REBNY thanks the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) for the opportunity to comment on proposed rules requiring the installation of Fire Service Access Elevator (FSAE) annunciators.
The proposed rule seeks to clarify a property owners’ obligation to install FSAE annunciators given the significant uncertainty in the market as to whether these systems are required. This uncertainty is because until 2021, the NYC Fire Department (FDNY) and DOB were approving plans and issuing certificates of occupancy (TCO and CO) for buildings without annunciator systems. Then, in 2021, without any changes to the code going into effect, FDNY began issuing defects upon inspection of building fire alarm systems that did not include annunciators despite having previously approved fire alarm system plans for those same buildings without annunciators. To support this action, FDNY issued a bulletin providing design and installation specifications for FSAE annunciators that was made effective immediately. Due to the significant challenges resulting from the bulletin being implemented without a phase-in, the bulletin was then withdrawn to provide an opportunity for DOB, FDNY, and other stakeholders to discuss the issue.
Since the bulletin was withdrawn, REBNY has been in dialogue with the agencies and other stakeholders to identify a way to resolve the issue to ensure firefighters have the information they need to do their jobs safely without placing an undue burden on buildings that do not have these systems installed because they were not required to do so when their plans were approved by the agencies.
The proposed rule offers one potential way of resolving this issue. Under the proposal, buildings that have an occupied floor more than 120 feet above the lowest level of fire department access with a TCO would not be prevent from obtaining a CO prior to a FSAE annunciator being installed. However, these buildings – and all buildings with an occupied floor more than 120 feet above the lowest level of FDNY access that have a certificate of occupancy but do not have annunciators – must install acceptable annunciators within three years.
REBNY agrees that it is appropriate to require buildings that have not yet filed plans with DOB and FDNY to install annunciators and believes the proposed rules provide appropriate clarity for that group of buildings. At the same time, the proposed rule would pose substantial challenges for property owners in buildings that have filed plans with DOB and FDNY, have had plans approved by FDNY and DOB, have received TCOs, or COs as these groups of buildings will all face various levels of challenge to comply with the proposal. Specifically:
Buildings with Submitted but Not Yet Approved Plans: The proposed rule will require projects that have submitted plans to FDNY/DOB but not yet received plan approval to be redesigned and resubmitted. This would result in additional expense for these projects both in terms of the cost to redesign as well as the amount of time they would need to wait for plan review, which could be significant as FDNY fire alarm plan review has fluctuated between 8 and 16 weeks on average in recent years. If these types of projects will be required to be redesigned to have annunciators then the proposed rule should, at minimum, provide for expedited plan review by the agencies for these projects.
Buildings with Approved Plans without TCO/CO: The proposed rule will require projects that have had their plans approved by the agencies but have not yet received a TCO or a CO to make significant changes during construction to accommodate the installation of annunciators. Projects would need to be redesigned, plan changes submitted to the agencies for approval, and the construction work would need to be altered. All of this would add significant burden to these projects as the proposed rule does not provide any phase in or flexibility for these projects. Moving forward, the proposed rule should be amended to ensure that any filings required to make this change – including plan amendments and certificate of occupancy requests – be reviewed and approved expeditiously to minimize the impact on these buildings. Further, a special process should be established that would allow these buildings to receive their TCO provided that the annunciator is installed within three years.
Buildings with a TCO: The proposed rule would allow buildings that have received a TCO without the installation of an annunciator to obtain a CO, provided the annunciator is installed within three years. REBNY appreciates that the proposed rule will allow these buildings to obtain a CO prior to annunciator installation. At the same time, as discussed in more detail below, it may be impractical for these buildings to comply with the requirement to install a FSAE annunciator.
Buildings with a CO: The proposed rule appears to require all buildings over 120 feet that have been previously issued a CO to install FSAE annunciators within three years. This requirement presents enormous challenges for existing buildings. As a primary matter, doing so would likely require extensive modifications be made to lobby configurations that could have the effect of also impacting other provisions of the building code. This is the case because the smallest FSAE annunciator on the market is 24 by 30 inches and there is not sufficient space available in existing fire command centers to accommodate a panel of this size. As a result, buildings would be required to move and expand their fire command centers, requiring significant work to the building lobby or ground floor.
Furthermore, installing these systems would impact other areas of the building as well. It would require that significant work be done on each floor and elevator to install heat detectors, temperature sensors and wiring, or to replace existing approved equipment. This work will also require patching and painting of newly finished lobbies on each floor of a building. Finally, it is possible that completing the installation of the FSAE annunciator would require a complete replacement or upgrade of the existing approved fire alarm system, since some existing systems would not have the capability or spare capacity to add the required detection in each elevator lobby needed to make the FSAE annunciator operational. This work would come at substantial time and expense for building owners and disruption for building occupants.
Given these facts, combined with the reality that all these buildings have previously been determined to be code compliance and safe to occupy, the proposed rule should be revised. To do so, alternatives should be explored with all stakeholders that would provide firefighters with access to more information utilizing the existing fire alarm system without the requirement to install annunciators in all buildings that have a CO or TCO. Further, a process must be established for buildings to work with the agencies to find alternative solutions or locations for the FSAE annunciator to be installed in when the installation of annunciators is simply not practical.
Thank you for consideration of these views.