It’s the responsibility of the business owner to ensure the safety of everyone who enters your building. In the event of a fire, it’s imperative that each and every individual can safely evacuate. But consider how your fire alarm system alerts building occupants to a fire emergency.

Individuals with disabilities, for example those with hearing or visual impairments, should be able to safely and quickly exit a building should an emergency occur. This means that fire alarm systems should be designed in a way that alerts every person, no matter their abilities. Are you certain this is the case for your buildings’ fire alarm system? And if not, do you know what to do about it?

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law. The ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” The changes in the definition of disability in the ADAAA apply to all titles of the ADA, including Title I (employment practices of private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, agents of the employer and joint management labor committees); Title II (programs and activities of state and local government entities); and Title III (private entities that are considered places of public accommodation).

Within the ADAAG you’ll find specific ADA architectural standards for fire alarm systems.

Does the ADA require a fire alarm system?

 The ADA does not require a fire alarm system nor does it affect local fire codes. However, section 4.28 of the ADAAG specifically outlines guidelines for fire alarm systems. Some local jurisdictions have also adopted ADA as part of their building and fire code requirements. NFPA 72 is the National Fire Alarm Code that dictates national fire alarm requirements. The stands within NFPA 72 are actually more stringent than those outlined in the ADAAG, so most jurisdictions accept NFPA 72 standards as the acceptable fire code for fire alarm systems.

What ADA does require is that all fire alarm systems allow for equal access. This means restrictions and requirements for the brightness, placement, and frequency of notification devices. For example, ADA code 702 Fire Alarm Systems dictates: “Fire alarm systems shall have permanently installed audible and visual alarms complying with NFPA 72, except that the maximum allowable sounds level of audible notification appliances complying with section 4-3.2.1 of NFPA 72 shall have a sound level of no more than 110 dB at the minimum hearing distance from the audible appliance.”

In short, because NFPA 72 goes above and beyond the ADAAG requirements for fire alarm systems, almost all new construction should be ADA compliant.

How does the ADA Act impact fire protection systems?

ADA requires that there be equal access for anyone entering your building. For example, a fire alarm system that provides an audible signal must also provide a visual signal to ensure equal access for building occupants with hearing impairments. The placement of the notification devices should also be accessible to individuals with physical impairments (manual pull stations, for example).

ADA compliance for fire alarm systems is required in areas of public access. This includes, but is not limited to, bathrooms, hallways, and lobbies. The only exception to this rule is if you own a building/business wherein the public doesn’t enter (a warehouse for example). The only time you would be required to ensure equal access would be if an employee with a physical impairment worked in the building. This means that any area of your building that is not accessible to the public does not have to be ADA compliant unless occupied by workers with disabilities.

How do I make my buildings’ fire alarm system ADA compliant?

In order to be compliant with ADAAG, you’ll need to ensure equal access to fire alarm systems in any and all occupied areas of your building. There are requirements within ADAAG to address each impairment, from placement of notification devices to brightness of notification devices.

Per ADAAG, there are three areas required for fire alarm systems: signaling for those with hearing impairments, signaling for those with visual impairments, and access to manual fire alarm pull stations for those with physical impairments.

Some of these requirements include (not a complete list):

  • Manual pull stations must be mounted no more than 48 inches above finished floor height
  • Pull levers must be operable with one hand and force to pull lever cannot exceed five pounds
  • Audible alarms must not exceed a sound level of 110 dB
  • Ceiling mounted appliances are not permitted (see ADAAG for specifics of ceiling mount restrictions)
  • The flash rate for visible fire alarms must be between one and two flashes per second
  • Color of visual alarm can only be clear or white
  • Visible fire alarm systems that contain more than two strobes in a room require synchronization
  • Brightness of signaling devices must not exceed an illumination level of 0.030 lumens per square foot at eye level
  • Notification devices/fire alarm appliances must be spaced no more than 10 feet apart

Fire Systems, Inc.

At Fire Systems, Inc., we strive to provide our customers with the best quality fire alarm system installations available. Since human lives and valuable property are at stake, we take a comprehensive approach to fit our individual clients’ needs, from initial design all the way to the final certification. Professional, careful supervision of the project is required to efficiently manage the process.

We are a proud NOTIFIER distributor, arguably the strongest and most trusted name in the fire alarm industry. We also install other fire alarm systems including FireLite, Silent Knight and Honeywell.

After considering each client’s needs, we recommend a code-compliant and reliable fire alarm system that provides the highest level of fire safety possible. We then guide you from the initial design and installation processes all the way through the fire alarm inspections to ensure your systems are always fully functioning and code compliant.

Visit our website to find out more information on our fire alarm services or give us a call at 770-333-7979 to find out more.