Besides construction requirements for these areas, codes also require that each of these have an two-way communication system.
Imagine being confined to a wheelchair with a physical disability and you are in a multi-story building. You hear the fire alarm activate and you find that you are on the fire floor. Where do you go and what do you do?
Modern code making organizations along with the American's with Disability Act (ADA) have mandated that areas in a building be constructed for physically disabled persons to enter and await fire department assistance during fire and emergency conditions. This area is known as an Area of Rescue Assistance (ARA).
Areas of Rescue Assistance
An ARA is defined as "an area, which has direct access to an exit, where people who are unable to use the stairs may remain temporarily in safety to wait further instructions or assistance during emergency evacuation."
"Areas of Rescue Assistance" are required in buildings where an exit from an occupiable level above or below the level of exit discharge is inaccessible. If required, Areas of Rescue Assistance shall be provided on each level equal to the number of inaccessible exits. ARA's may be located in emergency exit stairwells, elevator lobbies, exit corridors and in rooms adjacent to emergency exit stairwells and other locations as required by the code.
Not all buildings are required to have ARA's installed. The codes give exceptions for buildings with an approved supervised automatic sprinkler system installed, jails/prisons and exterior facilities such as parking lots and open parking garages.
The following are examples of ARA construction requirements and are taken directly from the ADA Act:
- A vestibule located immediately adjacent to an exit enclosure and constructed to the same fire resistive standards as required for corridors and openings.
- When approved by the appropriate local authority, an area or a room which is separated from other portions of the building by a smoke barrier. Smoke barriers shall have a fire-resistive rating of not less than one hour and shall completely enclose the area or room. Doors in the smoke barrier shall be tight-fitting smoke-and draft-control assemblies, have a fire-protection rating of not less than 20 minutes and shall be self-closing or automatic closing. The area or room shall be provided with an exit directly to an exit enclosure. Where the room or area exits into an exit enclosure which is required to be of more than one-hour fire-resistive construction, the room or area shall have the same fire-resistive construction, including the same opening protection, as required for the adjacent exit enclosure.
Other types of construction methods may be used depending upon which code authority has jurisdiction over the location.
Besides construction requirements, codes also require that in each of these areas an audible/visual two-way communication system must be installed. The codes stop short of the system reporting to a "constantly attended location", instead they require the system report to either the buildings primary entrance or a location approved by the "authority having jurisdiction". The only exception to this rule is in high-rise construction. In high-rise buildings the codes require the two-way communication system to report to the building's fire command center.
These systems are comprised of an intercom sender/receiver installed at each ARA location and a sender/receiver main panel unit installed at the primary entrance location. The receiver at the primary entrance location must indicate where and which ARA intercom has been activated.
The codes also mandate that at each ARA a sign identifying the area must be installed. A standard wording specification is included and if lighted exit signs are required, ARA signs are required to be illuminated as well.
First-in fire personnel arriving to incidents could encounter numerous people calling for help over ARA intercoms. Strategy and tactics employed by first in companies in the suppression of fires involving structures with ARA should include a check of the ARA main panel located at the primary building entrance.