Our High-Rise Building Opted Out Of Fire Sprinklers, Now We Have To Do What?!


Many articles, seminars and correspondence from B&P and others have addressed the looming December 31, 2016 deadline for high-rise condominium and cooperative buildings to vote to opt out of the fire sprinkler retrofit requirements in the Florida Fire Prevention Code, and many communities have taken advantage of the opt-out process. However, many communities are unaware that there may be other fire safety obligations with which they must comply. In a recent Declaratory Statement issued by the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of State Fire Marshal, the State Fire Marshal provided additional clarity on this issue for high-rise buildings. In In re David Woodside, President Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association, Case No. 189152-16-DS (May 4, 2016), the President of the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association filed a petition with the State Fire Marshal, essentially requesting guidance on whether certain high-rise buildings that are not protected throughout by an approved automatic fire sprinkler system must instead have an approved Engineered Life Safety System (“ELSS”), and if so, what the deadline to comply with the ELSS requirement would be.

As supporting authority, the State Fire Marshal noted in the Declaratory Statement that the Florida Fire Prevention Code adopted the NFPA, including the Fire Code (NFPA 1) and Life Safety Code (NFPA 101), with certain Florida-specific amendments. The Fire Marshal referenced FFPC 101:, which provides that all high-rise buildings, other than those meeting or, shall be protected throughout by an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system in accordance with The State Fire Marshal stated that FFPC 101: provides that an automatic sprinkler system is not required where every dwelling unit has exterior exist access in accordance with 7.5.3. The Fire Marshal further stated that FFPC 101: provides that a “sprinkler system shall not be required in buildings having an approved, engineered life safety system in accordance with” In addition, the Fire Marshal referred to FFPC 1:, which provides that all existing high-rise apartment buildings shall be subject to the provisions of sections 718.111 and 718.112, Florida Statutes, which shall “supersede the requirements for an automatic sprinkler system.”

The Fire Marshal concluded that an ELSS would still be required in high-rise buildings if compliant automatic sprinkler systems were not present or if all of the dwelling units do not have exterior exit access. Specifically, the State Fire Marshal concluded that although a Florida-specific amendment to the Fire Code permits the fire sprinkler opt-out process from the general sprinkler retrofitting requirements, another Florida-specific amendment, FFCP 1:, clarifies that if the entire high-rise building is not protected by an approved automatic sprinkler system, it must comply with the ELSS requirements if there is not an exterior exit access for every dwelling unit. Concerning the deadline for implementing an approved ELSS when required, the State Fire Marshal stated that the deadline would be December 31, 2019, pursuant to FFPC 1: of the Florida Fire Prevention Code.

Therefore, if your condominium or cooperative community is a high-rise building that has previously voted to opt out of fire sprinklers or your association plans to do so before the opt-out deadline, but otherwise is still subject to ELSS upgrade requirements, your community should begin preparing for any changes to your building’s current ELSS, if any, to comply by the December 31, 2019 deadline. The Florida Fire Prevention Code states that the ELSS, where required by relevant sections of the Florida Fire Prevention Code, must be developed by a registered professional engineer experienced in fire and life safety system design, approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (i.e. the local fire marshal), and shall include some or all of the following: partial automatic sprinkler protection, smoke detection systems, smoke control systems, compartmentation, and “other approved systems.” Of course, if your building currently has compliant automatic fire sprinkler systems throughout, or your community chooses not to opt out of the retrofitting requirements and plans to perform the fire sprinkler retrofit, then an approved ELSS will not be required, pursuant to the Florida Fire Prevention Code. Not sure if your building may be subject to additional ELSS requirements or how they may impact your community? We suggest contacting a registered professional engineer experienced in fire and life safety system design, and consult with your association’s counsel for legal guidance when needed.


Written by Lance D. Clouse, Esq. Originally posted on Community Update by Becker and Poliakoff