Fire tanks are an important part of the infrastructure that supports firefighters around the globe. These tanks are found at residential, commercial, industrial and institutional sites. Some fire tanks are used to supplement a building’s available standard water pressure during a fire emergency, while others provide the direct water supply for a building’s internal sprinkler system. Obviously, the condition of these tanks is a major part of a building’s fire safety plan.
There are a number of industry and regulatory standards for fire tank construction, installation, and inspection. In the United States, the National Fire Protection Agency has two important standards: NFPA 22, which establishes the requirements for the design, construction, installation, and maintenance of tanks and accessory equipment that supply water for private fire protection, and NFPA 25, which sets standards for the inspection, testing, and maintenance of water-based fire protection tanks and systems. Other industry standards include the Factory Manual (FM) standard and American Water Works Association (AWWA) standard.
These standards exist in a patchwork system of governmental, insurance, and industry mandates and policies, so it is difficult to make general statements about which regulations are going to apply to which facilities. As in real estate, a great deal boils down to “location, location, location” – where you are and what your facilities does will control what regulatory regime(s) you are subject to. However, probably the single most widespread requirement is also the most onerous for tank owners, and that is the requirement for periodic inspections of the inside of the tank.
Inspections look at a wide variety of tank conditions, including (but not limited to) internal corrosion, the condition of suction inlets and vortex inhibitors, roof supports, vermin infestation, the condition of tie rods and liners, ultrasonic or electronic testing of tank wall thickness, dry film thickness testing, paint adhesion, and more. In addition, inspections are often also combined with repair work to fix problems that the inspection uncovers.
How often are tanks required to be inspected? In the United States, NFPA 25 sets a requirement for a complete internal inspection every five years, a fairly typical value. Each country has its own legal requirements, however, and it is important to check your own local laws and regulations to know the inspection interval.
Rules and regulations can change, sometimes very quickly, and those changes can have enormous impacts. For example, in Australia, the regulatory standard is known as AS1851, and it recently changed the inspection interval for fire tanks from every ten years to every year – a tenfold increase in required inspections! Given that Australia has approximately 20,000 water tanks, this is a massive increase in the inspection workload. Fortunately, the standard also permits the use of ROVs as an alternative to human divers for inspections, meaning that Australian tank inspection companies can now leverage their human divers with an ROV fleet. This will permit them to greatly increase the efficiency and decrease the cost of tank inspections. Aquabotix ROVs make an excellent addition to any tank inspection service, providing new capabilities, reducing the cost of existing capabilities, and increasing the reach and flexibility of human divers.