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Plumbing Engineer - Columns: January 2012: Fire Protection

NFPA 101, 2012 edition changes affecting fire

suppression systems

By Samuel S. Dannaway, PE,
President, S.S. Dannaway Associates, Inc., Honolulu

In October, the 2012 edition of NFPA 101, The Life Safety Code® was published. Let’s look at a few of the changes in this document that involve fire suppression systems.

7.13 Normally Unoccupied Building Service Equipment Support Areas. This is a new section addressing means of egress requirements for large unoccupied areas such as utilidors and interstitial spaces. Much of it is intended to recognize and legalize existing conditions that are commonplace. These spaces will be exempted from certain NFPA 101 means of egress requirements in nonsprinklered spaces not exceeding 45,000 square feet and sprinklered spaces not exceeding 90,000 square feet. In an otherwise fully sprinklered building, the fact that the space is nonsprinklered shall not affect the classification of the building as fully sprinklered under NFPA 101. Look for this new section to be challenged in future editions as its passage has tweaked significant noses. I give two thumbs up to NFPA 101 for this one.

Convenience Stairways, Paragraph Here’s another one that will likely be revisited in the next code change cycle for 101. In prior editions, unenclosed convenience openings were limited to connecting two stories, had to be separated from corridors and could not be concealed in building construction. If the NFPA 101 occupancy chapters choose to permit these provisions (currently only New and Existing Assembly Occupancies have opted to do so), then unenclosed convenience stairways may connect an unlimited number of floors provided that 1) the stairs do not serve as a required means of egress, 2) the building is fully sprinklered and 3) the openings are protected as required by NFPA 13 for vertical openings, such as escalators using curtain boards or soffits and closely spaced sprinklers around the opening. NFPA 101 has permitted unenclosed convenience openings for escalators for years. Now, convenience stairs can take advantage of this. Another two thumbs up.

7.14 Elevators for Occupant-Controlled Evacuation Prior to Phase I Emergency Recall Operations. This is a new section moving us a little closer towards provisions recognizing elevators as a normal component in the means of egress. These limited provisions require a fully sprinklered building with the following requirements related to those sprinklers: Sprinklers shall not be installed in elevator machine rooms serving the elevators, and such prohibition shall not cause an otherwise fully sprinklered building to be classified as nonsprinklered. Hoistways serving occupant evacuation elevators may not have sprinklers installed at the top of the elevator hoistway or at other points in the hoistway more than 24 in. (610 mm) above the pit floor, and such prohibition shall not cause the building to be classified as nonsprinklered.* An approved method to prevent water from infiltrating into the hoistway enclosure from the operation of the automatic sprinkler system outside the enclosed occupant evacuation elevator lobby shall be provided.

Paragraphs and make this a two-thumbs-up for me, as removing requirements for sprinklers in elevator machine rooms and hoistways is another item on my “code wish list.”

11.3.4 Additional Requirements for Air Traffic Control Towers. Standpipe Requirements. A requirement for a Class I standpipe system has been added to the requirements for new air traffic control towers “where the floor of the cab is greater than 30 feet above the lowest level of fire department vehicle access.” This provision appears to be correcting an oversight from previous editions.

New Educational Occupancies 14.3.5 Extinguishment Requirements. The threshold building floor area for sprinkler protection was decreased from 20,000 square feet to 12,000 square feet. This brings NFPA 101 a little ahead of the International Building Code in terms of sprinklers in schools, as the 12,000-sq.-ft. threshold in the IBC applies to fire areas in school buildings, not to the entire building. Two thumbs up. It has taken far too long for the code industry to recognize the need to sprinkler schools to protect our children in the place they spend more time than any other place aside from home. (We already sprinkler the malls.)

New and Existing Health Care Occupancies. and An increase in the size of sleeping suites to 10,000 square feet is allowed where the space is provided with direct visual supervision, complete smoke detection and the building is fully sprinklered for new healthcare occupancies and the affected smoke compartment is sprinklered for existing occupancies.

19.4.2 The schedule for complying with sprinkler retrofit requirements for existing high-rise buildings containing healthcare occupancies was modified to accommodate various adoptive requirements. This schedule adjustment essentially rewards jurisdictions that wait to adopt new editions of NFPA 101. Two thumbs down. and This provision allows small closets in hospital patient sleeping rooms in sprinklered buildings to be unsprinklered. In order to take advantage of this provision, sprinklers in the room must be arranged so that protection of the closet area is within the protected area of one of the sprinklers. The annex note to this provision tells us that at the time of publication this does not comply with NFPA 13, though a proposal to change NFPA 13 was submitted. This is a reasonable sprinkler omission, since closets in patient sleeping rooms in hospitals tend to be sparsely used.

NFPA 101 has included several new provisions to accommodate an industry trend towards making the healthcare environment more homelike. These new provisions are quite significant, allowing previous prohibited items if certain additional protections are provided. In every case, sprinkler protection is one of these additional protections. In the case of new healthcare occupancies, the entire building must be sprinklered, which is already a requirement. In the case of existing healthcare occupancies, the sprinkler provisions need only apply to the affected smoke compartment. The “homelike improvements” provisions include:, permits fixed furnishings which encroach into the required eight feet corridor width. & Residential or commercial cooking equipment used to prepare meals for 30 or fewer persons will be permitted in patient sleeping smoke compartments. (2) & (2) Direct-vent gas fireplaces will now be permitted in patient sleeping smoke compartments. Draperies and curtains in patient sleeping smoke compartments. and Decorations. Relaxed provisions for use of combustible decorations.

Existing Ambulatory Care Occupancies, Allows the omission of smoke dampers in smoke barriers in fully ducted systems where adjacent smoke compartments are sprinklered. This provision provides the same benefit to existing occupancies as is already provided for new ambulatory care occupancies. Two thumbs up; any time the amount of required smoke dampers is reduced is a good thing in my view.

New Residential Board and Care Facilities, and Facilities sprinklered in accordance with NFPA 13R or 13D must also include sprinkler protection in “all habitable areas, closets, roofed porches, roofed decks and roofed balconies.” This addresses recent fire fatalities that have occurred in sprinklered facilities in which fires that started in unprotected porch areas extended into the building.

Existing Residential Board and Care Occupancies Chapter 33. There are numerous new provisions involving requirements related to sprinkler systems.

Existing Business Occupancies A new section permitting a single exit for a single-tenant building, three or fewer stories in height and not exceeding an occupant load of 15 people per story if sprinklers are provided among other restrictions.

Samuel S. Dannaway, PE, is a registered fire protection engineer and mechanical engineer with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Maryland Department of Fire Protection Engineering. He is past president and a Fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers. He is president of S. S. Dannaway Associates Inc., a 15-person fire protection engineering firm with offices in Honolulu and Guam. He can be reached via email at

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