One of the first things to consider before delving into the fire code is total occupant load. Typically, a house of worship will have fixed seating making the actual occupant load the total number of seats (to be shown on submitted plans). However, without fixed seating the calculation will be based on a less concentrated use, which allows for 15 sq.ft. per person. (101:184.108.40.206) These former shopping centers can easily exceed 100,000 sq.ft. (the aforementioned Dillard’s is 127,000 sq.ft.). Based on this calculation (without fixed seating), the allowed occupant load would be more than 6,500 occupants. This easily exceeds the system requirements that come into effect for occupant loads of over 300, and also requires a minimum separation between the assembly and mall area of 2 hours. (101:220.127.116.11.1)
The system requirements for new assembly occupancies include:
- Full fire alarm system with voice communication/evacuation. (101:18.104.22.168)
- Automatic fire sprinkler system. (101:22.214.171.124)
- Inclusion of a proscenium curtain (a curtain separating the stage from the auditorium).
- Stages over 1,000 sq.ft. shall be equipped with standpipes for fire fighting.
- Fire sprinklers are required, including under the stage area (see exceptions in 101:126.96.36.199.3).
- Cooking equipment is required to be protected by a hood and suppression system.
- Candles and flaming dishes are to be properly protected and approved by the local fire authority.
- LP gas appliances are to be listed and installed per applicable codes (NFPA 58).
Trained crowd managers are required at a ratio of 1 per 250 occupants. Assembly occupancies used exclusively for worship with an occupant load of less than 2,000 is exempt from the crowd manager requirement. (101:13.7.6)
Seats in areas accommodating more than 200 persons are to be securely fastened to the floor. In restaurant, and other entertainment areas where permanently fastened seats are not practical unsecured seating is permitted. (101:13.7.9)
Any assembly occupancy with an occupant load greater than 6,000 requires a life safety evaluation. This evaluation shall be performed by a person acceptable to the local fire authority, and is to include an assessment of building systems, features, and management. The evaluation shall contain an in-depth analysis of possible hazards, and emergency response plans. (101:13.4.1)