How NFPA 72 and 101 can work together to protect children in school
NFPA Journal®, September/October 2012
Both the model building codes and the 2012 edition of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, address the fire alarm system requirements for our children’s schools. The codes generally require a manual fire alarm system that initiates the occupant notification signal. An emergency voice/alarm communications system uses a tone signal or a system of standard audible notification appliances arranged to sound the Temporal Code 3 pattern as defined in the 2013 edition of NFPA 72®, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. Most jurisdictions also require visible notification appliances.
While a fire alarm system by itself does not suppress a fire, it does provide features important to the safety of our children while they are in school. First, it will sound an evacuation alarm throughout the building to notify the students and faculty of a fire. The operation of manual pull stations, smoke detectors, or an automatic sprinkler system may initiate this notification.
Second, the fire alarm system will transmit an alarm to the fire department, either directly or through a supervising station as defined in NFPA 72. The system can also contain the smoke generated by a fire by automatically closing smoke dampers in the HVAC system and releasing smoke and fire doors, further confining the advance of the fire and reducing the smoke movement in exit pathways.
The Life Safety Code contains a unique requirement in Paragraph 18.104.22.168.1.4: “To prevent students from being returned to a building that is burning, the recall signal shall be separate and distinct from any other signals, and such signal shall be permitted to be given by use of distinctively colored flags or banners.” The code also requires that the controls of a recall signal that uses electrical means be locked and only available to the school principal or another designated person. This feature is intended to prevent a recall of children into a building that still has an actual fire condition.
NFPA 101 and NFPA 72 allow schools to use the fire alarm system for purposes other than fire. Paragraph 22.214.171.124.1.3 of NFPA 101 states that, where installed and operated per NFPA 72, the fire alarm system “shall be permitted to be used for other emergency signaling or for class changes.” Paragraph 126.96.36.199 of the 2013 edition of NFPA 72 permits schools equipped with an in-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications system to use the system for paging, class changes, background music, or mass notification of other emergencies. When a school chooses to install a voice system, the designer may place speakers outside the building at each entrance to provide the recall feature found in NFPA 101.
If the installer equips the speakers in each classroom or office with a volume control to adjust the loudness of the sound transmission, the code requires that the system designer ensure that an emergency signal will override the volume controls. Paragraph 188.8.131.52.2 of NFPA 72 requires that “upon activation of an emergency signal, the system shall override any local volume setting to deliver the emergency signal at a preset volume.” The preset volume setting will be established through testing and acceptance of the code-required sound level and speech intelligibility for the system.
The 2013 edition of NFPA 72 will be available in mid-October. For more information, visit the NFPA 72 document information page at nfpa.org/72.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE, is a principal with Hughes Associates.