Care Home Managers: Is Your Fire Alarm Loud Enough?

Construction & Contractors Articles

If a fire breaks out in your care home, your first priority is to make sure all your residents, staff members and guests can evacuate as quickly as possible. Your fire alarm plays a vital role in this situation because this sound is often the first indication that people get that something is wrong. As such, having the right type of alarm at the right volume is critical. Learn more about the legal requirements for fire alarm system notification systems, and find out if you are doing enough to keep your care home safe.

Official codes and guidelines

Given the importance of fire safety and the potential loss of life that can occur in a disaster situation, care homes must unsurprisingly meet several legal requirements for fire alarm systems. That aside, some care home managers are unaware of all their legal obligations.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) owns and publishes the National Fire Alarm Code, otherwise known as NFPA 72. Most federal, state and local authorities across the United States use this code as the standard against which they enforce fire safety regulations. That aside, local authorities often adapt the Code to meet special requirements.

Curiously, NFPA 72 does NOT require any business to install a fire alarm notification appliance. If your fire alarm system simply alerted you to the issue via a panel in a control room, you would meet the requirements of NFPA 72. However, other codes do insist on this type of protection.

In fact, it's the International Building Code, International Fire Code and NFPA 101 that set out when you need a fire alarm notification system. Nonetheless, NFPA 72 does outline how to install these systems. What's more, NFPA 72 also tells you how loud you must have your notification system.

Volume of alarm notifications

The International Building Code (applicable in almost every state) says that you need an 'audible' alarm in every occupied space within a building. What's more, in facilities like care homes, you also need visible alarms in public areas. Of course, the definition of audible will vary from one person to another, so you should also refer to NFPA 72 for further guidelines.

These guidelines are not necessarily easy to follow. NFPA 72 states that your notification alarm should sound at a minimum of 15 decibels above the average ambient sound level in your care home or at least five decibels louder than the maximum sound level lasting at least sixty seconds. Of course, few care home managers will have the tools to measure the ambient sound level when the building is occupied, so you'll need expert help to check your notification system is compliant.

Sleeping areas

The NFPA released a new version of NFPA 72 in 2014, which changed the requirements for a notification system in sleeping areas. Previously, the code stated that you would need a minimum of 75 decibels in rooms where people sleep, as you need a louder alarm to wake people up, especially if they are hard of hearing.

Low frequency alarm notification systems are more effective in sleeping areas. Research shows that these systems can more effectively wake people with hearing loss than other solutions like strobe lighting. As such, the latest version of NFPA 72 now mandates that notification systems in all sleeping areas should use low frequency technology.

Exceptions

In consultation with your local fire department, you can agree exceptions to the NFPA 72 guidelines if you don't think they are appropriate for your care home. For example, if the alarm notification is so loud you cannot hear announcements over the public announcement system, you should discuss alternatives with your fire department. In these cases, one safety system interferes with another, which could prove dangerous.

Fire alarm notification systems must meet various legal requirements. Contact your local fire alarm system supplier for expert advice about your notification system. For more information, contact a company like Fyr Fyter Inc.

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11 December 2015

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