Meeting ADA Installation, Notification Requirements

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), legislated into law by Congress in 1991, outlines nondiscriminatory practices on the basis of disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities. The act also pertains to structures under ownership or control of the state and local government.

This month’s column focuses on how fire alarm technicians install fire devices within such structures and how fire equipment manufacturers have worked to comply with the ADA. We’ll also look at how the ADA has affected the National Fire Alarm Code (NFAC), NFPA 72, which is published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

In brief, the first major area in which the ADA has had an impact on how fire alarm systems are installed is in the mounting height of devices. The other area pertains to notification, or how disabled individuals are given warning of a fire in process.

Device Mounting Height Is Critical

Manual fire pulls are of great concern, not only to those who install them, but also to those who need them when an occupant detects a fire. Fire pulls play an integral part in fire safety because they help to determine how soon firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) technicians arrive on the scene.

For this reason, placement is critical, especially for those who are restricted to a wheelchair. There are two primary ways cited in the ADA by which someone in a wheelchair is able to activate a manual fire pull, forward reach and side reach.

Section 4.2.5 of the ADA states, “If the clear floor space only allows forward approach to an object, the maximum high forward reach allowed shall be 48 inches. The minimum low forward reach is 15 inches.” When considering side reach, the mounting height can be up to 54 inches to the handle.

Section 4.2.6 of the ADA, says, “If the clear floor space allows parallel approach by a person in a wheelchair, the maximum high side reach allowed shall be 54 inches and the low side reach shall be no less than 9 inches above the floor. If the side reach is over an obstruction, the reach and clearances shall be as shown.”

Rules to Use for Notification Devices

The ADA also sets the manner in which signaling devices (notification appliances) are installed when an emergency alarm system includes visual and audible devices. It also states that visual signal appliances are to be provided in all common usage areas.

There are primarily two issues to consider where it comes to notification appliances, output and mounting height.

Output – For example, audible signaling devices must exceed the ambient noise level in an area by at least 15 decibels (dB). Otherwise, they must exceed the maximum ambient level by 5dB for a period of at least 60 seconds. The bottom line is, use whichever of the two is the loudest.

The requirements for visual signaling devices are a bit more complicated. However, with a little effort on the part of the technician, they can be understood and achieved.In short, Section 4.28.3, ADA, specifies the criteria behind an ADA-compliant visual notification appliance. First, the lamp must be of a xenon strobe or equal. It must also be clear or nominal white and the maximum pulse duration must be 0.2 seconds with a maximum duty cycle of 40 percent.

Mounting Height – Generally, placements of notification appliances must be such that no more than 50 feet between signaling devices is realized. In large rooms that exceed 100-feet across, such as an auditorium, it is permissible to install a notification appliance on each wall spaced so there is no more than 100 feet between each one. Placement must also be such that the minimum mounting height is 6 feet.

When notification appliances are installed in common corridors and hallways, Section 4.28.2 also says that no more than 50 feet is allowed between signaling devices.

‘Rescue’ Area Must Be Designated

Because of the volume of foot traffic that can be expected through stairways and corridors in a building when a fire has been detected and the evacuation alarm sounds, there must be an area of rescue assistance established aside from the main flow of foot traffic.

Such an area must be clearly marked so disabled individuals know where to go for refuge in a critical time. According to Section, ADA, the proper signage for this area is “Area of Rescue Assistance.”

ADA also requires the use of a communication system that adheres to an established standard set down in Section of the ADA.

The receiving side, according to the ADA, should be at the point of entry where firefighters access the building. The act, however, allows the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to alter that rule where the situation calls for it.

Operationally, the communication unit located at an area of rescue assistance must be mounted no higher than 48 inches when the situation allows forward reach only. When side reach is possible, the act specifies a mounting height no higher than 54 inches.

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