Grill the Fire Expert: Commercial Day Care Occupancy

Oct. 27, 2008
Rules from Across the Nation

Q: What are the fire alarm requirements and are there different kinds or levels of Day Care facilities?

A: The fire alarm requirements depend on which building code your jurisdiction has adopted. A call to your local building department will indicate which one applies to your installations.

Yes, there are different definitions (types) of Day Care with each of the codes using different language to describe the various types of Day Care Groups. All of the codes base their fire alarm requirements on the length of time occupants are cared for, who is watching them and the structure. These building code rules also consider the quantity, age, and any impairment of the occupants. All codes exempt places of religious worship that provide day care while services are being held in the same building.

According to the International Building Code, Day Care facilities are an occupancy in which clients receive care, maintenance, and supervision from others besides their relatives or legal guardians for less than 24 hours per day. If the facility houses five or fewer persons, it is designated a Group R-3 and is required to be equipped only with smoke alarms—not smoke detectors (or otherwise must comply with the International Residential Code).

When it comes to adults, six or more persons make it an I-4. If these same I-4 occupants can respond to an emergency without physical assistance from the staff, then they are allowed to be classified as Group A-3. However, Use Group A requires a manual fire alarm system only if the occupant load is more than 300 persons—not very common for Adult Day Care.

Child care facilities are common and are designated I-4 by the IBC where there are six or more kids 2.5 years of age or less. However, if care is provided on a 24-hour basis, then it is an I-2 Group. Both I-2 and I-4 groups, in addition to Group E, require smoke detectors installed in corridors and waiting rooms open to corridors.

Also, if there are up to 99 kids, 2.5 years of age or younger, and the child care rooms all have doors directly to the exterior, follow the Group E, Educational Occupancy classification. Group E (and I-2 and I-4) require manual pull boxes at each exit and water flow alarm initiation from any fire sprinkler system or other suppression system.

For Use Group E, the IBC allows the manual pull boxes to be eliminated in accordance with the “alternate protection option.” The IBC doesn’t list any special/additional Day Care occupant notification requirements, just the standard audible and/or visible appliances are required.

The Uniform Fire Code, NFPA 1, states that a Day Care Occupancy is an occupancy in which four or more clients receive care, maintenance, and supervision from those other than their relatives or legal guardians for less than 24 hours per day. The fire alarm system protection required by the Uniform Fire Code for their Day Care facilities is the same as that required by NFPA 101. NFPA 101, Life Safety Code and NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code, use the basic definition used by the IBC, but vary with the occupant load.

Greg Kessinger, SET, CFPS, president of an alarm installing company since 1981, teaches NICET training classes to fire alarm system designers and installers and continuing education seminars for Ohio’s fire alarm inspectors. You can reach him at 888-910-2272; e-mail: [email protected]; or visit his website at