5 Reasons Fire Dampers Fail Inspections

Fire, Smoke, and Combination Fire/Smoke damper inspections are required by NFPA 80 code in all buildings every 4 years, except in hospitals where they are required to be inspected every 6 years. NFPA 80 also requires that any failures found during the inspection be repaired without delay. In older facilities, it’s not uncommon to have a lot of repairs. Over time, these dampers and their parts can age out of their lifespan or break down due to exposure to certain elements. Being prepared for failures can make your inspections, and the repairs that result, go much smoother and faster.

What are the main causes of fire, smoke, and fire/smoke dampers to fail during an inspection? We’ve outlined the 5 most common reasons:

1. Faulty Actuators

The most common reason for damper inspection failure is a faulty actuator. Actuators are pneumatically or electronically controlled to activate the damper when smoke is detected. Pneumatic actuators require air to properly function and will fail if there is no airline or not enough air to the actuator, while electronic actuators will be unable to operate during a power outage. Additionally, if the actuator is improperly wired to the damper or the motor has frozen or seized up, the damper will not be able to close (or open in some circumstances) and prevent the spread of smoke. Faulty actuators can be easily replaced and retested, if needed. Reputable inspection contractors usually have replacement actuators in stock and are able to make repairs as they inspect if you choose for them to do so.

2. Damaged Fusible Link

A fusible link holds a fire damper open and when exposed to a temperature of 165 degrees F or higher, will melt, subsequently closing the damper. Overtime, fusible links become brittle and crack or break under pressure. Damaged or fused links can cause a damper to close, shutting off airflow unnecessarily, or hold the damper open and prevent it from fully closing when needed. During construction or remodeling of a facility, fusible links can be painted over, which will affect their ability to melt at the proper temperature. When inspecting dampers, fusible links should always be checked to ensure there are no cracks, breaks, or other issues. Again, if you’re using a reputable outside contractor, replacing a few broken fusible links on fire or fire/smoke dampers is usually included in the price of the inspection.

3. Rust or Corrosion
Most dampers are comprised of a metallic material, nuts and bolts. These materials are likely to rust or corrode over time and will affect the integrity of the damper. Rust and corrosion will prevent the damper from opening or closing, depending on its purpose, even if the actuator or fusible links are in working condition. Depending on the amount of rust on a damper, it can sometimes be removed with cleaning. However, excessive rust and corrosion that is not easily removed will likely result in a complete replacement of the damper.

4. Physical Damage
Physical damage of the frame or parts of the damper are likely to happen over time, especially if other work is being done around the general area of the damper. When other issues are being addressed above the ceiling, dampers are likely to be walked on, bumped into, or bent out of place. This may alter the shape of the damper frame, throwing off the alignment of the damper and inhibiting the damper to fully close. Other physical damage could include damaged or worn out springs in spring-loaded dampers. Most physical damage will affect the operation of the damper, leaving it to be replaced completely.

5. Human Error
If a damper is shut closed when it should normally be open, it will prevent proper airflow throughout a facility. If an employee in your facility doesn’t know how dampers should properly operate, they might try to prop it open using items found around the office to allow for better airflow. We have seen items such as pliers, soda cans, and other arbitrary items being used to prop open a fire damper. While the damper was likely not functioning properly in the first place, propping a damper open for better airflow will prompt the damper to fail an inspection, or worse, allow smoke or fire to travel through the air ducts during an emergency. These issues can easily be avoided by educating employees to alert building managers or engineers if they believe a damper is not functioning properly.

The importance of having fire, smoke and fire/smoke dampers inspected on a code-required basis cannot be stressed enough.
The amount of building damage and lives lost could be drastically prevented with regular maintenance and inspection of fire dampers. In addition, The Joint Commission and other AHJs will check to ensure that these inspections have taken place and repairs have been made. Be sure to schedule inspections and repairs on time to avoid consequences from AHJs, and maintain protection your facility and its occupants against a fire.

PREVENT Life Safety’s team of professional technicians provide quick and thorough inspections, while also repairing any deficiencies along the way. Our technicians have a proven track record of accessing most, if not all, dampers and understand the importance of maintaining life safety systems. To schedule an appointment or for a quote, contact your local account manager, or give us a call at 877-392-6074.
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