Fire Watch Frequency Requirements

Q: Do you know of any guidelines for the amount of time you have to conduct a fire watch during an Interim Life Safety Measures (ILSM) operation? Does it have to be every hour, or can it be every shift, or even once a day?

A: The requirement for Interim Life Safety Measures originates in section of the LSC and is actually referred to as Alternative Life Safety Measures. This section of the code does not specify the frequency of any measure implemented to compensate for an impairment to life safety. Sections and requires a fire watch must be provided (or evacuate the facility which is not feasible in a hospital) whenever the fire alarm system or sprinkler system is out of service for 4 or more hours in a 24-hour period. Again, these sections do not specify how often the fire watches should occur. There are other NFPA documents that discuss fire watches such as NFPA 601 Standard For Security Services in Fire Loss Prevention (1996 edition) and NFPA 51B Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work (1999 edition) but none of these standards specifies a frequency that fire watches should be implemented. So, when the code and standards do not specific a specific frequency, then it is up to the authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) to interpret what the frequency should be. Since the typical hospital has 5 or 6 AHJs inspecting their hospital according to NFPA codes and standards, then you must adhere to the most restrictive requirement. While the Joint Commission does not officially specify the frequency a fire watch occurs, their senior engineer in the Standards Interpretation Group has said during informal discussions that he would require hospitals to have fire watches twice per shift, based on an 8-hour shift.

However, I suggest that you contact your local and state AHJs and find out what they require. My experience shows that many localities have surprisingly restrictive requirements when it comes to fire watch frequencies.