In our line of work, across the board, we encounter facility people—those who work in hospitals, schools and houses of worship, among other locations—who are vastly undereducated when it comes to fire alarm systems. They struggle with how they work, which system to choose and what to do when one goes off. The skilled nursing industry is no exception.
In fact, the biggest challenge this industry faces is determining which fire alarm codes apply based on the jurisdiction where the system is being installed. As a leading installer of Silent Knight fire alarm systems, cameras and nurse call systems, among others, we thought it would be helpful to detail key fire alarm elements to consider when it comes to a skilled nursing facility.
- Understand the Parameters of Being an I-Occupancy: In the skilled nursing facility, you run into a variety of different codes that don’t apply to most other facilities. One of the things to keep in mind is that most skilled nursing buildings are institutional, or I-1 or I-2 Occupancy. In other words, skilled nursing facilities have to adhere to very specific provisions, particularly related to when and where smoke detectors have to be used.
For instance, I-Occupancy dictates whether you can leverage horn or chime strobes. In an institutional occupancy, a lot of times your building will have to find an alarm system that relies on chime strobes instead of horn strobes. Most people who are in a skilled nursing facility don’t have the means for self-preservation, and the intent behind having horn strobes is to notify the occupants to vacate the building. But when we are dealing with people who are not capable of getting themselves out of bed, let alone out of the building, chime strobes are more effective because they create less aggravation during evacuation.
- Adhere to State and Federal Regulations: In a skilled nursing facility, you have state and federal regulations that also require you to do your testing and fire drills more frequently than the NFPA 72, the standard for fire alarm installations, prescribes. Skilled nursing buildings call for one fire drill per shift every three months. Medicare/Medicaid also requires your facility to perform quarterly flow tests of the sprinkler system.
- Account for Sensitivity Testing: As you look to install a fire alarm system, you will need to pay special attention to sensitivity testing on smoke detectors, another consideration mandated by the NFPA 72 and strictly enforced in any skilled nursing facility. Such a test determines whether the smoke detector is within its calibration limits—or, in other words, whether the detector will go off when it’s supposed to and not go off prematurely or late.
Look for panels that are capable of performing their own sensitivity testing (like the newer Silent Knight addressable panels) or notify the company that does your testing and inspecting to perform the test every two years.
- Develop a Disaster Response Plan: We all know that disasters can strike at any moment but when you are dealing with a potentially immobile, aging population, it is that much more important to plan for what to do in the event of specific emergencies. For instance, here in Arizona where our company is based, power outages are quite dangerous because if it’s already 115 degrees outside and the power goes out, you don’t have much time until the building gets too hot for the residents.
Your disaster response plan should account for what to do in the event of different disasters that hit both outside and within the building—think water floods. Consider who will be set up as your incident command person, how you will handle evacuations and relocation, and what transportation will be needed, if any. These are chief concerns in the skilled nursing facility, more so than in other facilities.
Keep in mind the jurisdictional fire codes enforced by the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) that you will be required to uphold; pay attention to the different requirements for retrofit versus new applications; and remember the specific needs of the skilled nursing facility population.
About the Author
Mathew Amerman founded Intelligrated Communications Inc. in 2011. With his combined 17 years in the industry, he has grown the company to be one of the most trusted Fire Alarm and Life Safety companies in Arizona.