Evacuation During a Fire Alarm

Q. Should a free standing medical office (business occupancy) be required to evacuate everyone when an alarm is pulled?  In this situation the building is a single story and has a sprinkler system.

A. Yes, generally speaking, occupants in free standing medical offices should evacuate the building whenever the fire alarm is activated, unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as testing of the fire alarm system has been announced. There are multiple references that support this requirement.

One of the goals of the NFPA 101-2000 Life Safety Code (LSC) is to provide for a reasonably safe movement of people in the event of an emergency, as identified in section 4.1.2. That supports the concept of keeping the occupants safe from fire and maintaining a safe egress from the building. Since the building you described is a business occupancy, chapter 39 of the LSC applies. Section 39.7.1 discusses the requirements for fire drills which applies to buildings with occupants of 500 or more, or 100 occupants above or below the level of ext discharge. Even if your building may not meet this occupant load requirement, you may have other fire drill requirements from another Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), such as Joint Commission or your local fire marshal.

Section 39.7.1 refers to section 4.7 which discusses in detail about evacuation and relocation. The whole purpose of conducting fire drills is to prepare and train your staff for the proper response when an actual fire occurs. Therefore, the occupants in your free-standing medical office will need to evacuate from the building whenever the fire alarm activates under non-testing conditions.

It is better to get the people out safely and then determine what caused the alarm. It should be noted here, that you are not required to evacuate patients during a fire drill. During a drill, staff needs to demonstrate that they know and understand the procedures and pathway to evacuate the building and where the relocation rallying point is at once they get outdoors. They can use simulated patients or other staff members playing the role of patients to demonstrate this knowledge during drills.

This concept of evacuating the building in the event of fire does not apply to all occupancies, however. Most notably: healthcare occupancies (hospitals, nursing homes) and detention or correctional occupancies (prisons) have language that requires staff to be trained in the relocation of occupants to areas of refuge or smoke compartments.

Fire Alarm Systems

Q: Our hospital has an outpatient clinic attached via a hallway and connected to the hospital directly. When I am in the out-patient clinic you cannot hear the fire alarms going off in the hospital. Do the systems need to communicate? They are currently on 2 different systems.

A: No… the two systems are not required to communicate with each other unless the expectation is for staff at one location is to respond to fire alarms in the other location. However, it may be practical for the alarm to communicate in each other’s building, in some fashion. There may be key individuals (i.e. engineering staff, management staff, and executives) who may be in one location and if the alarm is activated in the other location, they should know about it. But this can also be accomplished using two-way radios or pagers.