From 2014–2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 3,230 structure fires in schools each year. Fire protection for educational facilities is crucial, but how do schools protect students and staff and what can you do to ensure the safety of your child’s school?
For school-wide decision makers, it’s critical to become familiar with the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) requirements for educational facilities, learn how to avoid common compliance issues, and understand common fire dangers to best protect educational facilities from fire. It’s also helpful for anyone with children attending an educational facility to know what protective measures are in place and how to take action if necessary.
NFPA Requirements for Educational Facilities
The NFPA fully outlines their requirements for fire protection in educational facilities in NFPA 101®: Life Safety Code®. In this guide, NFPA breaks down guidelines for both new and existing educational facilities. Some of these requirements include:
- Full fire protection system based on size. Fire protection for educational facilities over 1,000 square feet that have more than one classroom include fire alarm systems, fire sprinkler systems, and fire extinguishers.
- Sprinkler systems linked to alarm system. Automatic sprinkler systems in educational facilities should activate the fire alarm system when discharged.
- Multi-story evacuation set-up. In buildings with multiple stories, preschool through first grade classrooms must be located on the “level of exit discharge.” Second grade should not be more than one floor above this.
- Fire drill frequency. At least one emergency drill should be conducted every month that that school is in session, and everyone in the building must participate.
- Special requirements for certain hazards by classroom. Rooms within educational facilities that have permanent fuel burning appliances, carbon monoxide detectors should be installed. They should also be installed in rooms/spaces adjacent to attached parking structures, and the first room served by a fuel powered HVAC system.
- Access to portable fire extinguishers. The installation of fire extinguishers is required throughout the building.
Common Compliance Issues
With staff and student safety top priority, the security of school buildings is of great importance. While it’s necessary to secure the building in the event of intruders, blocked, locked, or barricaded doors can pose a great danger in the event of fire. Staff and students must be able to easily exit and evacuate the building.
Occupancy limits are being pushed with growing class sizes nationwide. Occupancy limits for buildings are becoming compliance issues in some school districts. There are dangers of exceeding max occupancy, namely that staff and students may not have clear paths to exits. Anything that hinders evacuation is a fire hazard and compliance issue.
Every proud teacher wants to decorate their classroom with student’s work, but did you know classroom decor or displays could be a fire hazard? Hanging anything from the ceiling may impact the building’s fire sprinkler system. Posters can block exit signs or other emergency signage. Decor may be highly flammable.
Fire Dangers In Schools
According to a report by the NFPA, the leading cause of fire in educational facilities is arson. Thankfully there are steps schools can take to deter this type of vandalism that include installing exterior lights with motion sensors, keeping landscaping trimmed and minimal, installing intrusion alarms on any potential school entrances, and keeping trash receptacles away from buildings. Some districts host local programs that educate the community on the dangers of arson and ask for the vigilance of parents, students, and staff, as another line of defense against arson.
Other leading causes of fire in educational facilities include cooking equipment, playing with a heat source or lab equipment, and heating equipment. Any classroom or teacher’s area with small kitchen appliances like coffee makers, microwaves, toaster ovens, and even blenders, should be equipped with special fire protection systems designed to protect those hazards.
Ways to Protect These Facilities
The first line of fire protection for educational facilities involves annual maintenance and inspections of all components of the school’s fire alarm system, sprinkler system, and beyond. In addition, regular maintenance should be conducted for the school’s HVAC, cooking equipment, lighting, lab equipment, and any other fire hazards that may be present. Fire extinguishers must be inspected monthly and exit lights tested monthly.
It’s also imperative to ensure that every area in the building is kept up to fire code per local and federal guidelines. According to guidelines set in NFPA 101, this involves keeping all emergency exits clear of obstruction and easily openable, art/teaching materials must not cover more than 20 percent of the classroom walls, draperies must be flame retardant, flammable liquids must be stored in appropriate containers.
How Fire Systems, Inc. Can Help
In business since 1986, Fire Systems, Inc. is an Atlanta-based fire protection company with decades of experience serving educational facilities.
We understand the unique needs of educational facilities and can inspect, repair, and install all components of a school’s fire protection system. If you have any questions or concerns about the fire-readiness of your educational facility, call us today at 770-333-7979 or visit our website for more information