Maintaining Fire-resistance rated and Smoke-resistant Assemblies

With the rash of fires the past year in structures around the world, there has been a call to ‘do something’. The Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) recommends that all parts of Total Fire Protection be constantly, and continuously, maintained. Sprinkler Systems and Alarm Systems are systems that are routinely maintained, but what about the fire-resistance-rated and smoke-resistant barriers in buildings? These barriers protect people from fire and smoke spread

in buildings. They need maintenance too. Below are five suggested steps to take to keep these barriers safe

5 steps to maintain fire-resistance rated and smoke-resistant assemblies:

  1. Conduct a Visual Survey – Make sure the surveyors know the testing laboratory listings from UL, FM or Intertek. The Listings and manufacturers’ installation instructions are key to installation, inspection and survey. NFPA 1 requires a knowledgeable person to manage the process.

  2. Inventory the fire-resistance-rated and smoke-resistant assemblies – Create a database, electronic, paper, custom software package, to know what’s in the building.

  3. Inventory the features of fire-resistance-rated and smoke-resistant assemblies – Firestopping, Fire Doors, Fire and Smoke Dampers and Fire-Rated Glazing are all features that protect the barriers. Know what’s in the structure to understand the maintenance requirements.

  4. Repair barriers and the features as needed to stay safe.

  5. Inventory the Repairs. This is for the records that the fire marshal will ask for to see if you have done the required recordkeeping.

Is it this easy? Yes, the steps are, but the most critical component of this is the company that performs the survey. If they do not know and are not familiar with the listings and manufacturers’ requirements, then it’s a waste of time and money.

Firestopping is a big part of keeping the continuity of the fire-resistance-rated and smoke-resistant assembly intact. Breaches, openings and voids are made to allow plumbing, electrical, HVAC, cabling and other service items to serve remote parts of buildings. Those openings are best protected with firestop systems to maintain the fire-resistance. Without protected openings, what these openings have in essence created is a superhighway for fire and smoke to travel through, thereby facilitating the spread of fire and smoke and endangering building occupants.

But, firestopping alone is not the solution.

Doors need to be fire-resistance-rated, closed and latched all the time. Fire dampers in the ductwork need to work when activated. And, holes in fire-resistance-rated or smoke-resistant walls and floors need to be protected through fire-rated repairs.

Each building has a budget for smoke alarm and sprinkler maintenance, but does management have a Fire-Resistance budget? Not many do.

The International Fire Code and NFPA 101/NFPA 1 Codes have requirements to maintain fire-resistance – including the barriers, in buildings. The IFC states that an annual visual inspection is required and that, if required, repairs are to be made when the barriers are breached, damaged or penetrated.

In buildings, breaches, openings and holes may be made in walls and floors, either on purpose or accidentally. That’s why facilities need a line item in their budget for maintaining fire-resistance-rated walls and floors.

Each fire-resistance discipline is different. Fire-resistance-rated doors, dampers, glazing, firestopping, fireproofing, fire barriers and smoke barriers all have specific technical aspects to the assemblies. Facility management personnel can either train building operations staff to understand how to work with the listings and manufacturers’ products that make the assemblies and features, OR they can hire an FCIA Member that specializes in firestopping or barrier management.

When fire strikes, your risk management department will be thankful.

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