Bob Vezzani
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Common Sense and Peace of Mind

If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it really happen?

The purpose of a fire alarm system is early detection, coupled with notification to all occupants to evacuate as well as notification to first responders. If a facility has a fire alarm system and does not have it monitored, what is the purpose of that fire alarm system when the business is closed up for the business day? Protection of a property when unoccupied is one of the primary functions of a fire alarm system. It is commonly known that fires double in size every minute, which makes the case for the importance of each second once a fire is detected.

In cases where the building is occupied during the day and a fire breaks out, what assurances can be made that one of the occupants of the building will call first responders? Any automatic fire alarm system will, seamlessly and within seconds, transmit these signals to the central monitoring station for dispatch. A good monitoring service can be the difference between life and death. For the protection of property and the lives of the occupants, every second counts in the event of a fire. The sooner the fire department can arrive onsite, the more likely the building will see a major reduction in property damage. In most cases, insurance companies will require active monitoring services to even issue a policy for a facility that meets the occupancy class and fire code requirements.

Code Requirements – NFPA 101

The main requirements for fire alarm monitoring and who shall be required to maintain active central station monitoring services is listed in NFPA 101 Section 9.6.4.2. It states that fire alarm systems for any occupancy be equipped to transmit notification of a fire alarm or other emergency automatically to the municipal fire department. The table below references the occupancy classes and their requirements. Any new system installation is required to have monitoring services activated before the final acceptance test of that system by the AHJ, and required to be maintained afterward.

Local City Municipal Codes and Enforcement

Each jurisdiction can adopt and enforce any of the current code standards as their own, including the:

  • NFPA code
  • International Fire Code (IFC)
  • International Building Code (IBC)

Often, they will also have supplemental requirements to existing code or completely create their own policies and code around areas left too ambiguous in the adopted code standards or areas where the municipality wants to require more stringent standards. In most cases, the AHJ for this question will be the local fire marshal’s office. In some cases, this could be under the oversight of the Building and Code departments within the municipality. Their job is to enforce the local adopted code standards as well as any specific to that jurisdiction. If unsure of whether your system is required to be monitored, reach out to your local fire marshal and verify.

Grandfathered Systems | Fire Systems Incapable of Sending Monitoring Signals | Elective (Non-Required) Systems

There are no specific requirements on monitoring/notification for structures in which fire alarm systems are not required, unless the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) requires it. However, both NFPA 72 and NFPA 101 require any elective system installed to comply with the same standards as if it was a required system. In almost every case, AHJs in Washington view an elective or non-required fire alarm system through the same lens as a required system – and, will expect and require the building owner to maintain monitoring services, regardless of when it was installed. 

If a fire alarm system was installed during a previous code edition, and the system wasn’t capable of being monitored or was allowed by the fire marshal/building officials (AHJ) to exist as a “local” or non-monitored system, the building owner can elect to not have active monitoring services. However, these exemptions will become null and void if the fire alarm system has to be replaced or is replaced at any point. The system will have to be brought up to current code standards and the property owner will be required to maintain active monitoring services. (NFPA 101: Section 901.4.2 and NFPA 72  Section 23.3.2)

Monitoring Requirements by Occupancy Type (NFPA 101: 9.6.4.2)

Assembly Occupancies

Monitoring and fire department notification is required for any assembly occupancy where the maximum occupant load exceeds 300 people. When required, the building must have someone manning a receiving station where the alarm must send a signal whenever it’s initiated.

New Occupancy

For new occupancies, if the AHJ determines that having a constantly attended receiving station isn’t practical, the owner may instead provide automatically transmitted evacuation or relocation instructions and a system that is monitored by a supervising station. 

Existing Occupancy

For existing occupancies, if the AHJ finds that providing monitoring by a supervising station is impractical, the owner may implement a voice-only announcement. 

Business and Mercantile Occupancies

Monitoring and fire department notification in all new business and mercantile occupancies must follow the requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

Existing businesses and mercantile occupancies are generally not required to meet monitoring requirements until they replace their fire alarms, at which time they will have to install alarms equipped for monitoring and notification as required by NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

Educational Facilities

New educational facilities must meet the monitoring and fire department notification requirements in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4

Wherever the school authorities determine that an actual fire exists, they must immediately call the local fire department using the public fire alarm system or other available facilities. 

They may continue to use this method of notification until it comes time to replace their fire alarm system, at which point they must install a means for monitoring and automatic emergency forces notification that complies with NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

Daycare Facilities

Monitoring and fire department notification for new daycare facilities must follow the requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

All existing daycare facilities except those caring for 100 clients or less, must meet the monitoring and fire department notification requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4

Healthcare Facilities

Monitoring and fire department notification for all new and existing health care facilities must follow the requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

Ambulatory Healthcare Facilities

Monitoring and fire department notification for all new and existing ambulatory health care facilities must follow the requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

Residential Board and Care Facilities

Monitoring and fire department notification in new and existing residential board and care facilities must follow the requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4, if they provide sleeping accommodations for more than 16 residents.

Industrial and Storage Occupancies

Monitoring is required for storage or industrial occupancies only when the building is occupied. Given this, if your storage or industrial facility is rarely occupied, it may be tempting to forgo monitoring. However, doing so is risky business when you consider recent data from the NFPA, which shows that on average, U.S. businesses suffer more than $645 million in property losses each year from fires in their storage facilities alone. Compared to these numbers, the cost of monitoring your storage or industrial facility, even when unoccupied, makes good sense. 

Detention and Correctional Facilities

Monitoring and fire department notification in correctional occupancies must meet the requirements of NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4. However, if the facility has a system that employs a positive alarm sequence or staff who can promptly notify the fire department to monitor the alarm system, no other monitoring is required. 

Likewise, the requirements in Section 9.6.4 do not apply where there is a constantly attended location on site that can promptly notify the fire department or has instead direct communication with a control room that can notify the fire department. In these cases, the procedures for logging alarms and immediate notification of the fire department must be documented in the facility’s fire plan.

Hotels and Dormitories

Monitoring and fire department notification in all new hotels and dormitories must follow the requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

For existing hotels and dormitories, the system must have provisions for the immediate notification of the public fire department by telephone or other means in case of fire. Where there is no public fire department, notification shall be made to the private fire brigade.

Lodging and Rooming Houses

Not addressed.

Apartment Buildings

Monitoring and fire department notification in new and existing apartment buildings must follow the requirements established in NFPA 101, Section 9.6.4.

One and Two Family Dwellings

Not addressed.

About Guardian Security

Guardian Security is the first choice for Seattle smart home technology and home security in the Pacific Northwest. We service public buildings, office buildings, warehouses, homes, schools, hotels, and hospitals. Our customers have included local and national names that you know and trust.