Regulations for public places and amusement parks

Attempting to design a fire alarm system for an amusement park can be as daunting to some as riding a roller coaster. As with any fire alarm system, there are numerous codes and standards the designer and installer must follow to ensure a code-compliant installation. The first place to look for assistance in determining the minimum requirements for a fire alarm system installation in these types of occupancies is your state building code or National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101-2003, the Life Safety Code.

An amusement park can consist of special buildings, outside rides or other outside attractions. Unless a ride is inside a building, the only form of fire alarm applicable will be manual fire alarm boxes distributed in the vicinity of a staffed area, possibly at the entrance to the ride. This will provide a quick, convenient way to notify ride participants and occupants in the vicinity of the ride as well as a more direct notification to the fire department during a fire emergency. However, if the ride has electrical or other fire hazards throughout its length, then some form of linear heat detection may be in order.

Special amusement buildings, regardless of occupant load, must meet the requirements for assembly occupancies and the requirements of section 12.4.7 as outlined in the Life Safety Code. This means a manual fire alarm system, monitoring of the required automatic sprinkler system and notification of the occupants using some voice communication system. In some cases, with the permission of the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ), the unsupervised building public address system may be used for occupant instructions during a fire alarm condition. In most cases, a fire alarm/voice evacuation system designed and installed in accordance with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, will be required.

The Life Safety Code also requires that where the nature of the special amusement building is such that it operates in reduced lighting levels, the building shall be protected throughout by an approved automatic smoke detection system in accordance with Section 9.6 of the code. This smoke-detection requirement is in addition to the required automatic sprinkler system. As with most assembly occupancies, the actuation of any smoke-detection system device must be designed to sound an alarm at a constantly attended location on the premises to avoid a panic situation. In assembly occupancies where the alarm sounds only at a constantly attended location, voice announcements are made either automatically through a digital recording device or by the person at the location. Unless the AHJ allows the use of the unsupervised PA system, the voice- announcement feature must be designed in accordance with the audibility and intelligibility requirements of NFPA 72. What the designer and installer of these voice-announcement systems should know is that more speakers will be required than what normally may be used for a standard general evacuation system. Of course, it is expected that the PA system will meet the same audibility and intelligibility requirements to meet the same occupant notification goals.

Environmental considerations are also important when designing a fire alarm system for a special amusement building. Temperature, visual effects (such as theatrical smoke) and infrequent cleaning all can lead to nuisance alarms. Some unusual mandates for special amusement buildings include requirements that the fire alarm system, when actuated, must automatically increase the illumination of the lighting in the means of egress and automatically stop any conflicting or confusing sounds and visuals.

Further in special amusement buildings where mazes, mirrors or other designs are used to confound the egress path, approved directional exit markings that become apparent in an emergency shall be provided. Although not a specific requirement of the code, some of the directional marking systems available today can be activated by the fire alarm system. This fire safety function could prove very helpful to those disoriented by the environment.

Other public places include bowling alleys, exhibition halls, sports arenas, stadiums, and amusement halls, such as shooting galleries, arcades and bingo halls.

Sports arenas and stadiums often have well-designed sound systems to ensure the fans can hear the play-by play clearly even when they are cheering on the home team. Although the system may not be supervised or monitored electrically for integrity, it surely will be maintained and monitored physically by the owner to ensure the fans are satisfied.

Each of these public areas requires unique fire alarm system requirements and is characterized by the presence or potential presence of crowds, with attendant panic hazard in case of fire or other emergency. Contractors are forewarned that a typical standard building approach will not be adequate; but once again, if they plan the system installation in advance and work closely with an experienced designer, a code-compliant and profitable project will result. EC

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.