Fire Protection Requirements
- In the City of Philadelphia, the Department of Licenses and Inspections is responsible for enforcing both the Property Maintenance Code and the International Fire Code. Inspections of residential structures are conducted by the Department’s Housing & Fire inspectors.
- Tenants, landlords, and homeowners each have the duty to keep hallways, stairways, fire escapes, and exits clear at all times. Storage of any kind under stairways is prohibited unless the space is separated from the stair by fire resistance-rated construction.
- Rubbish and garbage are not allowed to accumulate in any location inside a building, including storage rooms. Rooms intended for trash storage must have sprinklers and be separated from the rest of the building by one-hour fire resistance-rated construction.
- Permitted amounts of paints and flammable liquids (including insecticides containing flammable materials) must be stored in a room separated from all other parts of the building by one-hour fire resistance-rated construction.
- Information about permitted amounts of flammable liquid is available from the Department of Licenses and Inspections by calling 215-686-2534 or 215-686-2535.
- At least one fire extinguisher with a minimum rating of 2-A:10-B:C is required in the public corridors or stairwells at each floor level of unsprinklered buildings. In buildings of three stories of less and having a single stairway, one such extinguisher is allowed, provided it is placed approximately equidistant from all dwelling units in the building.
- As an alternative, if there are concerns about vandalism, theft, etc., a 2-A:10-B:C fire extinguisher can be mounted in each dwelling unit in the building.
- Except for one- and two-family dwellings, lighting is required in common corridors, stairways, and the exit discharge (exterior) to provide a light level of one foot-candle at the floor. This lighting must be on a circuit independent of any dwelling unit. In buildings that have more than one exit stair, this lighting must have an emergency power source.
- In buildings that are required to have more than one exit stair (including fire escapes), exit signs are required to identify the means of egress from each floor. These signs are required to be illuminated by both the normal and emergency power sources.
- In existing buildings that have more than one exit stair, the stairs must be enclosed and separated from the corridor by fire-resistant construction. In non-high rise buildings, doors in these enclosures must be one-hour fire rated self-closing doors or 1 ¾ -inch thick solid core wood self-closing doors.
- In buildings that have only one exit stair, the doors from the apartments must be of the type specified in the paragraph above.
FIRE ALARM REQUIREMENTS
1.) REQUIREMENTS FOR ONE- AND TWO-FAMILY DWELLINGS
Owners of one and two-family dwellings (including owner-occupied one-family dwellings) are required to install electric or battery-powered smoke detectors as follows:
- In existing one- and two-family dwellings, the detectors are permitted to be battery-powered and interconnection is not required between the several detectors in a dwelling unit. A permit is not required to install battery-powered detectors.
- In new one- and two-family dwellings (newly-built or newly-established in an existing building), the detectors are required to be powered by the primary alternating current (AC) power source in the building. The power must be supplied from an unswitched portion of the branch circuit or from a dedicated branch circuit.
- Interconnection of the several detectors installed in new dwellings is required such that the actuation of one detector will actuate all the alarms in the dwelling. An electrical permit (plans are required to be submitted with the application) is required to be obtained by a licensed electrical contractor from the Department of Licenses and Inspections prior to the installation of these detectors.
- The smoke detectors are required to be labeled for “Household Fire Warning” in accordance with UL 217. These are referred to as single- or multiple station smoke detectors.
- Smoke detectors must be installed in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms and on each story of the house, including basements. In new dwelling units, they are also required in the bedrooms.
- Discretion should be used to place the detector as near to the bedroom(s) as practicable without having it activated by normal cooking activity or steam from bathrooms.
- In split-level dwellings without doors between adjacent levels, a smoke detector is only required on the upper level, provided there is less than one full story between levels.
- Annual certification of detectors in one- and two-family dwellings is not required. However, upon sale of the property, the seller is required to certify in writing to the buyer that the required smoke detectors have been installed and are in proper operating condition.
- Manual fire alarm boxes (break-glass or pull stations) are not required in the exits that serve one- or two-family dwellings.
2.) REQUIREMENTS FOR FIRE ALARMS IN MULTIPLE-FAMILY DWELLINGS
AND ROOMING HOUSES
- Household Fire Warning-type detectors are required within the dwelling units of buildings that are not sprinklered throughout, in the same fashion as described for one- and two-family dwellings, except that battery-powered detectors are not accepted for any of the required detectors. These detectors should not be connected to the building’s automatic fire alarm system as their purpose is to sound their self-contained alarm only in the dwelling unit where they are activated.
- In existing high-rise buildings that are not sprinklered throughout, a detector is required in each bedroom in addition to the ones in the vicinity of the bedrooms. Interconnection of the detectors within a single dwelling unit is required where the sound level of any detector is less than 15 dBA above the ambient noise level in any occupied space within the dwelling unit with intervening doors closed.
- An automatic fire alarm system is required in unsprinklered buildings in all areas that are accessible to more than one tenant (common areas) such as stairways, corridors, storage areas, laundry rooms, basements, etc. The detectors are required to be labeled for system use. In some cases, household fire warning detectors (the type approved for use within dwelling units) have been installed in these areas. They are not system detectors and must be replaced with labeled system detectors.7
- Automatic fire detection is required to be smoke detectors unless normal operations in the space produce products of combustion that would activate smoke detectors. These spaces include boiler of furnace rooms, garages, laundry rooms, etc. In these spaces only, heat detectors are recommended and accepted in lieu of smoke detectors.
- The sounding devices (bells, horns, whoop tones, etc.) of the fire alarm system must be loud enough to be heard in all parts of the building. The required level of audibility is 70 dBA (decibels) in each sleeping room. It may be necessary to locate sounding devices within the apartments in order to achieve the required sound level.
- Visible alarms (strobe lights) are only required when the building houses the hearing impaired.
- A fire alarm panel is required to supervise all fire alarm systems for proper continuous operation, to receive signals from the devices, to activate the sounding devices, and to provide back-up power in the event of the primary power failure. The manual boxes, system smoke and heat detectors, and sounding devices are connected to the panel. Note that the single- and multiple-station smoke detectors located within the dwelling units are not connected to the panel.
- In existing buildings, connection of the fire alarm system to a central station is only required for high-rise buildings. In new buildings or newly-established residential uses, buildings of five stories or more require fire alarm connection to a central station.
- All fire alarm systems are required to be inspected, tested, and certified by a licensed electrical contractor upon installation and annually thereafter.
- Any reduction in fire protection (fire alarm, fire sprinkler, or standpipe system) of any duration for any reason must be reported to the Fire Department at 215-922-6000.
- The Fire Department must be notified IMMEDIATELY through “911” of the activation of any fire alarm, excluding the household fire warning detectors that are installed in the dwelling units.
For Your Information:
* An electrical permit is required to be obtained by a licensed electrical contractor from the Department of Licenses and Inspections prior to installation of both the household fire warning detectors within dwelling units and the automatic fire alarm system. (Plans are required to be submitted with the permit application.)
3.) FIRE ALARM REQUIREMENTS UNIQUE TO BUILDINGS THAT REQUIRE
MORE THAN ONE EXIT STAIR
- The fire alarm panel is required to have at least one zone per floor.
- A manual fire alarm box (break-glass or pull station) is required at each door from the corridor to building exit stairs on each floor. At each box, a sign should be affixed, stating “IN CASE OF FIRE: SOUND ALARM AND CALL 911”.
4.) FIRE ALARM REQUIREMENTS UNIQUE TO “SMALL” APARTMENT BUILDINGS
This type of building does not exceed three stories and has only one exit stairway or two exit stairways that are both visible from all points within a maximum 20-foot long vestibule or corridor between the stairs.
- The fire alarm panel is permitted to have a minimum of one zone that incorporates all of the system devices in the building.
- A manual fire alarm box (break-glass or pull station) is required only at the exit door from the stairway to the outside, not on each floor. At the box, a sign shall be affixed, stating “IN CASE OF FIRE: SOUND ALARM AND CALL 911”.
5.) FIRE ALARM REQUIREMENTS UNIQUE TO BUILDINGS THAT HAVE
RESIDENTIAL USES ABOVE NON-RESIDENTIAL USES
- An automatic electrically-powered fire alarm system with smoke detection is required in the non-residential use unless it is sprinklered throughout.
- Where the non-residential use is a drinking and/or dining establishment, heat detectors are permitted in lieu of smoke detectors in the kitchen, in patron areas where smoking is permitted, and in patron areas where skillet or sizzling-type entrees (such as fajitas) are served. All other detectors in the non-residential use are required to be smoke detectors.
- The sounding devices are required to be located in the non-residential use and typically in the stairway or hallways in multiple-family dwellings above.
Where the use above the non-residential use is a single-family or two-family use where there is no common hallway or stairway serving all floors, sounding devices will be required in the dwelling unit(s). The sounding devices are required to be activated by the manual fire alarm boxes and all detectors, except by those inside the dwelling units.
- Manual fire alarm boxes must be located at the exits from the non-residential use but be connected to sounding devices throughout the building. Manual fire alarm boxes are not required in the exits from the residential use if it is a one- or two-family dwelling.
- The residential portion of the building is required to have the automatic fire alarm system as determined by the classification of the residential use.
For Your Information:
* It is the OWNER’S responsibility to supply, install, and maintain all required fire alarm equipment, including detectors. The owner must also test detectors in common hallways, stairways, basements, and other areas common to more than one tenant. The owner is required to repair or replace any detector that is not operating at the time of testing.
* It is the TENANT’S responsibility to test all detectors located within their dwelling unit. These should be tested at least once a month. The owner should be notified in writing of any defects in the operation of any detector. However, the tenant is responsible for the replacement of batteries in battery operated smoke detectors in one- and two-family dwellings.