Fire Alarm Pull Stations

Q: I have a question regarding fire alarm manual pull stations. In our multi-level long term health care facility, we added a new building onto the existing building. At the point where the old building and the new addition connect, there is a 2-hour fire-rated barrier with fire-rated doors that are held-open with magnets. Do we need pull stations within 5-feet of those doors? Both buildings are fully sprinkled and both have a fire alarm system. My reading of the code says that they would have to have pull stations on either side of the building separation wall door assemblies as one should be able to pull a pull station while in the act of leaving one building and going into another. Am I correct?

A: I’m not sure I agree with you, but let’s think this through…. NFPA 72 (2010 edition) section 17.14.6 discusses the location and spacing of fire alarm pull stations. In this section it says pull stations must be located within 5 feet of the exit doorway opening at each floor. So, if the 2-hour separation between the two buildings is in fact a horizontal exit, then I would agree with you that pull stations would have to be mounted within 5 feet of the exit, on both sides of the 2-hour wall. However, if the 2-hour separation between the two buildings is not classified as a horizontal exit, and it is simply a building separation, then I do not see where the standard requires a pull station.

You may ask what is the difference between a building separation and a horizontal exit if they are both 2-hour fire rated, and the answer is a new horizontal exit does not allow any HVAC duct to penetrate the barrier, unless the building on both sides of the barrier is fully protected with automatic sprinklers. Other than that, there really isn’t much difference, other than the name applied to the barrier by the designing architect.

I can see your point that it appears you are ‘exiting’ one building and entering another at this barrier, and a pull station would be required. But if it is not a designated horizontal exit, I think that should be sufficient for an AHJ to not require a pull station. But, what is the cost of adding pull stations at this barrier even if the standard does not require them? If you feel more comfortable, go ahead and add them.

Other pull station location requirements in the standard says the travel distance to the nearest pull station cannot exceed 200 feet, and if you have a group opening (office cubicles) over 40 feet wide, then you need pull stations on each side of the openings. Also, section 18/19.3.4.2.2 in the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code says a pull station may be mounted at the nurse station in patient sleeping areas in lieu of being mounted within 5 feet of an exit, provided the nurse station is continuously attended by staff, and the 200 foot travel distance is maintained.

So, the conclusion is… go ahead and mount pull stations at the building separation if it makes you more comfortable, but I’m not sure it is needed. I recommend that you consult with your local and state authorities to gain their interpretation.