From the Chief’s Corner: A Deeper Dive into Secondary Power Source Batteries...

Chief Alan Perdue

By Chief Alan Perdue (ret.), SBC Executive Director

Posted on January 31, 2023

Last week I had the opportunity to take a few days off before the 2023 SBC seminar circuit kicks off in Miami, FL and then takes us to 21 other cities across the US and Canada. During our time away, we did some snorkeling. To really see what’s beneath the water’s surface it’s best to dive down where you get up close and personal with some neat looking fish, colorful reefs, and other sites that truly come to life. Later as I was reflecting on that experience, I thought about a little detail related to the ERCES secondary power supplies that’s typically not discussed in too much detail... the battery itself.

So, let’s talk about some best practice aspects of that often “out of sight out of mind” critical piece of the overall ERCES power supply. NFPA 1225 2022 edition states the following in section 18.13.2:

18.13.2 Secondary Power Source.

The secondary power source shall consist of one of the following:

(1) A storage battery dedicated to the system with 12 hours of 100 percent system operation capacity.

(2) An alternative power source of 12 hours at 100 percent system operation capacity as approved by the AHJ.

(3) A 2-hour standby battery and connection to the facility generator power system, providing the facility generator power system can support the complete system load for 12 hours.

These 12 hours of storage batteries that are dedicated to the system are vital to ensuring the system is operational just like they are in fire alarm systems. In fact, because the batteries utilized within a fire alarm system are so critical NFPA 72, The National Fire Alarm Code includes requirements within section 10.6.10 specifically dedicated to storage batteries: 

10.6.10 * Storage Batteries. Marking. 

Batteries shall be marked with the month and year of manufacture using the month/year format. 

Where the battery is not marked with the month/year by the manufacturer, the installer shall obtain the date-code and mark the battery with the month/year of battery manufacture.

Now it’s important to note that although 10.6.10 is not specifically referenced as a requirement as it relates to ERCES, it does serve to offer a “best practice” of what can be done when providing storage batteries to comply with the secondary power source for the ERCES. So why is knowing the month and year of battery manufacture so important?

It deals with ensuring the secondary power supply is reliable. Just like how batteries in our vehicles, electronics, tools, and other everyday equipment go bad, so do those used for power supplies in life safety systems. Batteries need to be inspected as required by testing requirements. Those inspections need to check for defects such as corrosion, leaking, bulges, cracks in the battery case and ensure connections are properly secured. Batteries also need to be load tested to determine actual capacity and be replaced in accordance with the manufacturer's guidelines. Backup batteries must be tested annually under load for a minimum period of 1 hour.

Properly marking the batteries with the month and year of manufacturer not the date of installation is an important part of the secondary power supply process. It is vital to track the actual age of the batteries. Manufacturers guidelines will often note that batteries that exceed certain age limits have reductions in rated capacity and other important operational functions, and need to be replaced.

I have heard some folks say, none of that stuff is necessary, if something go wrong there is a supervisory signal that lets us know if there is a problem. Not true… being proactive when it comes to inspecting and maintaining life safety systems is always the best practice. The supervisory aspect of the monitoring integrity of power sources in NFPA 1225 section 18.13.3 and is definitely not a substitute for the proper inspection of batteries throughout the life of the system.  

18.13.3 Monitoring Integrity of Power Sources.

Monitoring the integrity of power sources shall be in accordance with 

The primary and secondary power sources supplied to all required circuits and devices of the system shall be monitored for integrity.

When it comes to life safety systems installed within a building, take the deep dive to ensure you performed all the necessary steps to ensure the ERCES is properly maintained and operational. Winston Churchill said, “attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference”. Attitudes about going above and beyond during the inspection and maintenance of an ERCES certainly fall into that category. 

Always remember, someone’s life may depend on your actions or lack thereof, so do the right thing each and every time… #feelsafeinside

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