Areas of Refuge

Q: We have an offsite business occupancy location and need to know what the requirements are for an area of refuge. I have not been able to identify any fire/smoke separations in this building. What would make a distinguishable area of refuge?

A: Areas of refuge are required when the occupancy chapters of the Life Safety Code say they are required. Since you said the offsite location is classified as a business occupancy, then according to section 39.2.2.12 of the 2000 Life Safety Code, an area of refuge complying with section 7.2.12 is required. One exception to that requirement is an area of refuge is not required if the entire building is protected with automatic sprinklers. So, here are the requirements (according to section 7.2.12) for areas of refuge, when it is required:

  • Areas of refuge are considered part of the means of egress
  • Areas of refuge must be accessible from the space they serve by an accessible means of egress (corridor)
  • Areas of refuge must have access to the public way, meaning they must have a direct exit to the outdoors
  • If stairs are involved in the means of egress from the area of refuge to the public way, the minimum clear width must be 48 inches (with some exceptions)
  • If an elevator is provided from an area of refuge to the public way, the elevator must be provided with Fire Fighter Service; the power supply must be protected from interruption from a fire occurring outside the area of refuge; the elevator shaft must meet smokeproof enclosure requirements
  • The area of refuge must be provide with a 2-way communication system with a central control point
  • The door to the area of refuge must be identified with a sign, stating “AREA OF REFUGE”
  • Instructions on how to summon assistance via the 2-way communication system, and written identification of the area of refuge location must be posted next to the 2-way communication system
  • Areas of refuge must be size to accommodate one wheelchair space of 30” x 48” per each 200 occupants served by the area of refuge, and still allow adequate width in the area of refuge (minimum 36 inches)
  • Areas of refuge that do not exceed 1,000 square feet, must be calculated that tenable conditions are maintained within the area of refuge for a period of 15 minutes when the exposing space on the other side of the separation creating the area of refuge is subjected to the maximum expected fire condition
  • Access to any designated wheelchair space in an area of refuge must not be through more than one adjoining wheelchair space
  • Each area of refuge must be separated from remainder of the story by a 1-hour fire rated barrier, and must resist the passage of smoke (existing barriers with a 30-minute fire rating are permitted)
  • Door assemblies in areas of refuge must have at a minimum, a 20-minute fire rating, and be self-closing or automatic closing, and positive latching
  • Where HVAC ducts are not prohibited in areas of refuge by other sections of the Life Safety Code, they must be provided with smoke-actuated dampers to resist the transfer of smoke into the area of refuge
  • The ‘AREA OF REFUGE’ signs must be located at each door providing access to the area of refuge; and wherever necessary to indicate clearly the direction to an area of refuge
  • ‘AREA OF REFUGE’ signs must be illuminated as required for ‘Exit’ signs where ‘Exit’ sign illumination is required
  • Tactile signs complying with CABO/ANSI A117.1 must be located at each door to an area of refuge.

So, what I see mostly in these requirements for an area of refuge is an enclosed stairwell that has an exit door to the outdoors. The stairwell enclosure must meet the above requirements for width, communication, signage, fire rating, etc., but that is where you will find your area of refuge. If the offsite location is a single story building and you do not have a vestibule that could serve as an area of refuge, then you will have to create one by adding fire barriers and such. Please check with your state and local authorities to see if they have other requirements concerning the area of refuge.