Considering the aging of America, I expect healthcare to continue to be a growth market. If you decide this is a market segment you want to develop with respect to fire alarm systems book of business, you will find there are much larger and more complicated fire alarm systems being installed in new healthcare properties and upgrades in existing buildings.
What are the healthcare fire alarm codes to know?
This article will address new healthcare occupancies. The code that applies to this market segment include NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, but it is also governed by NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. NFPA 101 applies regardless of the building code adopted in the jurisdiction, and NFPA 101 Section 9.6 trumps NFPA 72. NFPA 72 is referenced throughout the Life Safety Code but is modified in some areas of 101 using Section 9.6. This is an important nuance that many designers and contractors do not consider.
For starters, NFPA 101 requires a fire alarm system in all healthcare facilities. This code has more stringent (in most cases) smoke detection options, and in some cases, allowances to lessen certain requirements when the building structure has additional fire resistance and when it is protected by an automatic sprinkler system. It is impossible to cover in a short article all the requirements or options for detection and fire alarm system design, but I will highlight some of what I believe will show why you need to own a copy of NFPA 101 or subscribe to NFPA LiNK to view it.
NFPA 72 requires manual pull stations on each level and at each exit of a building. Healthcare facilities allow for changes to this requirement. In patient sleeping areas of healthcare facilities, manual pull stations are not required at exits if they are located at all nurses’ control stations or other continuously attended staff locations, provided that the manual fire alarm boxes are visible and continuously accessible and travel distances required by NFPA 72 are not exceeded.
Smoke alarms are required to be installed near all cooking areas for residential healthcare facilities serving 30 or fewer occupants, but NFPA 101 modifies that requirement to allow installation of system smoke detectors programmed to operate like a smoke alarm in place of the require smoke alarms.
There is a trend to use board and care facilities to serve the healthcare requirements of certain occupants, and fire alarm systems and smoke alarms (within the sleeping unit) are required. Although not mentioned in NFPA 101 specifically, system smoke detectors that operate as smoke alarms in those area would appear to be acceptable, and this is certainly a better design.
NFPA 101 allows positive alarm sequence that operates in accordance with NFPA 72, Section 126.96.36.199.1.1. It is important to remember that, in most cases, patients cannot respond to an alarm condition, so the design using audible alarms on patient floors is not recommend in patient rooms. A chime tone audible only to the staff who are trained in responding to fire alarms is a much more acceptable design. No notification appliances should be designed or installed in patient rooms. On floors where there are newborns, the use of strobes as notification should be designed and installed at the nurses’ stations only. Also, NFPA 101 allows audible alarm signals to be replaced by visible alarm-indicating appliances in critical care areas.
Emergency forces notification is required in hospitals, and the fire alarm system must be arranged to transmit the alarm automatically through any of the following means acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction and must be in accordance with NFPA 72:
- Auxiliary fire alarm system
- Central station fire alarm system
- Proprietary supervising station fire alarm system
- Remote supervising station fire alarm system
Hospital corridors are required to be separated from all other areas by partitions complying with NFPA 101, but when they are not, then system smoke detectors must be designed and installed. The system smoke detector requirement also applies to all waiting areas.
In a limited care facility, group meeting or multipurpose therapeutic spaces are permitted to open to the corridor, if all the following criteria are met:
“(a) The space is not a hazardous area.
“(b)* The space is protected by an electrically supervised automatic smoke detection system in accordance with 18.3.4, or the space is arranged and located to allow direct supervision by the facility staff from the nurse’s station or similar location.
“(c) The space does not obstruct access to required exits.”
Finally, Chapter 9, Section 9.6 of the Life Safety Code requires that “To ensure operational integrity, the fire alarm system shall have an approved maintenance and testing program complying with the applicable requirements of NFPA 70 and NFPA 72.”
Fire alarm system impairment procedures also need to comply with NFPA 72.
Healthcare facilities can be a lucrative market. However, if you choose to develop this market for your book of business, it is imperative you have a good understanding of NFPA 101 and the building construction.