Fire department communications systems are two-way telephone systems typically required in high-rise buildings. The command center contains the control unit with the main handset for use by the fire department commanders (Figure 6.8a). Either handsets or jacks for handsets are then placed in areas of the building for firefighters to communicate with the command center (Figure 6.8b). If the system uses jacks, a number of portable handsets with plugs are provided in the command center for distribution to firefighters.
Designers should plan for handsets or jacks in locations where firefighters are likely to be operating. NFPA 72 requires only one handset or jack per floor, one per exit stairway, and one in each fire pump room. NFPA 101 requires them on every level in each enclosed stairway, each elevator car, and each elevator lobby. The IBC currently requires handsets or jacks in the same locations as NFPA 101 and also in standby power rooms, fire pump rooms, and areas of refuge. These additional jacks or handsets can provide more rapid communications from these critical areas.
Both the IBC and NFPA 101 contain exceptions that allow fire departments to approve their radio systems as a substitute for two-way telephone systems. For a radio system to be equivalent, the radio signals should be operable in the same areas (the command center and each remote jack or handset location). To exercise this option, designers or building owners should test radio signals and document of successful results. Signal retransmission devices may be necessary; this is discussed further in the section, Firefighter Radio Signal Retransmission Systems, on page 61.