WHILE THE KIDS ARE AWAY THE FIRE PROTECTION MUST STAY
It’s SPRING BREAK! Woohooo! But before you go off to the beaches, ensure your building remains protected. What do you know about fire protection for education buildings? Though the kids may be away, the fire protection must stay.
Educational facilities have a few specific regulations when it comes to fire protection since so many lives need to be protected at all times. What fire protection systems do you need to be aware of?
Educational facilities’ minimum fire protection and life safety requirements are outlined in NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. In this code, educational occupancies are defined as “any building used for educational purposes through the twelfth grade by six or more persons for four or more hours per day or more than 12 hours per week.” This is expanded to include preschools and kindergartens that meet these requirements:
- The purpose is primarily educational, even though the children who attend such schools are of preschool age.
- The children are all 24 months of age or older.
WHAT REQUIREMENTS ARE INCLUDED FOR EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES?
Determining your code requirements for your specific facility starts with the capacity of your building. According to NFPA 101, the capacity of a building is assessed by calculating the occupant load of the space, which means how large the area needs to be based on the total number of people in the school. To remain compliant with the occupant load required, you need to plan for at least 20 square feet per person.
This code provides information on where and how students can be located throughout your building. Younger children must be located closer to the ground floor in order to make evacuation easier and more efficient. Specifically, classrooms for preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade must be on the level of exit discharge. Classrooms for second-grade can be located no more than one floor above the level of exit discharge.
WHAT IS THE LEVEL OF EXIT DISCHARGE?
The level of exit discharge is defined as “the story that is either the lowest story from which not less than 50% of the required number of exits and not less than 50 % of the required egress capacity from such a story discharge directly outside at the finished ground level; or where no story meets the conditions of item (1), the story that is provided with one or more exits that discharge directly to the outside to the finished ground level via the smallest elevation change.”
Finally, for education facilities, flexible and open floor plans that have more than 300 students per room, require at least 2 means of egress. They must open to separate atmospheres. It’s important that your local fire marshal or authority with jurisdiction signs off on these floor plans and configurations.
OPERATIONS AND PLANNING
Education facilities are required to have an emergency action plan in place to ensure the inhabitants of the building remain safe from harm. The emergency action plan should illustrate a plan for various emergency situations. As you work to prep this plan, ensure you consider common emergencies, as well as area-related emergencies. On a basic level, without area-specific emergencies in mind, you should include the following in your action plan:
- A procedure for reporting emergencies
- Evacuation, relocation, and shelter-in-place procedures
- Elevator use details
- Occupant and staff response information
- The design and conduct of fire drills
- The various fire protection systems and their coverage areas
- Other information required by local jurisdiction and fire authority
It’s important that you define which administrators will be responsible for the emergency action plan creation process and which positions will be responsible for managing it in the event of an emergency. Educational facilities should conduct and document fire and emergency egress drills at least once per month when school is in session. In these drills, all building occupants must participate and all alarms must be activated.
Staff members should inspect all exit areas, and ensure all stairwells, doors, and exit passageways are clear, unobstructed, and in proper working condition. Ensure all these inspections are documented.
For schools, there are very specific requirements when it comes to what can go on the walls. Fire code only allows for 20% of a wall area to be covered with art and paper products, as they are extremely flammable. If fire sprinklers are installed throughout the school, that coverage can be increased to 50% of the wall area.
FIRE SAFETY EQUIPMENT
Ensure you have proper fire safety equipment in place to keep your building and your faculty, staff, and students safe from harm. Let’s dive into what equipment is essential to the safety of your building and your people.
FIRE ALARM SYSTEMS
Educational facilities typically require fire alarm systems. Small facilities that are no larger than 1,000 square feet, with a single classroom, and located further than 30 feet from another building can be without fire alarms. For example, this includes mobile or portable buildings that are utilized as classrooms and spaced 30 feet from the school and other mobile classrooms.
There are multiple exceptions and specifications depending on specific facility needs that may affect your fire alarm system implementation. This may include the elimination of manual alarm pull stations or the addition of a mass notification or emergency alarm communication system. In order to understand your specific building needs, contact your authority having jurisdiction or a fire safety expert, like our team at VFS!
FIRE SPRINKLER SYSTEMS
A building greater than 1.000 square feet with multiple rooms requires automatic fire sprinkler systems. Buildings under 1,000 square feet and those with single rooms do not require fire sprinklers. All kitchens and cooking appliances should be protected with special hood and fire suppression systems.
Lastly, education facilities require fire extinguishers to be installed throughout the building. The specific placement and number of extinguishers are based on the size and the layout of a building. Extinguishers should be installed, tested, maintained, and selected following NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers.
Our team at VFS Fire & Security Services is equipped to help with your unique fire safety needs. We firmly believe in building long-lasting relationships with our clients. From planning to implementation to testing and maintenance, our services are always tailored to meet our clients’ specific needs.