When is a fire alarm system required for Group E Occupancies?
“It’s time for school”
Most of us have heard this as a kid growing up or is currently saying it to our own children. Today we will focus on the requirements for Group E educational occupancies.
Group E occupancies include among others, the use of a building or structure, or a portion there-of, by 6 or more persons at any one time for educational purposes through the 12th grade.
Group E occupancies also include daycare facilities occupied by more than five children older than 2 1/2 years of age who received educational, supervision or personal care services for fewer than 24 hours per day.
Based on the two definitions above, we can see that group E educational occupancies accommodate the age group of 2-1/2 Years through 18 years of age (on average).
For today’s Group E occupancy example, we are discussing requirements based on the International Building Code, which is the most popular model building code in the United States. If your jurisdiction differs from the IBC, the answer lies in your own code path under your adopted building code.
Also, if the state you’re working in has specific requirements for educational occupancies, there may be some additional requirements. As an example, in the state of California, all public education construction is governed by the division of state architect, commonly referred to as the DSA. it is very important if you are designing a fire alarm system for a group E occupancy that you verify compliance with all state agency amendments to the model code.
IBC CHAPTER 9
Let’s again look for Chapter 9, Section 907.2, which details fire alarm requirements across each occupancy type.
Section 907.2.3 provides us with our requirements for educational occupancy fire alarm systems. A manual fire alarm system which initiates the occupant notification signal utilizing an emergency voice/alarm communication system meeting the requirements of Section 907.5.2.2 and installed in accordance with Section 907.6 shall be installed In Group E occupancies. If the building is protected by an automatic sprinkler system or smoke detection system, they shall be connected to the building fire alarm system.
There are a number of exceptions that apply to this base requirement:
Number one, a manual fire alarm system is not required in group E occupancies with an occupant load of 50 or less. If we have a small building with a very low occupant load, then a fire alarm system is not mandated.
Number 2, emergency voice alarm communication systems are not required in group E occupancies with occupant loads of 100 or less provided the activation of the manual fire alarm system initiates an approved occupant notification signal. Here, if the building has relatively few occupants, then the building code is allowing a horn/strobe system instead of a voice-type system.
Number 3 manual fire alarm boxes are not required in Group E occupancies where all of the following apply:
Interior corridors are protected by smoke detectors.
Auditoriums, cafeterias, gymnasiums and similar areas are protected by heat detectors or other approved detection devices.
Shops and laboratories involving dust or vapors are protected by heat detectors or other approved detection devices.
This exception is removing manual pull stations where we have automatic detection in other areas.
Number 4 manual fire alarm boxes shall not be required in Group E occupancies where all of the following apply:
The building is equipped throughout with an approved automatic sprinkler system.
The emergency voice/alarm communication system will activate on sprinkler water flow.
Manual activation is provided from a normally occupied location.
This exception is removing manual pull stations for sprinklered buildings with voice systems and one pull station in a normally-occupied location, like a front desk.
Please keep in mind exceptions #3 and 4 require that all of the listed requirements are addressed. We can’t take the exception if we don’t meet every one of these line items.
SCHOOL BUILDING EXAMPLES
Let’s look at three different school buildings and see what would be required for fire alarms.
First, a historic one room school house on a national registry which is used for field trips with up to 40 students and staff. Second, a neighborhood single-story elementary school with six classrooms and 94 occupants. It’s not sprinklered. Lastly, a two-story fully-sprinklered high school with 1,400 occupants.
First, for each, we confirm the occupancy type. Education in each case, although perhaps a couple others, could be argued for the historic schoolhouse depending on its precise intended use.
Second, we go to the IBC Section 907.2 and read the subsections for our occupancy. This is the same process we use for other occupancies, and the same process as sprinkler requirements, just in Section 907.2 instead of 903.2.
Third, we compare the requirements against the building. The schoolhouse with only 40 people doesn’t require a fire alarm system under the IBC using Exception 1.
The elementary school requires a system, but not a voice system. We can have horn/strobes throughout.
Last is the high school, where we need an emergency voice/occupant evacuation type system (or just a voice system in normal terms) throughout the building. If we take Exception 4 to remove most pull stations, we need to be sure that the system will activate on waterflow and that at least one pull station is still in a normally occupied area.
Each of these three scenarios would provide a code-compliant approach for fire alarms under the IBC.
Last, we always need to check locally adopted code amendments, or things like state-mandated requirements that we discussed earlier.
It is imperative That you understand what the state, county, city or local authority having jurisdiction requirements are prior to starting any design involving group E occupancies. Our company has been involved with the design of multiple K through 12 Fire alarm systems over the past 18 years, there were many lessons learned in the beginning by not having a full understanding of the DSA requirements such as providing heat detectors above all ceilings where Sprinklers or smoke detectors are not installed. It is not a good feeling to receive a plan check comment indicating you missed multiple initiating devices which require you to go back and redo your entire design, this not only cost the company money as the additional hours spent on redesign were not factored in to the original pricing on the job, you also risk losing confidence from your client. So, please do your research and find out all of the applicable requirements for your design.
In our very first segment of this series, we discussed the specific drivers for fire alarm system requirements as being determined by the number of occupants, the capabilities of the occupants and the height of the building.
Group E occupancies primary driver is the capability of the occupants as the age group from preschool through the 8th grade depends heavily on adult supervision to assist in the evacuation. An EVACS system is ideal for this environment as the prerecorded or live voice message broadcast through a speaker system is much less likely to cause panic and distress among the younger population. The standard Temporal-3 horn/strobe notification can be quite startling, even for adults.
Hope you enjoyed this high-level discussion on educational occupancy minimum fire alarm system requirements. Our next segment will be the last in this series, we will discuss the model code fire alarm system requirements for Group R residential occupancies.
I am Al Yakel, and this is Meyer Fire University.
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