|This page is a resource for the traveling public and meeting
planners who have questions about hotel and motel fire safety.
This type of information is not routinely available, and what
is available may not be that reliable. To help you inquire
about the fire safety features of a hotel or motel, the following
information will show you what to look for and the right questions
Hotels don't highlight fire safety like they do dining facilities
and similar features. Apparently, this is out of concern that
references to fire safety will accentuate the negative - the
possibility of a fire. But fire safety is a bona fide concern.
For one thing, individual travelers have concerns about their
fire safety. For another, people who arrange travel and meetings
for employees or organizations may take on a liability if
they neglect to confirm the level of fire safety equipment.
This page attempts to address those needs.
|An overview of hotel fire safety.
amount and type of fire safety equipment in a hotel varies
by the size of the building, its height and age. Many high-rise
hotels are protected with fire sprinklers, but one out of
four still lack them. For all hotels and motels regardless
of height, only 50 percent have fire sprinklers. Some hotel
owners have corporate policies to retrofit older properties
with fire sprinklers, but this is not the norm. And some
hotels install state-of-the-art, well-maintained fire alarm
systems that render false alarm problems nil, but other
owners continue to tolerate the problem. As a result, many
hotel guests ignore fire alarms.
The quality of fire protection also varies by region. In
some areas, building and fire officials keep their safety
codes current and diligently enforce them. But code advancement
and enforcement are not uniform around the U. S. If these
codes are not kept up to date and enforced by competent
personnel, the quality of fire safety can suffer a great
We are a giving a Hotel
Fire Safety Act of 1990.
System Required For Hotels/Motels.
New hotels are more likely to have what we consider high-quality
fire protection, that is, fire sprinklers in every guest
room as well as detection and alarm systems. Older hotels
may only have smoke alarms in guest rooms, if they have
Some fire safety equipment is obvious, even to people who
are not trained in fire safety. Examples are fire sprinklers
and smoke alarms. Other items may not be obvious because
laymen do not associate them with fire safety. An example
is passive protection like a solid-bonded 3-hinged corridor
door with UL-listed hardware. Its role in fire safety is
discussed below in the section on egress systems.
The components of a hotel fire safety system include the
Each of these items is described in a section below. You can
get to a specific item by clicking on the hyperlinks at the
top of the page, or you can scroll through the entire page.
The description includes a discussion of each item's role
and lists the questions that one should ask when inquiring
about that item's presence and readiness.
All of the items discussed here are designed to work as
part of an overall fire protection "system." This
is important to remember because if one part of the system
fails it increases the likelihood of other failures. Something
as simple as a propped open stairway door can cause failure
of the stairway pressurization, smoke control and emergency
egress systems. Therefore, the hotel staff must be diligent
in maintaining every fire protection device, and nothing
can be overlooked because of the erroneous assumption that
another safety device will compensate for it. But experience
tells us that problems like this occur, and that is why
we consider fire sprinklers as fundamental to hotel fire
safety. They stop fires when they are small and reduce the
dependence upon the other fire safety features.
|What we don't cover here.
does not contain guest instructions for response to fires.
As a rule, hotels routinely provide this information, either
in the security section of the hotel information left in
each guest room or posted on guestroom doors. Our purpose
is to inform you about the items that will keep a fire from
becoming a threat in the first place. If they are effective,
the need for emergency evacuation is unlikely
No, Tim isn't a code word that
will get you a special deal on a room. It is an acronym
for three important items: Testing, Inspection and Maintenance.
Fire safety equipment that is present may be of no use if
it is not regularly tested, inspected and maintained by
qualified technicians. There are nationally recognized standards
that dictate how often TIM should occur for sprinklers and
other fire safety equipment. Hotels with high-quality fire
protection will have records of TIM.
Fire investigations abound with reports of equipment that
did not operate or was improperly adjusted, and that is
why we refer to TIM throughout. Travelers may be fortunate
enough to stay in a brand new hotel from time to time, but
this is the exception to the rule. We are more likely to
stay in buildings that are several generations old, with
fire safety equipment that is as old as the building. The
importance of TIM cannot be understated, and any hotel that
does not adequately document TIM is neglecting its fire
|What is a fire-safe hotel?
is a relative term. If you define "fire-safe"
as a zero chance of a fire, then one can never say that
any hotel is fire-safe. However, we can describe hotels
as relatively safer than others based on the fire protection
equipment that is installed and the safety practices that
| Fire sprinklers
Fire sprinklers are fundamental to hotel fire
must stay on a fully sprinklered hotel for your safety
We have a basic criterion for hotel fire safety - a fire
sprinkler system with sprinklers in every room, installed
in compliance with nationally recognized standards and then
maintained by qualified technicians. Sprinklers are designed
to stop a fire when it is small, and they have a superior
track record in saving lives and property. In the U. S.,
the frequency of hotel fires is relatively low. But even
though it is a low-probability event, it is a high-consequence
event. Fires in residential settings can grow with amazing
speed. In fact, most people drastically underestimate how
quickly they can become deadly.
How fast can they grow? Fire tests confirm that a small
fire in an average-sized room can ignite everything in the
room in less than five minutes. The combustion products
from that fire will start killing people in as little as
two minutes. The fire investigation report for the Dupont
Plaza Hotel fire that occurred in 1986 noted that 97 people
died in a mere 12 minutes.
Another factor that increases the consequences of hotel
fires is that hotels contain large numbers of people who
are unfamiliar with the building and may be sleeping when
a fire occurs. The history of hotel fires bears out the
consequences of these factors.
You might be wondering how fast residential-type sprinklers
work. In the same tests noted above, the sprinklers operated
in just under one minute and stopped the fire long before
the combustion products could reach lethal levels. Happily,
hotels with fire sprinklers installed throughout are now
routinely available, so we feel that sprinklers are a reasonable
expectation. Many hotel and motel chains in the U. S. install
them in all of their new buildings, and some have corporate
policies to install them in all of their existing properties
The value of fire sprinklers.
If a fire can be stopped before it grows, it cannot develop
a lot of smoke, which is the biggest killer in fires. Smoke
alarms are great and we look for them as well as sprinklers.
But smoke alarms can only alert people to a fire, and fires
can grow so quickly that they can kill before people can
escape. A sprinkler will not only alert people to the fire
(when a sprinkler opens, the water flowing through the system
triggers an alarm), but it also opens very quickly and stops
the fire. A fire that is quickly stopped cannot produce
smoke and the carbon monoxide it carries.
Fire sprinklers are designed to operate when a fire is
small and stop it before it grows to a stage known as flashover.
At the flashover stage, the fire travels from the room of
origin with a large burst of energy, pushing great amounts
of heat and smoke to the rest of the building. Sprinklers
are spaced so that they can stop a fire with a relatively
small amount of water. In nearly all cases only one sprinkler
opens. If you thought that all of the sprinklers in the
room or building go off at the same time, you have been
victimized by Hollywood gag writers looking for comic effect.Travelers
need to be aware that some hotels have installed sprinklers
in "common areas," such as corridors, restaurants,
lobbies, etc., but not in the guest rooms. If a hotel does
not have sprinklers in every room then it does not meet
our criteria for hotel fire safety.
The reason for this is simple. If sprinklers are not installed
in every room, a fire can grow to deadly proportions before
the sprinklers outside the room stop its progress. A sprinkler
located outside a burning room cannot stop the smoke that
is being produced in the room, and this is a bigger threat
to people than the flames.
|Smoke detection and alarms.
A system of interconnected smoke detectors should
be installed, with units in every room including common
areas and all non-guest rooms. If they are installed in
compliance with nationally recognized standards, the alarm
system will alert guests who are at risk. It is also important
that the alarm system be monitored off-site by a qualified
organization. An example is a Central Station Alarm company
that has an Underwriters Laboratories certificate. Some
alarm systems are connected directly to the fire department,
which is even better.
When inquiring about the company that monitors the fire
alarm system, ask for documentation that the company has
standing orders to call the fire department without delay.
There are instances where hotels have advised the alarm
company to call the hotel so an employee can check for an
actual fire before notifying the fire department. This is
unacceptable and can lead to tragedy. Do not accept verbal
statements about the specific policy between the hotel and
alarm company. Any quality fire alarm company will have
this in writing, so the documentation should be readily
In large hotels, the building codes now require a Fire
Department Control Station. This is a protected area where
the fire alarm panel is located. The fire officer in charge
will use it to monitor all of the building controls and
can manually operate some equipment, such as smoke control
devices. The control station also has a communication system
so the officer can send voice instructions throughout the
hotel. Hotels may not have this item as part of the alarm
system if they were built prior to the requirements being
placed in the building code.
Equally important is documentation on TIM. Modern fire
alarm systems can be very complex, especially in high-rise
buildings. They need regular attention by qualified technicians.
Duct Smoke Detectors
All air handling duct system must be equipped with duct
type some alarms
|Connection between Air handling
units and alarm systems
|All the air handling units must be programmed due to fire
alarm.They must be stopped whenever a fire alarm actuates.All
the duct systems must include fire stopping dampers.
you enter a hotel stairway and see a large pipe with a hose
connection on it at each floor, you are looking at a fire
department standpipe. They are installed in hotels, at least
those higher than three stories, so that the firefighters
can hook up their hose near the fire. This reduces the amount
of hose that they need to carry up the stairs, which reduces
the time it takes to set up and attack the fire.
TIM for standpipes is very important for two reasons. First,
some of them are "dry," that is, there is no water
in them. To get water to higher floors, the fire department
hooks up its hoses to the standpipe connection on the outside
of the building and pumps water into it. Dry standpipes
can be clogged by debris placed there by vandals, so regular
testing, inspection and maintenance is the only way to make
sure that they will work as designed in a fire. "Wet"
standpipes, those that have water present, are less prone
to vandalism because the miscreant would get doused with
water and set off an alarm.
The second reason primarily applies to to high-rise hotels.
Standpipes in these buildings are connected to a fire pump
that will start if water flow is detected in the standpipe
or sprinkler system. The pumps must be powerful enough to
supply adequate pressure at the highest floor, but this
means that the pressure on the lower floors may be higher
than firefighters can safely handle. To get an idea of the
pressure, think about how your garden hose creates a pressure
that pushes you backwards, then multiple that pressure by
When the pressure at an outlet is too high for safe use,
a pressure-limiting valve will be installed at the outlet.
These devices need to be regularly checked to make sure
they are set at the correct pressure. If the setting is
too high or too low for an effective fire stream, then the
firefighters can be seriously delayed in attacking the fire.
A fire may cause the building's electrical system to fail.
Sometimes the fire originates in the electrical system.
For this reason, the building should have emergency lights
installed in all corridors and public rooms. Emergency lighting
that complies with nationally recognized standards will
be connected to a separate power supply that is backed up
by an emergency generator. The lights will automatically
go on when the system detects an electrical failure. Check
|Emergency egress system.
Every building should be built in compliance with a nationally
recognized building code. These codes contain minimum standards
for the emergency egress system, i. e., the pathways that
provide evacuation routes from every part of the building
to the outdoors at ground level. The building codes are
based on the principle that the corridors and stairways
are a vital part of the egress system, so they are required
to have added protection that will theoretically last long
enough to allow everyone to evacuate.
Have you ever noticed the metal labels on the edge of corridor
doors and the doorways? They are there to document that
the items comply with the additional protection requirements
for egress paths. That is also why stairways are so spartan,
with no decoration or carpeting. Because stairways are such
a critical part of the egress path, they have stringent
requirements that do not allow any combustible material
at all - thus the lack of carpeting or even linoleum. And
storage of anything, be it combustible or not, is forbidden
in stairways. If you see these rules violated, it means
that the hotel is not vigilant or is neglecting its fire
Along with the doors, the walls and ceilings of the egress
paths are part of the added protection. These items combine
to be the "compartmentation," the passive system
of barriers that slows down the progress of a fire and smoke.
That is why all doors should have self-closers, even the
guest room doors.
Door wedges are a no-no. Doors that are propped open or
ones that do not shut automatically and latch tightly are
signs that the hotel is neglecting its fire safety responsibility.
In large hotels, you may find doors across the corridor
that divide the building into smaller fire compartments.
These doors can be held open by approved devices. The devices
are usually magnets that automatically release if the fire
alarm panel activates.
We mention walls and ceilings because holes in walls or
missing ceiling tiles defeat the required compartmentation.
Any coverings on walls and ceilings should be limited to
materials that will not contribute to the rapid spread of
flames or development of a lot of smoke. When inspecting
a hotel, visit all of the service areas as well. It is easier
for the staff to neglect a hole or missing tile in areas
were guests don't go. These are basic items, and their importance
to the fire safety system is often overlooked (or worse,
not understood). They should have records of TIM.
|Exits &Exit signs.
Exit signs that comply with nationally recognized standards
will be visible from any place in the corridor. Those that
are not near an exit door will have an arrow showing the
direction to the nearest exit. Again, TIM is important.
It is very easy for exit lights to burn out over time, and
just as easy to neglect replacing them. If the signs are
being tested, inspected and maintained by qualified technicians,
you have better assurance that they are accurate. A hotel
employee may be tempted to replace a broken sign with one
that has no direction arrow - or just as bad, with an arrow
going the wrong way. They might make this mistake because
they don't know what the installation standard requires.
That is why we repeat the reminder that only qualified technicians
should work on any fire safety system
A general rule to keep in mind is that street-level meeting
rooms are the easiest to evacuate. Rooms above the seventh
floor are more hazardous because fire ladders may not reach
that high. Hotel basement meeting rooms may not be a wise
choice, because meeting participants must climb up stairs
in the same direction smoke and flames will travel.
The meeting room should have adequate exits. A rule of
thumb is that 50 to 300 persons require two exits. Three
hundred to 1,000 need three exits and more than 1,000 persons
should have four or more exits. The exits should be brightly
lit, not blocked,by furniture or curtains and be easily
opened. They should never be locked or chained. Seating
or exhibit arrangements should allow enough aisle space
for quick evacuation. You should familiarize yourself with
exits and escape routes. Not only
make sure that the hotel floor plan is visibly posted, but
also walk the entire escape route. Hallways, exits and stairwells
should be clear of obstructions. Stairs should have emergency
lighting; elevators should be clearly marked to prevent
use in a fire.
Hi-rise hotels should have pressurized stairways. An exception
is a hotel where the stairways are open to the outside.
In pressurized stairways, a fan operates when the fire alarm
panel receives a signal from a fire detector or sprinkler.
The air is blown in from the exterior, and this creates
a positive pressure in the stairway, keeping smoke from
creeping into the stairway and blocking the egress path.
Ask about TIM. It is easy for these systems to go out of
balance over time.
Very large buildings will have systems that automatically
pressurize certain areas and depressurize others to contain
smoke or exhaust it outside. This should definitely be present
in buildings with atriums (where the rooms surround an open
courtyard). Remember TIM.
|Portable fire extinguishers.
Portable extinguishers are designed to control
or extinguish small fires. They are placed throughout a
hotel to be readily available when someone finds a fire.
Installers follow a nationally recognized standard that
dictates what type (based on the type of fire expected at
that location), their location, and size. Different locations
will require different types, depending upon the type of
fire expected. For example, the corridors will have units
for extinguishing paper and other similar combustibles.
A kitchen area will have units designed to put out grease
Notice that the extinguishers are placed in wall cabinets
or are hung on the wall at a height that makes it easy for
an average-sized person to remove. If they are found on
the floor, then they are not in the proper location. One
reason for hanging them is to prevent items from being placed
on top of them.
It is easy to use portable extinguishers. The instructions
use icons to make them clear to someone who has not used
one before. However, hotel employees should receive periodic
hands-on training on how to use them. Extinguishers are
more effective in the hands of experienced users, and periodic
training increases expertise. But there is another reason
why employees should be trained. The experience also teaches
employees the limits of the extinguisher. Knowing when to
use it and when to call the fire department without delay
is a valuable lesson that all hotels should be teaching
to every employee.
Have you ever noticed the paper tags hanging on each extinguisher?
They indicate when the unit had its last TIM. The hotel
should have a record of the periodic visits by an extinguisher
technician, while the individual tags document when the
last TIM was conducted. If it was over a year ago, then
the hotel is not keeping up on its TIM responsibilities.
|Fire response plan.
A hotel with quality fire safety will have a written plan
that describes every employee's responsibility in a fire
or other emergency. The lack of a written plan or a refusal
to show it are a cause for concern. Also be concerned if
the instructions call for delaying the notification of guests
or the fire department. Examples are orders to notify the
manager before taking action, or orders to first investigate
a fire alarm before calling the fire department or notifying
Premature notification of guests due to false or nuisance
alarms always concerns hotel management because they don't
want to inconvenience guests. There are two things to consider
here. First, if the hotel has replaced outmoded technology,
and the fire alarm system was installed in compliance with
nationally recognized standards (and TIM'd), false or nuisance
alarms are rare. Modern smoke detectors are smart enough
to quietly notify the monitoring company if they need servicing
or are becoming too sensitive. That is why we stress the
importance of TIM. There is no valid reason for a hotel
to tolerate false or nuisance alarms.
Second, modern alarm systems have voice notification features
that allow hotel employees to alert only those guests who
are in immediate danger. For example, if a smoke detector
on the 15th floor operates, the employee might be instructed
Notify the guests on the 14th, 15th and 16th floors to
Alert guests on higher floors to prepare for an order to
The specific evacuation message will vary by the type, size
and layout of the building
employee should receive periodic formal training and practice
on what to do in a fire emergency. A hotel with quality
fire protection will have copies of their training plans
and records of who attended each session. A verbal statement
that "we give everyone regular training" should
be suspect. The items covered in the plans should include
such things as:
Each employee's responsibilities in a fire emergency.
Details about the building's fire equipment.
What the various fire alarm signals mean.
Who is responsible for notifying the fire department (this
should always be done as a backup measure, even when the
system is monitored).
The records should document the orientation and continued
training of every employee, including hands-on instruction
on how to operate portable extinguishers
|Place for a Helicopter to Land
Although there are building codes in some states,
requiring new high-rise buildings to include a heli-pad,
many of the older skyscrapers have a "forest"
of antennas and other equipment on the roof.
If you have read all
of the above and concluded that a hotel's fire safety system
is a complex set of critical items that are all interrelated,
then we did an effective job. You will also appreciate the
importance of testing, inspection and maintenance by qualified
technicians, because the failure of one part of the system
can effect the ability of the other parts to work effectively.
As we said earlier, when a fire occurs it is too late to
find the problems.
This brings us back to the very first item we talked about
- fire sprinklers. We already mentioned their excellent
track record for saving lives and property. In addition,
studies show that they are the most reliable part of a building's
fire safety system. This makes them extra insurance against
the failure of another part of a hotel's fire safety system.
It is for these reasons that we make sprinklers the fundamental
criterion for a quality hotel fire safety system.