The standard for fire safety symbols

Written by michael montecalvo
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The standard for fire safety symbols
Symbols give us information, directions or warnings. (Fire exit image by JASON WINTER from

Fire safety symbols are found in NFPA, National Fire Protection Association, Standard 170. The latest version is the 2009 Edition and represents the eighth revision since its adoption in 1994. It combines four other standards into one complete publication.


NFPA 170, "Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols" incorporates symbols for public fire safety, fire fighting operations, and symbols used in architectural, engineering and risk analysis plans and drawings.

Chapter 8, "Symbols for Emergency Management Plans" and Chapter 9, "Development of Emergency Evacuation Plans", are new additions.

The standard for fire safety symbols
Symbols can be a language all their own. (blueprint image by Chad McDermott from


This standard brings together several disciplines that, before 170, worked separately. As a result, NFPA had four different standards in place that overlapped each other and caused confusion within the fire service, construction, engineering, emergency management, insurance, and architecture.

The standard for fire safety symbols
Misunderstanding and confusion can be overcome with communication. (vector silhouettes man and women image by TAlex from


NFPA 170 lists the most common symbols used by the various groups where physical plans are needed. Some of the symbols used are; fire alarm placements, electrical cabinets, emergency exits, fire brigade connections for sprinklers, emergency shelter, emergency shut-off, utility disconnects and literally hundreds more.

The standard for fire safety symbols
Symbols eliminate words where space is limited. (blueprints image by Chad McDermott from

Other Standards

Three NFPA standards were not rolled into 170. The symbols used in NFPA Standards 10, "Portable Fire Extinguishers"; 101, "Life Safety Code"; and 704, "System for the Identification of the Hazards of Materials for Emergency Response" (fire diamond) are all referenced in 170 but they were not affected or changed.

The standard for fire safety symbols
Fire extinguisher symbols and labelling are standardised. (fire extinguisher image by Chris Roselli from

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