Twenty-three years ago in March of 1991, nine residents were killed in a fire inside of a care facility in Colorado Springs, and an additional 13 were injured, five of which were firefighters. When tragedies of this nature occur it causes one to wonder, what could have prevented this loss of life? In this case, the passive fire protection system was non-compliant and unable to prevent the spread of smoke and fire throughout the building having deadly consequences.
The fire was caused by a ventilation fan overheating in the east wing which ignited combustible materials in the attic, and burned through the ceiling into the dining room. Without a fire door between the dining room and west wing corridor, the dining room filled with smoke, which expanded down both corridors in the building.
London Apartment Fire Deaths
In 2009, a similar tragedy occurred in London, where facilities managers failed to have their building inspected for over three years. The fourteen story multi-family building did not have seals on the fire doors and there was a lack of firestopping on the pipe work. These deficiencies lead to the death of 3 women and 3 children in the Lakanal House Apartment Fire.
Both of these tragedies showcase the importance of passive fire protection management in facilities. Fire doors, fire dampers, and firestop are all integral to the integrity of your facility’s passive fire protection system. Correct placement and maintenance of fire dampers, fire doors and fire barriers allow for compartmentalization of a fire, protecting the means of egress and allowing building occupants to evacuate quickly.
What can be done to prevent tragedies of this nature? Here’s a brief overview:
1. Code Required Inspections
- Fire Doors – NFPA 80 and NFPA 101 require that annual inspections of fire doors must be performed by a qualified individual and thoroughly documented. The entire fire door assembly (door, frame, hardware, closers, hinges, locks and more) must be kept in proper working condition at all times.
- Firestopping – NFPA 80 and NFPA 101 require any penetration in fire walls or barriers to be treated immediately with the proper UL systems.
- Fire Dampers – NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 require fire dampers to be inspected within one year of installation and after the initial inspection, they must be inspected every 4 years, except in hospitals where fire and smoke damper inspections are required every 6 years. A report with a log of all dampers and maps of their location is also required.
2. Passive Fire Protection System Maintenance
- Inspecting fire dampers, fire doors and fire barriers on a code-required basis is not always enough. Regular checkups of your passive fire protection system allows for timely identification of any problems or deficiencies.
3. Fixing Problems Without Delay
- Maintaining awareness of your passive fire protection system will allow you to identify and correct any deficiencies faster. Being proactive and correcting issues found before your required inspection, will save you time and money in the long run. Fixing problems immediately will also ensure that your facility is compliant and safe at all times. According to NFPA code when you notice issues in your fire dampers, fire doors or firestop they must be fixed without delay.
Neglecting regular inspection and maintenance procedures can compromise the integrity of a facility’s passive fire protection system. Fire dampers, fire doors and fire barriers are a critical component in ensuring the safety of building occupants, by preventing the spread of smoke and ultimately protecting egress routes to allow for safe evacuation.
The Crystal Springs Estate and Lakanal House tragedies show us that the consequences of non-compliant passive fire protection systems can be deadly. Protect your facility, its occupants, and reduce liability by staying on top of your maintenance and inspections.