An image of an occupant use fire hose and a fire extinguisher.

Fire Safety & Emergency Response

Occupant Use Fire Hoses Should They Stay or Go

As with any maintenance requirement, the intent of small hose inspection and testing is to ensure that they will reliably operate properly when called upon, which is even more critical for emergency response equipment.

An image of an occupant use fire hose and a fire extinguisher.One of the most common questions fire protection and loss control consultants encounter in the field is "Can we take out these small hose reels? We won't use them and they're something else we have to take care of." This is not a question that has a definite yes or no answer, and can vary from company to company, facilities within companies, property insurance carriers, and local authorities' jurisdiction. In order to determine the best advice for a facility, it is important that personnel and those responsible for approving removal understand the following:

  • The potential uses of small hoses and the reason and extent of "we won't use them."
  • The required maintenance and inspection items and their intervals and methods of accomplishing them.
  • Who all must approve the hose removal.

Uses of Small Hoses
Within the fire industry and NFPA standards, the small hoses inside facilities are typically referred to as "Occupant Use Hoses." The use of this terminology is not by coincidence, as the name actually indicates the professional fire service's opinion of these hoses. The hoses inside a facility are specifically for the use of the building occupants, not the fire department. Very seldom if ever will public fire departments plan to or actually use hoses owned and maintained by someone other than themselves. They will use the hose drops to connect their own hoses, but the actual hoses are typically off limits. As the Occupant Use Hoses are just that, for occupant use, it is important to determine the uses available within the facility.

Incipient Fire Fighting
It was once common place in industry to assume that employees would utilize extinguishers and small hoses to put out a small fire. As concerns of liability increase and more standards are available that address industrial fire fighting, more confusion and a stance of total aversion seems to surround the subject of incipient fire fighting.

OSHA 1910.155 defines an incipient fire as "fire which is in the initial or beginning stage and which can be controlled or extinguished by portable fire extinguishers, Class II standpipe or small hose systems without the need for protective clothing or breathing apparatus." By the very definition, incipient firefighting includes use of small hoses. As long as employees are not required to fight a fire, providing training on small hoses and leaving them for incipient use typically does not constitute a structural fire brigade, place the company under OSHA's Fire Brigade standard, or require structural fire brigade worker's compensation insurance. Employee safety is always the first concern. Just because incipient firefighting with hoses is acceptable does not mean it is right for an individual facility. Before choosing whether to or not to allow hose use for incipient firefighting, the facility should closely consider their hazards, resources, and safety issues that can effect this decision.

Special Situations: Impairments and Hot Work
Sprinkler systems must be shut-down for a variety of reasons, including post-fire system repairs, head relocations and additions, and system maintenance. When a system is impaired, often an entire riser is closed off, leaving up to 50,000 sq. ft. of the facility without sprinkler protection. Unsafe hot work is a leading cause of industrial fires. During any hot work activity, it is possible for sparks to smolder for a long period of time and eventually result in a large, uncontrolled fire. One of the key precautions during sprinkler impairments and hot work is to "provide additional manual protection in the area with ready access to portable extinguishers and/or a charged fire hose." While extinguishers are important, they provide only a few seconds of discharge in which to fully extinguish a fire. Charging a small hose from a nearby sprinkler system can greatly improve protection during a sprinkler impairment, or help to provide prompt control for an incipient fire started by hot work. While most insurance and loss control representatives will generally allow occupant use hose removal, it is for these types of situations that they often prefer that the hoses remain in service and properly maintained.

Ensuring Safe and Reliable Operation
As with any maintenance requirement, the intent of small hose inspection and testing is to ensure that they will reliably operate properly when called upon, which is even more critical for emergency response equipment. There is an added dimension to this safety concern with fire hoses as they operate under pressure and a break in a worn and unmaintained hose can lead to a portion of a hose whipping around uncontrolled, possibly causing serious injury. Table 1 provides an overview of the hose inspection and testing requirements as given in NFPA 1962, Standard for the Inspection, Care, and Use of Fire Hose, Couplings, and Nozzles and the Service Testing of Fire Hose.

Table 1: Overview of Key Occupant Use Hose Inspection Requirements (NFPA 1962, 2008 Edition)

Type of Test

Visual Hose, Nozzle, and Coupling Inspection

Hose Pressure Service Test

Interval

Annually and after each use

Within 5 years of manufacture, every 3 years thereafter

Description

In-service hose shall be unracked, unreeled, or unrolled and physically inspected to determine that the hose, couplings, and any nozzle have not been vandalized, are free of debris, and exhibit no evidence of mildew, rot, or damage by chemicals, burns, cuts, abrasion, and vermin. Ensure nozzle controls and adjustments operate properly. Inspect gaskets for presence, tight fit, and deterioration, and couplings for damage, corrosion, rotation, etc.

Using a hose testing machine or fire department apparatus, raise hose pressure slowly to 45 psi and bleed off air, then raise pressure slowly until the service test pressure is attained and maintained for 3 minutes.*

*This is description is only an overview of the process and not intended to fully detail testing. NFPA 1962 should be consulted for a full description of testing procedures and safety concerns.

Getting Testing Completed
The annual inspection involves little more than un-racking, visually inspecting, and re-racking the hoses. No license or special training is required for this inspection and it can be completed in-house in less than 30 minutes of time per hose. If your facility wants to outsource this service, your sprinkler and/or extinguisher contractor can typically complete this inspection for you.

Pressure testing hoses can be a destructive test. For safety reasons a solid working knowledge of the testing procedures and safety precautions is important. Many facilities outsource this service. If you want to do this testing in-house, a good quality hose testing machine can be purchased for less than $3,000 for this purpose. Other than the internal time for testing, the only reoccurring expense would be replacing hoses that fail testing.

One underutilized but possible route to getting testing completed is to ask the local fire department if they will bring their fire truck to your site and assist with this testing. Fire departments must complete this testing of their own hoses and are familiar with the procedures. They also should be visiting your facility routinely for pre-fire planning. Offer to cook or order the battalion a lunch or dinner while they test your hoses, with your assistance, and tour the facility for pre-fire planning. This can help build a stronger relationship mutually beneficial to both parties. In large areas with hundreds of industries, this may not be practical, so don't be surprised if they say no, but in smaller areas, this is often an excellent arrangement.

Replacement versus Testing
One option utilized by some facilities is simply to replace all small hoses every five years, unless they fail visual inspection sooner. After purchase from the manufacturer, the first pressure service test is not required for five years; thereby this route eliminates the need for pressure testing, and also keeps newer, good quality hoses in your facility. Depending on length, a good quality 1.5 inch’ industrial fire hose can be purchased for less than $150, averaging around $100 for cost comparison purposes. For a facility with 20 hoses, an investment of $2000 every five years, or $400 annualized, will keep new hoses on the reels only requiring an annual, in-house visual inspection.

The Annual Pressure Testing Misnomer & Exterior Hose Cabinets
One of the most common reasons for wanting to remove hoses is the cost associated with pressure testing them. One frequent misconception driving up this cost is that occupant use hoses must be pressure tested annually, which is only true for attack and supply hoses, not small occupant use hoses. This annual misconception likely originated from the fact that fire department hoses all must be pressure tested annually, as would hoses in structural brigade hose cabinets still located outside many facilities for fire department and fire brigade use. As the fire department will typically not utilize these exterior hoses, there is little reason to keep or maintain these hoses unless the facility has a full structural fire brigade.

Necessary Approvals for Removal
Corporate Guidelines
With any safety equipment or procedure, your corporate policy should be your first resource. As long as your company policy is at least as stringent as local codes and insurance requirements, the corporate guidelines should be followed. If your corporate policy is that hoses should be kept and maintained, then they should remain and be inspected and maintained at a minimum as discussed in NFPA 1962. If your company guidelines do not require that hoses remain in service, the next step is generally to consult the local fire department and your insurance or loss control representative.

Fire Department: Authority Having Jurisdiction
The second source of authority to check with is the local fire department's fire marshal. In more rural areas served by a volunteer fire department, the local department may have enough resources to give an opinion locally, or they may refer you to the nearest large, full-time department or the state fire marshal's office. Regardless of who ends up being the AHJ, if their position is that hoses should remain per local ordinance, then this is ultimately the local "law" and hoses must remain even if corporate and property insurance guidelines allow removal. As discussed earlier, the public fire service will typically not use these hoses, and their stance is generally that the decision is up to the individual facility. There are certain NFPA Occupancy Standards that do specify a small hoses requirement for the occupancy, such as Aircraft Hangars. As no standard, however, dictates that you must be trained in small hose use and actually use them for incipient firefighting, this can be a grey area and with proper communication between all parties, a decision to allow removal may still be possible.

Property Insurance Requirements
After consulting your corporate safety department and determining that the decision to keep or remove hoses can be made at the facility level, it is a good idea to get an opinion from your property insurance carrier's loss control representative. If your facility's stance is firmly not to touch the hoses under any circumstances and not to conduct any training, often your property insurance representative will not require the hoses remain, assuming the local fire department has the typical stance that they will not use the hoses under any circumstances and defers the decision to the facility for removal.

Conclusions
Once a thorough understanding of the possible uses and maintenance requirements for small hoses is gained, you may decide that the benefit of the hoses is worth the maintenance cost, which may be less than initially thought. If the decision is still to remove the hoses, consulting your company guidelines, property insurance or loss control representative, and local fire marshal can potentially yield a consensus to allow removal.

About the Author

Russ Tanner, CSP, CFPS, CPCU, ARM is a loss control engineer with Matrix Risk Consultants. He holds a B.S. in chemical engineering from Mississippi State University. He worked as a firefighter/EMT through college and has been in the fire protection and risk management field since then.

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