  You will find there are fewer staff on site at 3am, and it is a good idea to see what it is like in the middle of the night.

Imagine you pull into a nursing home at 3am.  You are buzzed in and tell the person that you are there to see what the facility is like at night, as you are trying to find the right nursing home placement for your mother. You ask if you can look around and maybe peek in a couple of rooms to get a feel for the place. There are several corridors, A thru D, and the employee takes you to visit corridor D.  While you are looking around the fire alarm begins to go off– indicating there is a fire somewhere in the facility.  In this scenario, there are not many staff on duty and the facility does not have a sprinkler system.

The fire happens to be in corridor A’s laundry room.  The staff moves into action and they begin to get residents to safety.  The fire department has been notified via the alarm system.  However, keep in mind that there are many residents and not many staff this time of night.  It also takes the fire department, on average, five to fifteen minutes to get to the call.  Furthermore, with certain conditions, fire can double in size every thirty seconds.  So, the staff is having to determine which people to save because the fire is growing and spreading, and the fire department is still rolling to the scene.  Lives will be lost.

Now rewind the story to the fire alarm sounding off at 3am in corridor A.  This time there is a working sprinkler system installed in the nursing home facility.  As the heat from the fire reaches the sprinkler head(s), the sprinkler system activates and begins to douse the fire.  The fire department has received the alert and has been dispatched to the scene.  The staff is moving residents to safety.  A much different outcome—all lives are saved and the fire is contained and put out.  This is the ending to the story that we want.   Our purpose in sharing this story is to inform people about the huge importance of having working sprinkler systems installed in facilities for fire protection.  Share the story—it can save lives!!


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