Fire Alarm Notification Devices in the OR

Q: Can you explain the fire alarm notification appliance location requirements as it pertains to the operating room? I seem to recall that there’s no requirement to have them in an operating room and, in fact, that it is generally more desirable to NOT have them since they may act as a distraction to the surgical team members. We are a two-hospital system with one of the hospitals having strobe only devices in each operating room and the other hospital having no A/V devices in their operating rooms.

A: Since hospitals are a patient relocation or partial evacuation facility, the private mode of alarm notification is allowed to help avoid a panic situation.  In private mode, the intent of notification (speakers, chimes, strobes, etc.) is to alert personnel responsible for taking action when the fire alarm system activates.  In other words, only key, responding personnel need to hear or see the audio/visual device or receive notification that an alarm has activated (corridors, nurse stations, engineering & back of the house areas, etc.).

These personnel aren’t normally found in operating rooms so there is no requirement to have notification devices in those areas. Even though we all know that surgeon distraction is a very good reason to not have them in operating rooms, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code developers try to stay away from potentially subjective exceptions when they can. Private mode notification is allowed so they don’t need to make a specific exception in this case.

However, there is an exception provided for critical care areas like NICU to use just visual devices. The reason for the difference between your two hospitals is probably that designers often forget or are unaware of private mode notification as an option for these types of facilities.  99% of the time they apply public mode notification that you see in most buildings.  Additionally, they have to consider ADA requirements and for some, it’s just too much time & effort to apply exceptions, so they just paint with a broad brush.

No one minds at the time so it goes forward.  If you’d like to eliminate strobes in the operating rooms, run it by the local fire department’s fire prevention officer, citing your concerns and using private mode notification as justification.  If he’s OK with it, you’ll need to update your system drawings and ensure the wiring is reconfigured correctly, so there’s some expense to doing it. [NOTE: Gene Rowe from Affiliated Fire Systems contributed to this reply.]