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US Coast Guard proposes major changes to fire protection, detection and extinguishing regulations
Published:  14 January, 2014

Harmonization of Standards for Fire Protection, Detection, and Extinguishing Equipment is the most substantial update since 1952.

The Coast Guard proposes to amend its regulations for the design and approval standards for fire protection, detection, and extinguishing equipment on vessels, outer continental shelf facilities, deepwater ports, and mobile offshore drilling units.

The proposed amendments will:

  • Harmonise Coast Guard regulations with national and international consensus standards;
  • Address advances in fire protection technologies and standards;
  • Update Coast Guard approval processes for fire detection and alarm systems;
  • And revise Coast Guard regulations for other types of equipment or components (eg spanner wrenches, non-metallic pipes, and sprinkler systems).

According to the Rule, these proposed changes are necessary to ensure Coast Guard regulations remain current and address advances in technology. The Coast Guard fire protection, detection, and extinguishing equipment regulations addressed in this NPRM have not been updated substantially since 1952 and do not reflect the latest industry practices or technologies.

Summary – grouped by equipment type/topic

Fire detection and alarm systems

  • Provide vessels with the option to meet either the applicable International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Fire Safety Systems (FSS) Code requirements, or updated Coast Guard regulations for the design and installation of fire detection and alarm systems. These proposed changes would provide vessel owners and/or operators and designers greater flexibility in fire detection and alarm system design for US domestic vessels.
  • Consolidate and update the fire detection and alarm system requirements in 46 CFR subchapter H (passenger vessels). These changes would also affect 46 CFR subchapters C, I, K, and T vessels where the regulations refer to subchapter H for fire detection and alarm system requirements. The consolidation of these requirements would make it easier for industry to locate and meet these requirements. The proposed updates reflect advancements in the fire detection and alarm systems industry, which include development of digital technology and modern seamless electronic technology for the much larger land-based market. The Coast Guard would not require retrofitting of currently installed systems, but would require any modifications to installed systems or new installations to comply with the updated requirements after a 2.5-year compliance period.
  • Revise Coast Guard approval processes for fire detection and alarm systems by allowing manufacturers of fire detection and alarm systems equipment the option of seeking approval for an entire system or an individual device; making approval processes easier for manufacturers by allowing some approval tests to be completed by an approved third party nationally recognised testing laboratory (NRTL); and requiring the use of the most current and widely used national consensus standards for approval of fire detection and alarm systems, as specified by this rulemaking. These revisions would allow for an easier replacement of individual devices and open the market to small manufacturers or to those dedicated to making components but not producing all components necessary for a complete detection system. They would also provide manufacturers more flexibility and options for choosing a laboratory; and align Coast Guard regulations with the most up-to-date national consensus standards that are already widely used by the fire detection industry.

Fire extinguishers

  • Replace the Coast Guard's weight-based rating system for fire extinguishers with the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) performance-based rating system. Adopting the national industry standard rating system would streamline the selection, inspection, and approval processes for marine fire extinguishers.
  • Revise maintenance requirements for fire extinguishers by adopting National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 10 “Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers” (2010 Edition), which requires certified personnel to conduct annual fire extinguishing equipment maintenance. NFPA 10 distinguishes between monthly inspections (a visual check) and annual maintenance (a thorough inspection of materials and components, and associated repairs). Vessel crewmembers could continue to perform monthly inspections, however, a certified person would be required to conduct annual maintenance. This proposed change would align Coast Guard regulations with the current industry practice of having annual maintenance performed by commercial servicing companies.
  • Codify use of UL standards for testing and labeling of fire extinguishers. These standards provide detailed, technical requirements for construction, performance, testing, packaging, and marking of the specific type of extinguisher. This proposed change would align Coast Guard regulations with current industry practice.
  • Reduce the number of spare portable fire extinguishers required on vessels traveling domestic routes. This change is proposed because of the proposed enhanced maintenance requirements that would result in more reliable spares, as well as making new spares more easily obtainable.

Fire protection equipment approvals

  • Add new specification subparts in 46 CFR subchapter Q to address existing and new approval series for fire protection equipment and components required for use on SOLAS ships. The new approval series would codify the standards and procedures currently used by industry to obtain Coast Guard approval for fire protection equipment and components required on SOLAS ships. The new approval series would set forth design, construction, testing, and performance requirements for the affected equipment and components satisfying SOLAS requirements.
  • Codify an alternative path to Coast Guard approval through an existing Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) to which the US is a party, allowing for Coast Guard approvals of certain fire protection equipment issued by another nation that is party to the MRA. This proposed change would reduce manufacturer costs and burdens associated with duplicative testing and evaluation for multiple national approvals.

Feedback should be received by 14th April 2014. To comment on the proposed changes, click here.