Maintaining fire barriers
As a facility engineer, you know that maintaining fire barriers keeps smoke and other toxic gases from spreading around the building and allows occupants to evacuate safely. According to the Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, any penetrations must be treated right away. The compartmentalization of smoke during a fire in the building could mean life or death for building occupants. Even an opening the size of a pinhole in a fire-rated barrier can fill a room with smoke in a matter of minutes.

What is the best way to ensure your fire barriers are maintained?
When work might need to be done in areas where there are fire-rated barriers, it’s important to set specific procedures and requirements for hospital personnel and contractors to follow. Establishing an above-ceiling permit program can help facilities managers keep track of work that could potentially penetrate fire and smoke-rated assemblies. This way they know when and where any penetrations in fire barriers may need to be firestopped.

Another great way to ensure that your fire and smoke barriers are compliant is to set up a firestop maintenance plan, especially in facilities where there are a lot of unaddressed or unknown penetrations. By addressing certain zones or floors on a quarterly or monthly basis, you keep your facility continuously on plan for code-compliance. This not only establishes a plan for compliance, satisfying most AHJs (authorities having jurisdiction – fire marshals, The Joint Commission, etc.), but also saves you time and money by breaking up the work over a period of time.

Either way, it’s important that you maintain detailed reporting of any firestop work, including before and after pictures. This will allow you to review work that’s been completed in the past and also serves as documentation when it’s time for your life safety inspection.

How do I know the penetrations in my fire barriers are properly firestopped?
In order to maintain compliance and the integrity of your fire barriers, it’s important that the proper UL systems and materials are used to seal penetrations. If the fire stop systems are not installed exactly up to par with the UL systems specifications, they will most likely fail to stop the spread of a fire if it occurs. Make sure whoever you choose to firestop your penetrations has experience and knowledge of NFPA code and the proper UL systems.

If you choose to use a third party contractor to take care of your firestopping, ensure that the contractor you choose is aware of the different UL systems and is using the appropriate materials. A good way to ensure that the company is reputable is to choose a contractor affiliated with the FCIA (Firestop Contractors International Association).

As always, if you need help with your firestopping, feel free to contact us! We’d love to help.
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