Properly functioning fire detection and alarm systems are essential life protection elements of high-rise buildings. These are designed to work in harmony to identify potential emergencies, alert the occupants, and direct an orderly evacuation. Simultaneously, emergency first responders should be alerted to the problem in order to arrive at the scene quickly to ensure occupants are safe and proceed to eliminate the problem.
In a high-rise building or campus of large buildings, the design, installation, maintenance, and fire system inspection of the complex networks that perform these functions are critical. Expert fire safety companies are trained and certified to provide, program, and service these complex systems to ensure the safety of all occupants and comply with any fire system inspection.
Local authorities require that all fire safety systems are always maintained properly. Fire marshals during a fire system inspection must certify that all detectors and alarms are fully operational before issuing occupancy permits. After that, local authorities usually require at least one annual certification and a documented fire safety inspection. Authorities may even perform an unscheduled review if they choose.
A fully operational fire safety system is essential. Avoiding a disaster should be a top-of-mind priority for any building owner or manager. The potential degree of a fire disaster in a high-rise design increases as each additional story is added and more occupants are anticipated.
NFPA Studies and Standards
The National Fire Protection Association has established more than 300 different codes intended to limit injury, death, property damage, and economic loss related to fires due to a number of different hazards and causes. Their November 2016 Abstract describes recent discussions and studies regarding high-rise building fires and emergency situations. The findings are:
- Between 2009 and 2014, fire departments responded to 14,500 structural fire emergencies.
- During each of those 5 years, there were an average of 40 deaths, 520 injuries, and $154 million in property damage.
- Good news for high-rise owners and managers is that high-rise buildings with automatic fire detection equipment experienced a lower death rate per thousand fire emergencies than low-rise buildings of the same use.
These facts, gathered by the NFPA, highlight the absolute necessity and benefit of a sophisticated fire detection and notification systems to ensure the safety of all employees and occupants. This information also highlights the importance of a regular fire system inspection.
Some other pertinent statistics from the 2016 NFPA report are that fires in high-rise buildings were less likely to spread from the room of origin than they are in lower height structures. Also, in every category (apartments, hotels, dormitories, office buildings, and healthcare facilities), fires were less likely to spread in a high-rise to another floor than in shorter buildings.
In this study, kitchens and cooking areas were the leading cause of fire outbreak in both high-rise buildings (40%) and low-rise buildings (42%). Clearly, fire and smoke detection and fire system inspection should focus on these areas of any building.
Regular Maintenance and Testing: Fire Safety Companies
The principal ongoing responsibility of an expert fire safety company is the maintenance, testing and fire system inspection of the building’s entire system. Devices age and collect dust over time, and these should be inspected, cleaned, and replaced, as needed. Regular monitoring and testing ensure the system will work when needed and provide peace of mind for the occupants of the building.
Professional certified fire safety companies, like High Rise Security Systems in Chicago, the home of many high-rise buildings, offer ongoing preventative maintenance service and fire system inspection to their clients. Regularly and economically, HRSS technicians inspect each element of the system, as well as test and clean, to ensure the systems are in perfect working order.
And, as a certified fire safety company, HRSS provides recognized documentation to the local fire authorities that a thorough annual fire system inspection has been conducted.
Local Fire Authority Inspections
Building owners and managers should further prepare for building fire system inspections by reading and learning the contents of three publications. These are the:
The publications include all the requirements and priorities of a safe building with suggestions to better prepare for a fire system inspection and to minimize fire safety risks.
Another resource by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) is their Guidelines to Developing Emergency Action Plans For All Hazard Emergencies in High-Rise Office Buildings. This free downloadable guide offers building managers a helpful tool to keeping the building safe, passing the fire system inspection, and maintaining the best possible environment.
For Chicago high-rises, the city produces fire prevention bureau inspection manuals. These contain all necessary guidelines to ensure your building is safe and certifiable. Reviewing the process with a fire safety company, High Security Systems in Chicago, for example, will help you to identify any deficiencies before they become a problem. The manuals include chapters on:
- High Rise Inspection Guide Overview
- High Rise Control Panels
- Exit Guides
- Fire Door Violations
- Sprinkler Systems
- Flammable Liquids
- Flammable Compressed Gasses
- Exit Signs
- Heat Detectors
- Construction Materials
- Communication Systems
- Roof Access
- Emergency Generators and Backup
- Vent Systems and Air Handling
- Refuse Chutes
- Types and Number of Fire Extinguishers
- Sprinkler Systems
- And More
It is clear that fire system inspections are very complex. Only a licensed and certified fire safety company should review this for you to ensure that your building is in full compliance.
For peace of mind, fire safety professionals should continually inspect and maintain the fire safety system while looking for any potential hazards within the facility. These specialists understand the risks of certain inadvertent violations and will help you keep your building fully compliant.
Chicago Authority Inspection and Sprinkler Requirements
As of January 2017, Chicago’s High Rise Sprinkler and Life Safety Evaluation ordinances required advanced safety retrofits to high-rise buildings erected before 1975. Non-landmark high-rise buildings are required to install sprinkler systems
Further, the City of Chicago is requiring Life Safety Evaluations (LSE) to be performed on all buildings by an Illinois licensed professional engineer or architect for any building over eighty feet that is not equipped with sprinkler systems. This does not apply to non-transient residential buildings. The LSE is designed to show that a particular building does have sufficient safety protection built in and would not require a sprinkler system to be added. However, a functioning fire detection and notification system may still be required.
In addition, every building must have a communications speaker system that allows the fire department to communicate with occupants to issue instructions during an emergency. This requirement became effective in 2012.
Fire system inspections will test each of these requirements to ensure they are working properly.
Addressable Detection and Notification Devices
Rapid response is the key to minimizing the effects of a fire outbreak in a high-rise building. Fully operational smoke, fire, and gas detectors should be regularly tested for sensitivity to ensure that any malfunction is detected immediately.
Equally important, security personnel must be able to identify the precise location of the first detection in order to direct emergency personnel to the right area. The key to instant source recognition is addressability.
With NOTIFIER™️ by Honeywell addressable detectors, for example, any device in the system that detects and activates will transmit a signal to the control panel that identifies its exact location. Knowing exactly where the problem is located in a high-rise building can facilitate effective evacuation and direct the firefighters to the source.
With older and more standard systems, fire detection devices are wired in a circuit that might indicate a particular floor or area of a building. Time is lost when trying to locate and determine the source and type of fire. Evacuation might be more haphazard and perhaps less efficient.
Evacuation Planning and Practice
From the time we were in elementary school, most of us are aware of fire drills. The purpose of these was to understand and practice the procedures for evacuating a building in case of fire or other emergencies. We were taught to stay calm, follow a prescribed route to a collection area outside, and remain until the “danger” had passed.
Information and training of evacuation routes from each floor of any high-rise building are also essential and required in many places. As part of an emergency and preparedness protocol, states require at least one annual fire drill for any high-rise building. Drills are required more frequently for therapeutic residences and some other building types.
Hire an Experienced, Certified Fire Safety Company for Safety and Legal Compliance
In Chicago, High Rise Security Systems brings 30 years experience in helping building owners and managers keep their employees and building occupants safe. Certified by NICET (National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies) and UL®, HRSS experts have designed, installed, maintained, and monitored state-of-the-art fire detection and notification systems for buildings throughout Chicagoland. They have specialized in high-rise office buildings, educational facilities, hospital complexes, and retail facilities.
An ongoing fire system inspection and maintenance program with HRSS will provide peace of mind and the satisfaction that individuals and assets are well protected.