In 2017, the San Francisco board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance 1126.96.36.199 which will require all multi-unit buildings in San Francisco that currently have a fire alarm system to
have that system upgraded to include additional equipment. This article is intended to convey as much information and insight as possible.
Ordinance 1188.8.131.52 hit like an earthquake in our industry in 2017 and to be honest, I almost had a panic attack when I thought “How am I going to upgrade 800+ systems to meet this new requirement?”
Like the structural retrofit required for earthquake safety, this new ordinance placed a heavy burden on building owners, both financially and logistically, in order to pay for and find competent contractors to do the work.
Fire Alarm Systems
When fire alarm systems were first required by San Francisco in 1978, most of the 9,000 apartment buildings in the city had these systems installed within a few years. Smoke detectors in the common hallways, 10” bells on every floor, a fire alarm panel in the lobby with a manual alarm pull station next to the panel. Great idea, well thought out and necessary for the protection and well being of the tenants.
How far does 1184.108.40.206 go beyond the original idea of having a fire alarm system protect the common enclosed areas shared by apartment building tenants? Let us count the ways:
Low frequency horns inside every bedroom/ potential sleeping area. Has there EVER been a fire in a San Francisco apartment building where the fire alarm system worked but someone died because they didn’t hear the 10” bells going off in the hallways? No, never -never happened. Having a loud horn go off above your bed because someone on the third floor burned some popcorn and opened their front door? NOT REASONABLE.
New fire alarm systems will be required to be monitored. Every alarm will be transmitted to SFFD which will result in the fire department responding with trucks for every alarm.
(95% of all fire alarm activations are false alarms. Are you ready to have trucks and ladders with blaring sirens traversing up and down the streets of this city, day and night, 24/7? Get ready, they are coming.)
Why is the Board of Supervisors asking the people who own the 9,000 apartment buildings in San Francisco to spend $250 million dollars to upgrade these completely adequate and
existing fire alarm systems? This seems like a campaign to crush the small mom and pop apartment owners, maybe forcing them to sell and have the property reassessed for greater tax revenue?
How much more can the rightful owners of these businesses be subject to? The sad truth is there is no limit to what San Francisco will impose upon the property owners in this city. What if, next year, they ask owners to install windmills on the roof of their buildings to generate their own electricity? Who will stop them? The answer is unknown.
In the meantime, we’re looking to find a happy medium. The low frequency requirement does not seem to be strictly enforced right now, as long as 75 decibels can be measured inside the units.
Permits, plan submittals, wire, wire-mold, cellular monitoring, new panels, new smoke detectors and new manual pull stations are not cheap. The question remains – what will the SFFD do when the deadline expires in July 2023?
Will the city place notices on the buildings that do not upgrade their systems? Will there be fines imposed? Perhaps a call to the SFFD Fire Prevention Hotline at (415) 558-3300 will generate some answers. Good luck and God bless.
Eric Hagerman is the owner of Emergency Systems Maintenance Inc., a company that presently tests and maintains over 800 San Francisco apartment building fire alarm systems, serving the industry since 1992. For more information, visit www.FireAlarmSF.com.