Tennessee Theatre Fire Laws

Theaters present fire hazards because of crowds and dim light.

Theaters afford guests movies, plays, music and other performances. The large crowds and general darkness of theaters present potential fire hazards. Tennessee statutes and regulations adopt codes from international bodies to provide for adequate fire alarms, fire suppression, escape for theater patrons, fire prevention through proper storage and ventilation of film equipment, and prohibitions on smoking.

Fire Alarms

Section of the Uniform Fire Code requires that theaters with two or more audience-viewing rooms have a fire alarm system. According to Section, the systems must include alarm signals, activation of fire suppression or fire safety systems, emergency voice or alarm systems, methods to monitor abnormal system conditions or a combination of these or other components in Section


Exit signs show patrons where to evacuate in case of fire.

Section 1003.6 of the International Fire Code provides for pathways, or egress, to exits to be free of obstructions. According to Section 1001.1 of the International Fire Code, theaters must mark exits with visible signs where occupants cannot immediately see the exits. Under Section of the Uniform Fire Code, theaters must announce or project on the screen the location of exits in case of a fire.

Automatic Sprinkler Systems

According to Section 914.6.1 of the International Fire Code, theater stages, dressing rooms, lounges for performers and accessory shops and storerooms must have automatic sprinkler systems. Sprinklers are not required under stages less than 4 feet high and used only for table and chair storage or for stages not more than 1,000 square feet and less than 50 feet high that do not have retractable curtains, scenery or other hanging objects.

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Motion Picture Film Projector Rooms

Theaters must house projectors in a separate room.

Section 306 of the International Fire Code and Section 409 of the International Building Code require a projection room for each motion picture projector producing hazardous gases, dust or radiation, and using a ribbon-type cellulose nitrate film. The room must have adequate ventilation and air supply to remove fumes from a projector.


Tennessee law prohibits smoking in theaters.

Section 39-17-1803(a)(19) of the Tennessee Code Annotated prohibits smoking in enclosed theaters and other enclosed places that primarily exhibit movies, stage and music performances, lectures and similar activities. According to 39-17-1805, theaters must have “No Smoking” signs in visible locations. Under Section 39-17-1807(a), those who smoke in enclosed theaters face a $50 civil penalty. Section 39-17-1807(b) punishes theater owners and operators who knowingly allow smoking or fail to have “No Smoking” signs.