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Multifamily Issues within the Florida Fire Prevention Code

Overview

Two rising issues in Florida’s Fire Prevention Code have attracted FAA’s attention. Each of these issues come about through a lack of clarity in the code. Florida’s Fire Prevention Code is ambiguous with regard to fire signal enhancers and does not provide clarity regarding doorstep trash service allowability beyond 2021. Building permits for fire signal enhancers will be needed for multifamily properties by 2022, with installation required by 2025. In addition, the current provision in the fire code allowing trash collection receptacles in hallways will expire in 2021.

 

Background

Fire Signal Enhancers

Fire signal enhancers can be added to apartment communities to amplify the fire department’s radio signal within a building. These signal enhancers ensure firefighters can communicate throughout the building in the event of an emergency. The number of signal enhancers and the type of technology required for each property depends on a variety of factors, including the building’s construction materials and the local fire department’s radio technology.

State law gives local governments authority to require fire signal enhancers. Florida’s Building Code was amended in 2016 to give local jurisdictions broad authority in determining the minimum radio signal strength for fire department communication systems. 

Florida Statute 633.202, “Florida Fire Prevention Code” states, “The authority having jurisdiction shall determine the minimum radio signal strength for fire department communications in all new high-rise and existing high-rise buildings... Existing apartment buildings are not required to comply until January 1, 2025. However, existing apartment buildings are required to apply for the appropriate permit for the required communications installation by December 31, 2022.”

Trash Collection Service in the Fire Code

In 2018, former Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 529[1] into effect. The bill sought clarification in the fire code in regard to the legality of trash containers placed in hallways or breezeways. Previously, there was confusion among local fire marshals as to whether or not doorstep trash collection violated the Florida fire code.

The doorstep trash collection service, also known as valet trash collection service, provides multifamily communities with a trash removal amenity. Residents place their trash in small receptacles outside their apartments, then a representative from the waste removal service collects the resident’s trash from within the receptacle. This provides a convenient service to the resident. However, Fire Marshals have raised concerns related to permanent to semi-permanent, and potentially flammable obstacles in the hallway.

 

Problem

Fire Signal Enhancers

Current statute does not articulate minimum requirements for municipal radio equipment or timelines for ongoing equipment inspection. In addition, state law does not preempt local governments from expanding the signal requirements to include other emergency radio equipment such as police or emergency medical services (EMS). In light of this, some local governments are looking to add regulations at the local level, many of which will be damaging to apartment communities.

Signal enhancing systems can range in cost from $15,000 to $300,000. In addition to these upfront costs, some local governments are seeking to subject apartment communities to annual inspections that can cost $3,000. Some local jurisdictions are already withholding certificates of occupancy for newly constructed apartment communities until the radio signal strength requirements are met, which can significantly delay lease-ups and create astronomical cost increases for apartment operators. Other municipalities have considered placing a lien on a property if the radio signal strength requirements are not corrected with a specific time frame.

Doorstep Trash Receptacles

Fire marshals take issue with trash collection containers in hallways because they can be highly flammable and can be an obstacle in fire escape routes. Prior to HB 529, there were no clear guidelines in the Fire Prevention Code. The industry faced having to change its bins or lose contracts, depending on the decisions of each city official. After much discourse, the housing industry compromised with the fire marshals for a provision that temporarily established the legality of the doorstep trash receptacles. The provision allowed for the containers to be used for a three-year period, however, during this time the doorstep trash community was expected to find an alternative solution to the perceived fire code issue. The provisions in HB 529 will sunset in 2021.

 

Examples of Florida policies surrounding fire signal enhancers

Bonita Springs

Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District has placed repeaters on their fire trucks as an alternative to installing a fixed radio enhancement system within the building. Essentially, this brings a vehicle-mounted radio repeater to each building, boosting signal strength throughout. According to Bonita Springs’ final budget, “This offers a stop-gap solution to a county network never designed for reliable in-building communications. This resulted in considerable savings to a number of building owners in 2014.”[2]

Broward County

In Broward County, the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) determines whether a new or existing building needs to install a two-way radio communication enhanced public safety signal booster system. Section 118.1.4 of the Florida Building Code-Broward County Administrative Code states, “For new buildings, a certificate of occupancy shall not be issued until the AHJ determines that the building is in compliance with NFPA 1-1 1.10.1.”[3] Broward County has mandated that bi-directional amplifiers be installed in all buildings before a certificate of occupancy can be granted. Florida Statute only requires that these be installed before 2025, but a permit to install must be obtained by 2022.

 

Alternative Solutions

It is important to establish uniform requirements and regulations for local jurisdictions to follow related to fire signal enhancers. These uniform requirements must properly address compliance issues and enforcement guidelines. Current statute does not articulate minimum requirements for municipal radio equipment or timelines for ongoing equipment inspection, therefore establishing a universal standard would dramatically mitigate compliance issues. The standards would need to provide clarity on which emergency systems are included. State law does not preempt local governments from expanding the signal requirements to include other emergency radio equipment such as police or EMS systems.


[1] F.S. 633.202 (20)

[2] Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District, Final Budget 2016-2017

[3] Broward County Board of Rules and Appeals, Section 118 Two-Way Radio Communication Enhanced Public Safety Signal Booster Systems https://www.broward.org/CommunicationsTechnology/Documents/Local%20Amendment%20on%20Two-Way%20Communications.pdf