restrictive requirements in terms
of fire protection, fire separation,
smoke control and ways to protect
the person – what we call 'defend
in place' rather than trying to
Requirements for office buildings are typically straightforward
because, in theory, people working in an office are awake, alert,
oriented, can respond quickly in an
emergency and can self-evacuate.
A high-rise office building will
typically have speakers rather than
the horns you'd find in a shorter
building, Neale adds. "When I
go to a 10-story office building,
I know it's going to have a voice
fire alarm system and it's playing
messages with instructions rather
than just beeping. That also means
there's more maintenance required
for the amplifier."
Those instructions are typically
targeted to whatever floor the fire
is on and the floors above and below it to avoid a stampede of every
floor trying to evacuate at once,
"Let's say I'm in a 50-story
high-rise building and I have a fire
alarm activation on the 37th floor.
Instead of sending a signal to all 50
floors of the building, I can send a
very specific alarm with a follow-up message to people on the 37th
floor, where the alarm originated,
and the floors above and below,
floors 36 and 38," Solomon explains. "Instead of trying to empty
a 50-story building, we're going to
initiate the alarm on three floors.
After it gets attention, the an-
nouncement will come on saying
there's been a fire reported on the
37th floor and direct occupants on
36, 37 and 38 to either relocate to
a lower level or leave the building.
There are options that the NFPA
codes and standards would allow."
In addition to influencing the installation requirements, occupancy
and building type also influence
testing, Neale adds. It's optimal to
conduct the testing when no one
is in the building – for example,
nights or weekends – but that's
probably impossible if you're managing a hospital.
If your building is always occupied, work with the inspection
company to conduct the tests in
phases and move people out of the
testing areas as much as you can.
"There's no requirement that
everything has to be done at the
same time, so we could write a
contract that says I'll inspect 50
percent of the system in January
and 50 percent in July. In a very
large facility, they might do quarterly inspections with 25 percent
of the system at once," Neale says.
"The advantages of that are that
you're having an expert come in
and look at your system every
three months. Some people are un-
der the impression that you've got
to do everything in one shot. Talk
to the fire alarm contractor and
don't be afraid to ask those kinds
3 Tips for Fire Protection
Meeting the bare minimum
required by the IFC or the applicable NFPA codes will make sure
that you stay in compliance, but
that's all. Going beyond the code
requirements in some areas can
help you maintain a safer building
with fewer headaches.
Consider these ideas for making
sure your fire protection system is
fully maintained, code-compliant
and ready to deploy.
1) Make more than one copy of
Aside from the mandatory
inspection, testing and maintenance routine, you need proof that
you're actually doing what you're
required to do. Document every
interaction with your fire protection system, even the simple visual
inspection where you simply look
at the unit and confirm that no
This smoke detector is covered
with a rubber glove, a glaring
(and easily fixable) violation.
A pile of combustible material is stacked dangerously close to the heater
at this fire station.