Hello – Happy Friday! Today’s post comes to you from Val Boutin, Fire Protection Engineer in the Building Fire Protection and Life Safety Department, at NFPA. Special thanks to Val for her contribution to this blog while I am out on maternity leave, and discussing one of the many subjects addressed in the Fire Code.
Everyone seems to get excited when they find out a movie or TV show is going to be filmed locally. Maybe you will catch a glimpse of your favorite actor or appear as an extra! But, how do we ensure these production areas are safe? What types of fire protection features are required in an approved production facility? Of course NFPA 1, Fire Code, has you covered.
Chapter 32 of the Code contains requirements for soundstages, approved production facilities, and production locations. Section 32.4 applies to soundstages and approved production facilities while section 32.5 applies to production locations. A majority of the requirements in chapter 32 are directly extracted from NFPA 140, Standard on Motion Picture and Television Production Studio Soundstages, Approved Production Facilities, and Production Locations. Soundstages and approved production facilities are buildings (new or existing) or portions of buildings (new or existing) used for the production of motion pictures, television, or commercials. A production location is any site other than a soundstage or an approved production facility, used for the production of motion pictures, television, or commercials.
The fire protection requirements (32.4.11) for soundstages and approved production facilities can be broken down into two main categories: extinguishment and fire alarm.
Extinguishment: Automatic sprinkler systems in new and existing soundstages and approved production facilities need to be maintained in accordance with NFPA 25. New soundstages and approved production facilities shall be equipped with an approved, supervised automatic sprinkler system in accordance with NFPA 13. There are two major exceptions allowed. If approved mitigation is provided, or if the building sprinkler system meets the design criteria for Extra Hazard, Group 2, then the requirements of NFPA 13 prohibiting obstruction to sprinkler discharge are not applicable. Soundstages and approved production facilities are not your typical buildings; often sets change just for one scene. Many walls and ceilings are only temporary so trying to account for all obstruction would be impractical. It would require constant re-evaluation and redesigning of the sprinkler system. Suggested mitigation techniques include:
- Installing smoke or heat detectors underneath solid or hard ceilings that have an area of more than 600 sq ft. and a height of more than 3 feet. The detectors should be spaced according to manufacturer’s guidelines. The entire system (including the alarm panel) should be considered portable because it is intended to be reinstalled when platforms or sets change. The system should alarm at a constantly attended location- locally or at an approved and listed central, proprietary, or remote station service.
- Using approved and listed fire retardants on the underside of combustible platforms
- Using approved and listed fire retardants on scenery, props, framework and deck of combustible platforms, and hard-ceilings of combustible sets
- Providing a fire watch when the set isn’t in use
- Not storing combustible materials under any platforms and regularly inspecting those areas
In addition, portable fire extinguishers need to be installed and maintained in accordance with NFPA 10.
Fire Alarm System: This section provides alternative means to notify occupants on the soundstage in the event of an emergency situation. It prevents the disturbance of videotaping, filming, or broadcasting of programs from false alarms. With the permission of the AHJ, fire alarm system notification appliances within soundstages and approved production facilities may be deactivated during videotaping, filming, or broadcasting of programs if all of the following are met:
- In the event of alarm system activation, notification appliances shall activate at a location that is constantly attended during videotaping, filming, or broadcasting of programs.
- Communication means shall be provided between the constantly attended location and the fire command center for the building (where one is provided) and with the occupants of the soundstage to initiate emergency action.
- A visual signal at an approved location shall remain illuminated while notification appliances on the soundstage are deactivated.
- The visual signal shall have a sign saying “When Illuminated, Soundstage Fire Alarm System Notification Appliances Are Deactivated.”
The requirements in Chapter 32 work to accommodate the special needs of soundstages and approved production facilities without sacrificing life safety.
Thanks for reading! Happy Friday, stay safe!
(you can follow both Val (@ValBoutin_NFPA) and I (@KristinB_NFPA) for additional fire safety information.)