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From the Forum – Fire Alarm Requirements?

by Prince Of Petworth February 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm 12 Comments


Fire Alarm Requirements?

“I live in a multi-unit apartment building. There are fire alarm speakers in the halls, but not the apartments. As a result, you can hear the alarm in apartment if you are awake and there is no other noise. But the alarm is not loud enough to hear over TV/music, nor is it loud enough to wake someone who is sleeping. (Apartments do have smoke alarms, sprinklers.)
The alarm went off a few nights ago for an extended period – but it didn’t wake me for a long time and I actually incorporated it into my dream before finally slowly realizing what was going on. (Dogs and wife slept through whole thing). This has happened before – shocking bc we are all light sleepers. On one hand, it doesn’t worry me bc sprinklers, smoke alarms, large building with multiple fire staircases on opposite ends of building. On the other hand, though, seems like asking for it to sleep through fire alarms. Plus, I don’t really trust building bc when we had a power outage last year, the emergency lighting didn’t work so it was pitch black in stairwells and you weren’t going ANYWHERE without a flashlight. It certainly wouldn’t shock me it the sprinkler system failed too.
The fire alarm just doesn’t seem like it would meet standards, but I can’t find anything addressing this online. Anyone know anything?”

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  • Philippe Lecheval

    How old is your building? It may be that older buildings aren’t required to have annunciators inside the units. My building had a 1950s-era system with bells in only in the hallways that were apparently weak from age, so the bells barely chimed and it wasn’t easy to hear them if you were deep in sleep. When it was replaced, they added annunciators in every unit, with flashing strobes, as well.

    • Petworth Landlord

      Mine’s a 1930s 4-unit with 1br and 1br+dens, and I have
      one in each bedroom,
      one in each den,
      one in hallway of each apartment,
      and one in each kitchen.

      None in the common stairwell. I passed DCRA inspection, so I figure I’m what’s required. All hard-wired with battery backup.

      • JoDa

        There are different requirements for larger/newer buildings. It depends mostly on the number of floors. In-unit only with no hallway alarms/extinguishers I believe is only acceptable for “true” 2-story buildings (one of my places is like that with the first floor maybe 3-4′ above ground and just in-unit sprinklers/detectors; another the first floor is almost a half-floor up, so while *technically* only two inhabited floors, we also have hallway alarms and extinguishers…I know both are fully up-to-code).

        • JoDa

          Should add: In the one with hall alarms, you can hear them in the unit, but just barely. Particularly in the bedroom which is the furthest room from the hallway. My guess is there’s some decibel requirement and that’s it. But that unit has a smoke detector right inside the front door, and those are loud and wired together.
          Escape ladder + in-unit fire extinguisher (or two depending on the size of your place) are *really* good ideas for those who will ask/ask below. A 3-floor ladder is around $50, and ABC fire extinguishers that last for 7-10 years are about $20/each. Well worth the peace of mind. Code requires a fire extinguisher in rentals (yes, even individual condos and the like that don’t require C-of-O’s), and I supply escape ladders to upper-floor rental units, but I also had a second fire extinguisher and my own escape ladder when I rented (since all of my landlords did exactly the minimum required in the area, which was usually one fire extinguisher and working smoke detectors).

  • sproc

    Codes aside (which I’m sure others will address), installing your own smoke detectors near your entry door and in every bedroom is definitely worth the piece of mind. My condo building has central alarms but I’ve got my own smoke and CO detectors as well.

  • dancan

    Related question — are apartments required to have two viable exits? I live in a converted rowhouse with an apartment on each floor: basement, first, second, third. I live on the third floor and I’ve been wondering how we would get out if there were a fire on the lower floors blocking the stairwell and the main front door to the building. There aren’t any other exits in the building. We have windows and a balcony, but we’re practically four floors up with the English basement. Any emergency preparedness suggestions (aka escape routes)?

    • textdoc

      I think windows count as a means of egress. (Not that you’d want to be exiting out of the window and dropping to the ground.)
      Consider getting an escape ladder. I think they come in different lengths — possibly not long enough to go all the way to the ground, but enough to get you most of the way there in an emergency.
      Does the building have no back exit? Just the front door?

      • dancan

        Now that I think about it, there’s a back door into the back yard in either the first floor or basement apartment. Definitely not accessible to the whole building. But something to consider in case of emergency, I guess.
        Thanks for the suggestion! Am seriously considering an escape ladder (sounds terrifying but you gotta do what you gotta do!).

  • textdoc

    OP — I don’t know if there’s a legal requirement for the central alarms to be loud enough to heard in the individual units, but if not, it seems like there ought to be.
    Try calling DCRA, explaining the situation, and asking for an inspection of the building with attention to the fire alarms.

    • OP


  • OP

    Hey! OP here – sorry for delay; I didn’t see bc of work.
    To answer questions – it’s a newer building – approx. 15 yrs.
    I’m on 8th fl., and deathly afraid of heights, so ladder v. death by fire: Sadly, gonna choose the death.
    Thanks for thoughts, y’all. Sounds like this may actually be up to code? Surprising, but good/interesting to know. Prob what someone suggested above – there is just a decibel requirement but no testing about whether can hear in bedrooms.

  • PropertyManager

    Are you renting? Have you asked your property manager? The fire alarm system needs to be tested annually. If the system did not meet code, it would be noted on that report.


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