November 18th, 2010
By: Craig Rutledge
In the event of a building fire, the safety of the building’s occupants and the property is obtained by a combination of active and passive fire protection systems. An active fire protection system is designed to detect and suppress fire. The system triggers during a fire and activates via mechanical means or other sensors linked to items such as smoke detectors, fire sprinklers and fire extinguishers. The passive fire protection system is part of the building’s overall design and construction, such as designing stairways for rapid evacuation, or the utilization of fire-stopping material, fire and smoke dampers, as well as fire and smoke doors to compartmentalize a building to help confine the fire.
In the world of fire safety, active and passive fire protections do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they work in concert to help control the spread of the fire, maintain the integrity of the building, and most importantly, protect the building’s occupants. As with all systems to assure reliability, both active and passive fire protection systems require periodic maintenance. This is where a chasm exists between the two forms of fire protection. Whereas in most instances active fire protection systems are properly maintained, detailed maintenance records kept, consistently checked up on by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), and overall kept in good working order—the same cannot be said about passive fire protection systems. Two of the most overlooked items of a successful passive fire protection system that are either completely overlooked or only given a cursory look at best are fire and smoke dampers, and fire and smoke doors.
So why are dampers and doors so often overlooked? Resources—either in the form of human or financial, not enough time, lack of enforcement by the AHJ, or not knowing the current codes and standards for the maintenance of fire dampers and fire doors. But if there is a fire in your facility, will any of those reasons matter? Will the building owner, the building’s insurance carrier or building occupants care why the dampers or doors were not maintained up to the current codes and standards? Probably not. Take a closer look at the importance of fire and smoke dampers as well as fire doors and what the current codes say about their maintenance.
Fire and smoke dampers
“Out of sight, out of mind.” Probably no more apropos saying exists when it comes to the maintenance—or lack thereof—of fire and smoke dampers. Located inside ductwork, hidden in mechanical rooms, inside wall chases or above drop ceilings, fire and smoke dampers sit, waiting, only to operate in the event of a fire, to stop the passage of fire and smoke through your building’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. But will the dampers work if called upon? If the dampers have not been inspected, who knows how long the dampers have sat idle? There are two certainties—one, when dampers work, they play a vital role and can save lives and property; two, dampers will not always work if not properly maintained.
In the early 1980s, two fires in Las Vegas hotels (the MGM and Hilton) led to more than 80 fatalities. Subsequent investigations by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that the fires—both initiating in the lower levels of the hotels, rising up floor-by-floor through the hotel’s ductwork—could have been contained to the lower floors had the fire dampers in the ductwork been operational. These events illustrated the great value dampers play in saving lives and were the genesis of NFPA’s standard for the testing and maintenance of fire and smoke dampers.
Aside from preventing the spread of fire through a building’s HVAC system, dampers are also a line of defense against terrorism. In the publication Protecting Building Environments from Airborne Chemical, Biological, or Radiological Attacks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that smoke and fire dampers need to be functioning and states that dampers should be checked for “how well they seal and close.” IFMA’s report Addressing the Threat of Terrorism: Guidelines for Prevention and Response discusses the high likelihood of a fire during a terrorist attack and specifically addresses the importance of proper installation and regular maintenance of smoke and fire dampers to help combat this threat.
However, if not properly maintained, the probability of a damper functioning in the event of a fire drops dramatically. The inspection data collected during facility inspections tells the story—buildings that regularly inspect their fire and smoke dampers have a dramatically lower failure rate.
Due to the fact that The Joint Commission and other state organizations have strictly enforced the damper inspection code in healthcare occupancies, hospitals have performed the damper inspections for numerous years. Outside of health care, the enforcement of the damper inspection code has been far less stringent and in turn, so have the inspections. The result of this variation in testing frequency is vast differences in failure rates between health care and non-health care facilities. Based on recorded data, health care facilities average approximately a 10 percent failure rate for their fire and smoke dampers, whereas in non-health care facilities the data shows that the failure rate jumps to 35 percent. While this is an average and some facilities are around 10 percent, this means there are facilities hovering around a 50 percent failure rate. How can this be? Smoke dampers with electric motors that have sat idle for years and years eventually burn out if never inspected. Dampers that have rusted open simply from lack of attention, or in some instances, the dampers were never installed correctly in the first place.
How do you lower your risk of failure? A good first step is the follow the NFPA standard for testing and maintenance of fire and smoke dampers. The current code for fire dampers is located in NFPA 80 and for smoke dampers in NFPA 105. The dampers in non-health care occupancies reads virtually identical for fire and smoke dampers: “Each damper needs to be inspected one year after installation. Test and inspection then needs to be completed in all buildings every four years.” The codes provide greater details regarding testing methods and record keeping, but the important first step for facility managers is to inspect the dampers because dampers matter and they can fail.
Fire and smoke doors
Unlike dampers, the issue with fire and smoke doors isn’t “out of sight, out of mind.” Fire doors are clearly visible in buildings and are used on a constant and daily basis. Oftentimes there is a maintenance plan in place for fire doors. The question is: Will they truly serve their purpose in the event of a fire? Is the maintenance inspection evaluating all the components of not just the door but the entire fire assembly (door, frame, hinges, pivots, closers, etc.)?
The latest editions of NFPA 80 (2007 Edition) and NFPA 101 (2009 Edition) implemented stricter inspection guidelines for fire doors to ensure proper operation in the event of a fire. As with dampers, fire doors are an essential component of passive fire protection and are necessary to maintain the integrity of a fire barrier. The purpose of fire doors is to close automatically and prevent the passage of fire and smoke from one side of the door to the other. However, many of the maintenance programs currently in place are simply to make sure the door will close. While closure of the door is vital, closure alone does not ensure proper operation. This is why the NFPA put into force the new detailed door inspection guidelines. The code looks at 11 points, which the Door Hardware Institute has further broken down into more than 90 points detailing virtually every aspect of the fire door assembly for inspection. The new inspection code looks in detail at door clearances, clearance limits of gaps, improper field modifications, door coordinators, door closers, gasketing, glazing, vision light frames, hinges, auxiliary hardware and more.
While companies have had a basic door inspection program in place which showed their fire doors were upwards of 80 to 90 percent compliant, they are now finding that their fire doors are actually closer to only 25 to 50 percent compliant. This does not mean that a large majority of the fire doors need to be replaced. A more common non-compliance issue is improper gaps—in many cases from doors that were never hung correctly in the first place. But these gaps between the door and the floor, or the door and the frame, are legitimate problems. Gaps can allow smoke and heat to enter through the door during a fire, allowing the smoke to penetrate the barrier and move throughout the building. Regardless of the reason for non-compliance, the importance of having compliant, functioning fire and smoke doors is critical.
Passive fire protection—every component matters
For a team to be successful, it must have both a good offense and a good defense. Just like a building’s fire protection system, it not only must have a solid offense—with its active fire protection system in place—but also an effective defense with its passive fire protection system. As with any system, passive fire protection is only effective if every component is working. For every component to work, it must be properly maintained. Failure to do so not only compromises that one component but renders the entire system useless. In order to win the battle against fire, your building’s fire dampers and fire doors must work safely and efficiently. The inspection of the dampers and doors is the first step in ensuring their success during a fire.
November 18th, 2010
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (November 18, 2010) – Life Safety Services is pleased to announce that Stu Anderson has recently joined the company as the Account Executive for their new office located in Orlando, Florida. Stu will be developing and managing new business relationships in correlation with Life Safety Services’ sales opportunities across the South Eastern United States. He will also lend his expertise in the field to further consult and educate facility managers, engineers and other fire protection professionals on the importance of passive fire protection.
“We are extremely pleased to have Stu become part of the Life Safety Services’ team. He brings with him significant account management experience and the ability to build great partnerships with our clients“, said Judy Shission, Director of Business Development. “LSS is focused on moving forward and further building our brand as the trusted industry leader in passive fire protection inspection services. Stu is going to help us get there.”
Mr. Anderson has over thirty years of experience in Business Development and Marketing in the energy services business sector. “I’m excited about joining the team at Life Safety Services and being a part of a company that is an industry leader, “said Stu. “Having a strong commitment to customer service was a priority in my decision to join the company.”
Life Safety Services is headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky and is currently doing business in all fifty states, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Plans are currently underway to open branch offices in each region of the U.S. by the end of 2011.
About Life Safety Services:
Life Safety Services specializes in the inspection and repair of fire and smoke dampers, fire doors and fire stop survey and installation services in commercial facilities. Considered a leader in the Fire Safety Industry, Life Safety Services’ has made a commitment to Commercial Facilities to provide specialized passive fire protection inspections of the highest quality to ensure compliance with NFPA’s critical Life Safety Code®.
For additional information about Life Safety Services, please contact email@example.com.
November 4th, 2010
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (November 4, 2010) – Life Safety Services (LSS), an industry leader in Passive Fire Protection Inspection Services, was recently awarded the 34th position on Business First’s annual “Fast 50” list. This is Life Safety Services’ third consecutive year on the list.
Business First’s Fast 50 Program honors the 50 fastest-growing independent and privately held companies in the Greater Louisville area. The Fast 50 companies must privately held and have an average of at least $1 million in sales revenue for the past three years. The company must also be headquartered in Bullitt, Henry, Jefferson, Meade, Nelson, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer or Trimble counties in Kentucky, or Clark, Floyd, Harrison or Washington counties in Indiana.
“We have experienced tremendous growth since our inception in 2004. In the past year we have opened offices in Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Orlando and the United Kingdom.”, said Craig Rutledge, owner of Life Safety Services. “We have worked very hard this year to maintain our growth despite the woes of the economy. We are looking forward to the next stage of our expansion which includes opening additional regional offices and acquiring a greater share of the UK and Canadian market in 2011.”
Last month Life Safety Services was also awarded a position on the Inc. 5000’s list, which honors the fastest growing privately held business in the United States.
About Life Safety Services:
Life Safety Services specializes in the inspection and repair of fire and smoke dampers , fire doors and fire stop survey and installation services in commercial facilities in all fifty (50) states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, and the United Kingdom. Considered a leader in the Fire Safety Industry, Life Safety Services’ has made a commitment to Commercial Facilities to provide specialized fire and smoke damper inspections of the highest quality to ensure compliance with NFPA’s critical Life Safety Code®.