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Many of our visitors are doing their first research into what it means to contract the installation of a fire alarm system in an older Florida condominium or apartment building. The reason is nearly always the same. After years of living with a fire alarm originally installed when the building was first built or even more years of living without a fire alarm, you've been notified that your building doesn't meet code.
Twenty, twenty-five year old buildings and older either never had a central fire alarm system or have one that no longer meets code requirements and regulations. Buildings built in the 1950's, 1960's and even the 1970's have no fire alarm or an antiquated system. Buildings dating from the 1980's and even early 1990's probably do not meet every currently applicable fire alarm code.
Chances are you live near the beaches of Florida and in one of the larger, older metropolitan areas from Miami Beach, South Beach, Sunny Isles, Coral Gables in Miami-Dade County or Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Hillsboro Beach or Deerfield Beach in Broward County to the Tampa Bay - Saint Petersburg - Bradenton - Sarasota corridor or maybe the Naples - Fort Myers area of southwest Florida. The Treasure and Satellite Coasts are not immuned with Port Saint Lucie, Fort Pierce, Melbourne and Daytona having their share of old multi-family buildings needing fire alarm systems or fire alarm systems' updates.
I've been asked dozens of times about 'grand-fathering' of older fire alarm systems especially here in south Florida with hundreds of apartment, condominium and hotel buildings dating back as much as 50 years. Unfortunately there is no exception for existing fire alarm systems due to the fact that they fall under the 'danger to life' or Life Safety 101 codes governing the safety of buildings and properties regardless of age or condition. Just as if you were to neglect other safety issues on your property, fire alarm systems must be in code compliance and good working order with almost no exceptions. AND, the full responsibility of meeting codes and minimum maintenance requirements is the responsibility of the building's owner or owners. Failure to comply with these codes not only makes your property less safe but also opens up the owner(s) to potential liabilities should something as catastrophic as a fire happen.
LOW RISE BUILDINGS
Small single story or two story buildings having 'more than eleven (11) dwelling units are required to have a simple but centralized, battery backed-up fire alarm system primarily for the purpose of evacuation. The system will have manual pull stations and horn/strobes at all points of egress and/or stair landings, automatic smoke and/or heat detection in all unoccupied common areas and rooms and a horn or horns in every apartment sufficiently loud enough to wake you up in all sleeping rooms (how many horns are needed varies due to the architectural design of the apartment and the interpretation of the specific audibility requirements by your local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) - usually fire rescue plan review).
MID RISE BUILDINGS
Buildings of more than eleven dwelling units and/or three stories in height - usually 3 - 6 and sometime 7 story buildings will have the same code requirements as low rise buildings (above) with the addition of elevator interface, additional smoke/heat detection in areas such as garbage rooms/chutes and storage, office, community, maintenance, etc. rooms. Buildings with fire sprinkler systems, generators/pumps, etc. will also require additonal interfaces. How these additional needs are met and if you even need them are all based on the building's design, dangerous conditions and the local AHJ.
HIGH RISE BUILDINGS
Technically any building where the highest occupiable finished floor's height is greater than 75 feet above finished grade (usually measured at the location a fire department ladder truck would be parked during an emergency). This is to insure that the local fire department's equipment will be sufficient.
High rise buildings require ALL of the fire alarm system components listed above with the addition of the following:
a. Voice evacuation system - This system takes the place of standard horns and instead uses speakers, a pre-recorded automatic evacuation message and a microphone for manual control and direct public address by firefighters to the occupants of the building.
b. Possible interface/connections and possibly control of mechanical systems such as air conditioners, air handlers, exhaust/supply fans and fire smoke dampers.
c. Firefighters telephone system - This is another communications system for use by the fire department to communicate with each other while fighting a fire in the building. It consists of telephone handsets and handset jacks (as well as connecting circuits) at points of egress such as stairwells and elevator lobbies.
Almost all high rise buildings will have a. but many older buildings, due to design, will not have much in the way of b. and c. is determined by the AHJ and their opinion of need, practicality and other optional means of internal communications such as radio reception within the building.
How complicated, involved and most importantly expensive the system is depends on several overlapping and sometimes redundant codes, ordinances and interpretations.
Thats why we're here. Let us or one of our experienced members help you define and control the installation or upgrade to your fire alarm system.
On a positive note; except for in very rare conditions, a fire alarm system cannot be over designed either. The edict of the State is that compliance is compliance and there are NO optional choices. The rare few choices an owner has is to opt for slightly higher degrees of protection or 'coverage' but even these must be presented and accepted by the AHJ before a permit is issued.