NFPA 1: Requirements for smoke alarms and Fire Prevention Week, #FireCodefridays

Hello – Happy Friday!  Today's topic comes to you from Val Ziavras, a Fire Protection Engineer at NFPA.  Special thanks to Val for her contribution to this blog and discussing one of the many subjects addressed in the Fire Code.

This week is Fire Prevention Week (FPW) and the campaign is “Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere.” For those of you who aren't familiar with FPW, check out the FPW webpage and last week's Fire Code Friday for some additional information.  In honor of FPW, we are going to focus on home fire safety issues in the Fire Code again this week, more specifically the provisions for smoke alarms. 

The “Listen,” portion of the campaign is to remind people to listen for the sound of the smoke alarm.  Today, residences are filled with furnishings and contents made mostly of plastics and synthetic materials and responding quickly to the sound of the smoke alarm is more important than ever.  A resident may have as little as one to two minutes to escape safely from the time the smoke alarm sounds.  Flashover can happen much faster than it used to.  For a look at how much faster, check out this side by side comparison of modern room furnishings and 1970s room furnishings.  

The smoke alarm requirements in the Fire Code are primary extracted from two source documents, NFPA 101 (The Life Safety Code) and NFPA 72 (The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code).  NFPA 101 is going to regulate where smoke alarms are required while NFPA 72 is going to regulate how they are installed.  Section 13.7.2 of the Code addresses the occupancy specific requirements for fire alarm and smoke alarms. Typically, smoke alarms are required where we expect to find occupants sleeping.  For example, Section of the Code requires smoke alarms or a smoke detection system in new and existing one- and two-family dwellings.  Section requires that smoke alarms be installed in all sleeping rooms, outside of each separate sleeping area, in the immediate vicinity of the sleeping rooms, and on each level of the dwelling unit, including basements.  Other occupancies that also require smoke alarms in some capacity per NFPA 1 are day care homes, lodging or rooming houses, hotels and dormitories, apartment buildings, board and care facilities. (See Section 13.7.2 for the specific conditions for each occupancy.)

Section of the Fire Code contains general installation criteria for smoke alarms including requirements for the interconnection of smoke alarms in new construction and more specific requirements for where smoke alarms should be installed.  Interconnecting smoke alarms is important because it helps ensure that occupants can hear the alarm even if doors are closed or if the smoke alarm that operates is on a different level. 

While the Life Safety Code will tell you what rooms/areas need smoke alarms, NFPA 72 provides additional guidance on installation criteria and identifies an area of exclusion.  The area of exclusion includes a 10 ft. radial distance from a stationary or fixed cooking appliance, think stoves.  Any smoke alarm installed between 10 ft. and 20 ft. from a stationary or fixed cooking appliance needs to be equipped with an alarm-silencing means or use photoelectric detection.  The Code does outline some exceptions for situations where a smoke alarm that uses photoelectric detection can be installed closer than 10 ft., but not less than 6 ft.  In addition to cooking appliances, the Code also specifies a minimum distance from a door to a bathroom containing a shower or tub.  Unless the smoke alarm is specifically listed for close proximity to such an area, a distance of at least 36 inches should be provided.  The Code specifically outlines an area of exclusion to minimize the chance of nuisance alarms.  By reducing the number of nuisance alarms, building occupants are less likely to remove or disable a smoke alarm that is there to protect them.

Fire inspectors play a critical role in educating the public about smoke alarms and their importance.  Whether through generic home inspections, public education efforts, or design and review work, those that enforce the Code can have a big impact on home fire safety.

With Fire Prevention Week drawing to a close, everyone can remember to take steps to better protect themselves and the public.  Test smoke alarms and make sure they are less than 10 years old.  Working smoke alarms will provide early notification of a fire.  Also, be sure to create a home fire escape plan!  Knowing two ways out of every room in the event of an emergency is important.

Thanks for reading, Happy Friday!

You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA

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Kristin Bigda
Technical Lead and Principal Fire Protection Engineer with a focus on building and life safety related content.

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