7 principles of life safety

Originally posted on June 12, 2020 at kilolimacode.com

The 7 Principles of Life Safety & The missing 8th

A quick google search of the principles of life safety or 7 principles of life safety does not return too many results. I found this surprising. The 7 principles of life safety were engrained in us in college. As a fire inspector these 7 principles form the basis of which I think about and discuss all things inspection and code related. The one thing that I have been contemplating is, within the 7 principles are we missing an element? Or maybe more? Let me know your thoughts. This post outlines the 7 principles as well as one area I think is missing. 

These principles are also the considerations for fire inspections, plan reviews and occupant training. Each one of the 7 principles may seem basic, but once you delve into each with respect to the individual code requirements, the applicable standards, and how these come together, they become quite complex and integrated. Note that none of these should be considered individually, but rather as an overall system with each one contributing to the safety of the occupants of a building. Therefore, failure of one weakens the entire system.  


1. Building Construction

Is the building constructed of combustible, non-combustible, heavy timber, or encapsulated mass timber construction? What are the fire resistance ratings of the structural members? Will the building materials contribute fuel load to a fire? Building construction is governed by a variety of factors including the use of the building, the building area, the building height, and fire department access. 

2. Building Services

Building services are the systems in the building that help keep the building functioning. Building services are the boilers, furnaces, plumbing, piping, and electrical systems, etc.

Why are building services important? They are important for a few reasons. One is that they may transport hazardous materials into or throughout a building (such as natural gas piping) or they provide an ignition source such as the electrical system. They may also provide a path for the movement of the products of combustion throughout a building such as ductwork. One of the other important aspect of building services is that they penetrate fire rated assemblies, ie. walls, floor and ceiling assemblies. These penetrations may allow products of combustion to spread beyond a fire compartment (check out a previous Kilo Lima post on firestopping between compartments here)

3. Compartmentation

Compartmentation refers to the fire rated assemblies used to create smaller areas or isolate areas. These may be walls, floor or ceiling assemblies used to create rooms, shafts, floor areas, etc. Some things to consider are: what is the intention of the fire rated assembly; is the fire-rated assembly used to contain a specific hazard, such as an electrical room or is the fire-rated assembly used to protect the means of egress, such as a corridor or exit enclosure. Compartmentation also includes the provisions for closing openings in fire-rated assemblies, such as fire doors, shutters or dampers, as well as the provisions for sealing penetrations and joints (fire stopping) and fire blocking.

4. Fire Alarm and Detection Systems

Fire alarm and detection systems are designed to detect a fire condition and notify the building occupants of a fire condition so that they can evacuate to an area of safety. This also includes the provisions for the notification of the fire department.

5. Fire Protection Systems

Fire protection systems are the active systems designed to limit fire damage. These systems either extinguish, control or limit the movement of the fire or products of combustion. Fire protection systems include sprinkler systems, standpipe systems, special extinguishing systems, smoke control and smoke management systems.

6. Interior Finish

Interior finish are the materials that form part of the interior surfaces of floor, wall or ceilings. Interior finish materials have contributed to some of the deadliest fires in history. Is the material an interior finish? Are there exemptions for this specific interior finish based on location, or limited amount? 

7. Means of Egress

Means of egress includes all provisions that allow an occupant to evacuate a building safely. This includes everything from the number and location of exits, to the widths of corridors & doors, and door swings, as well as signage and lighting.

8. A Missing Piece?

The 7 principles of life safety are concerned with protecting occupants and yet there is no mention of education of the occupants on the overall systems that are protecting them. There is no mention of the training of building maintenance staff and occupants in their roles in maintaining the systems and what to do in the event of an emergency. There is no mention of fire drills. In my opinion education and training of building occupants is a fundamental component of life safety. 

The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) conducted a research project titled Project Fail-Safe. “The project is designed to study the impacts on fire & life safety in structures equipped with multiple layers of both active and passive fire protection features.” One of the key findings was that the, “single largest impact on occupant egress survivability is compartmentation of smoke and multiple egress routes.” Both of these elements require education and training of staff. Education of building staff so that the integrity of fire compartments are maintained and training of all staff in their role in evacuating the building. 

Concluding Thoughts

It’s been my experience that using the 7 principles of life safety is extremely valuable in training building staff and occupants. It provides them with an overall view of the building and systems and how they are related. It reinforces the importance of maintaining all aspects of the building. It provides all staff with an understanding of the building they are in, along with their roles and responsibilities in the event of a fire emergency.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code when writing about life safety. NFPA 101 provides a wealth of information with respect to specific code requirements and encompasses an exceptional amount of material. But in my opinion NFPA 101 does not provide the same succinct conceptual framework as the 7 principles of life safety. And in all honesty, while I am familiar with some aspects of NFPA 101, it is not part of my everyday work. If I am missing something, please let me know.