Fire Door Testing

Q: Now that we have some clarification from CMS on annual door inspection [See CMS S&C memo 17-38, dated July 28, 2017], I wanted to see if there was any new interpretation on rated corridor doors (20 minute and up) that are installed in non-rated wall assemblies. In looking at most publications from different authorities, they have interpreted that all rated doors need to be annually inspected since it could be obvious to the public. Section 4.6.12.3 of the 2012 Life Safety Code says existing life safety features obvious to the public, if not required by the Code, shall be either maintained or removed. However, section 4.4.2.3 says where specific requirements contained in Chapters 11 through 43 differ from general requirements contained in Chapters 1 through 4, and Chapters 6 through 10, the requirements of Chapters 11 through 43 shall govern. If the chapters 11-43 govern over chapters 1-10 why are the authorities not recognizing 19.3.6.3.3 where it states compliance with NFPA 80 shall not be required? Unfortunately, it doesn’t say this for “smoke barrier” doors, so the authority’s logic could still have reason. In my interpretation of 4.6.12.3 and reading the appendix it seems that NFPA is referring to first response Life Safety features, like a pull station, fire extinguisher, strobe lights, fire panels etc….. If Joe Public is seeing a fire door do its thing, it’s probably too late. Certainly, first response LS features should always work even if they are not required.

 A: You make many excellent points. But the way I see it (and interpretations by most of the AOs and CMS agree), section 8.3.3.1 of the 2012 LSC requires compliance with NFPA 80 for fire doors and windows. There are no exceptions in 8.3.3.1 that exclude fire-rated doors located in non-fire-rated barriers. Compliance with 8.3.3.1 is required by section 19.1.1.4.1.1. Where section 19.3.6.3.3 says compliance with NFPA 80 is not required, they are speaking about non-fire-rated corridor doors, which are in smoke partitions that separate a corridor from another area or room.

Smoke barrier doors are often not corridor doors; they are cross-corridor doors. But at times, a smoke barrier can (and does) include a corridor wall and what appears to be a corridor door is now also a smoke barrier door. In those situations, the hospital has to comply with the most restrictive requirements.

To me, it is plain: If you have a fire-rated door (regardless if it is located in a fire-rated barrier or not), then it must comply with NFPA 80 and you must test and inspect it on an annual basis.  I’ve been told that the opinions from the staff at NFPA do not agree with this, but NFPA does not enforce the LSC, so we need to comply with those interpretations made by the authorities who enforce the Life Safety Code, such as CMS and the AOs.

 

Fire Door Annual Test & Inspection

Q: I’d like some clarification concerning the new requirement for annual fire door inspections: NFPA 101 2012, Chapter 7.2.1.15 States “Where required by Chapters 11 through 43, the following door assemblies shall be inspected ….”. I haven’t found anything in Chapters 18 or 19 that specifically require the annual inspection. Additionally, the NFPA 101 Handbook specifically states that only occupancies requiring inspections are Assembly, Educational, Day-Care and Residential board and care. My question is where is the specific reference that is requiring hospitals to conduct annual fire door testing?

A: What you stated was actually section 7.2.1.15.1 which does not refer to fire-rated doors, but to certain doors in high-traffic areas, or doors of high importance, such as doors equipped with panic hardware, doors in exit enclosures, electrically controlled doors, or doors with special locking arrangements. Now some of these doors may be fire-rated, but section 7.2.1.15.1 does not specifically refer to fire-rated doors. Therefore, that is why this section is only required if the occupancy chapter requires it and you’re correct in saying the healthcare occupancies do not require it.

And you’re correct: These doors are only required to be tested in occupancies where the occupancy chapter specifically requires it. The healthcare occupancy chapters and the ambulatory healthcare occupancy chapters and the business occupancy chapters do NOT require it, so the test and inspection identified in 7.2.1.15.1 are not required in healthcare, ambulatory healthcare, and business occupancies. Now, if you have mixed occupancies in your hospital and have areas that could qualify as assembly occupancy (i.e. dining areas, auditoriums, large conference rooms, etc.) then you would have to make sure the doors identified in 7.2.1.15.1 are tested and inspected in those areas.

But look at section 19.1.1.4.1.1 which refers to fire-rated doors and at the end of this section, it says “See also Section 8.3.3.1”. Section 8.3.3.1 requires openings that are required to have a fire-protective rating (i.e. fire-rated doors) shall be protected, by approved, listed labeled fire door assemblies with the requirements of NFPA 80. Since NFPA 80 requires annual test and inspections of all fire doors, this is the section (not 7.2.1.15.2) that requires you to test and inspect your fire-rated doors.

The CMS S&C memo 17-38 which was issued on July 28, 2017, describes this issue as well. CMS re-adjusted their expected completion date for the first fire-door test and inspection from July 6, 2017 to January 1, 2018, but not all of the Accreditation Organizations followed suit. Check with your authorities having jurisdiction to confirm what date they are expecting you to complete your first fire-door test and inspection.

Are Smoke Barrier Doors Required to be Inspected in Hospitals?

Q: Do doors in smoke barriers in healthcare occupancies have to be tested and inspected? Section 7.2.1.15.2 of the 2012 Life Safety Code says smoke door assemblies have to be inspected and tested in accordance with NFPA 105.

A: Well, the answer is no… Smoke barrier doors that are non-rated are not required to be inspected annually in healthcare occupancies, even though 7.2.1.15.2 says they do. Here’s why:

  • Section 19.3.7.8 says doors in smoke barriers shall comply with 8.5.4 and all of the following: 1) Doors shall be self-closing; 2) Latching hardware is not required; and 3) The doors do not have to swing in direction of travel.
  • Section 8.5.4.2 says where required by chapters 11 through 43, doors in smoke barriers that are required to be smoke leakage-rated shall comply with section 8.2.2.4. [NOTE: Chapters 18 & 19 for healthcare occupancies do not require smoke leakage-rated doors in smoke barriers…. Therefore, compliance with section 8.2.2.4 is not required.]
  • Section 8.2.2.4(4) says where door assemblies are required elsewhere in the Code to be smoke leakage-rated, door assemblies shall be inspected in accordance with 7.2.1.15.

CONCLUSION: Since the healthcare occupancy chapters do not require smoke barrier doors to be smoke leakage-rated, then there is no requirement to be compliant with 7.2.1.15.2 that says the smoke doors need to be inspected.

Section 4.4.2.3 says where specific requirements contained in chapters 11 through 43 differ from general requirements contained in chapters 1 through 4 and from chapter 6 through 10, then the requirements of chapters 11 through 43 govern. Since the healthcare chapters do not require smoke barrier doors to be smoke leakage-rated, then it conflicts with section 7.2.1.1.5.2, and when that happens, you follow the occupancy chapter requirements.

The problem is… not all authorities having jurisdictions (AHJs) knew this or understood this. Case in point: The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) had instructed their state agency Life Safety surveyors that all smoke doors in healthcare occupancies need to be tested and inspected, citing section 7.2.1.15.2.

In addition, CMS also taught their LS surveyors that doors in healthcare occupancies that meet the requirements of 7.2.1.15.1 have to be tested as well, which is not entirely true. These doors identified in 7.2.1.15.1 only have to be tested in assembly occupancies, educational occupancies, or residential board & care occupancies. The exception is, some hospitals have mixed occupancies that include the requirements for assembly occupancies, so in those cases, yes, the doors in 7.2.1.15.1 would have to be tested and inspected on an annual basis.

But on July 28, 2017, CMS issued S&C memo 17-38 which corrected this error. In this memo, CMS says smoke barrier doors do not have to be tested in healthcare occupancies. So, they saw an inconsistency with the 2012 Life Safety Code, and corrected their position. They even admitted some confusion on their part regarding door testing in general and decided to extend the date that the first fire door test is due from July 5, 2017 to January 1, 2018. But be careful with that: Not all AHJs are moving the date that the first fire door test is required.

You can expect a similar announcement from Joint Commission, if it hasn’t happened already. I’ve been told they will changed their standards to reflect what CMS has said.

Fire Door Inspection Qualifications

Q: In regards to fire door inspections, what are the qualifications of the person to perform the inspection?

A: NFPA 80-2010, section 5.2.3.1 says fire doors must be tested by individuals with knowledge and understating of the operating components of the door assembly, but NFPA 80 does not identify or describe what ‘knowledge and understanding’ actually means. The word ‘qualified’ is not found in this context of describing the individual who performs this inspection. When the codes or standards are vague (as they often are), then it is up to the authorities having jurisdiction to decide how to interpret the code or standard (see 4.6.1.1 of the 2012 LSC). When the AHJ does not make an interpretation of the code or standard, then it is up to the individual facility to decide what’s right.

In this case, no national AHJ has published an interpretation for hospitals on what ‘knowledge and understanding’ is required to test and inspect fire door assemblies. Therefore, hospitals and other healthcare organizations have the right to decide what that means. However, during a survey or an inspection, the AHJ surveyor has the right to question how the hospital determined their individual has the ‘knowledge and understanding’ and if it is not satisfactory to the AHJ surveyor, then a citing may be in order.

My advice to healthcare organizations on this issue is to document why they believe their individual has the ‘knowledge and understanding’ to perform the inspections. If their maintenance person has worked on fire doors for 20 years then that may be sufficient evidence.

I also recommend healthcare organizations to sign their people up for an online course on fire door inspections, by using the link and coupon code located at the right-hand side of this web-page, to the International Fire Door Inspector Association (IFDIA).

Maintaining Testing/Inspection Documents

Q: Our organization is accredited by Joint Commission. I know for inspection purposes we need to have the current year plus that past three years of documentation for LS and EC standards such as fire extinguisher, emergency lights, emergency generator, med gas testing etc. We currently have years and years of documentation being stored. Can these be disposed of or do we need to keep it because we need to keep records of all devices? I hope I’m explaining myself well.

A: I fully understand what you’re saying and you explained yourself well. Your questions is, can you dispose of testing/inspection documents older than 3 years? Well…. I guess you could, but I certainly would not recommend it.

A couple of years ago, during a Joint Commission survey, a surveyor asked a client of mine to produce a document to ensure a particular item was replaced and retested from seven (7) years prior. Fortunately, the client was able to produce that document, but it surprised the client (and me) that a surveyor would want to look at a document that was seven years old.

I understand that Joint Commission surveyors can and often do ask for documentation that goes back 3 years, so obviously having 3-years’ worth of documentation available is a necessity. But there are other reasons to maintain testing/inspection document, such as evidence for litigation cases. While one hopes they never have to utilize documents for that reason, it is a real possibility.

When I was Safety officer at the hospital where I worked, I found strategic storage areas where I kept my old testing/inspection documents. But if you’re asking if there are NFPA codes or standards, or Joint Commission standards that require maintaining these documents for any particular length of time, I would say no… I’m not aware of that.

Annual Test on Fire Rated Door Assemblies

Q: In regards to the new annual fire rated door assembly inspection, are we to inspect every door that has a fire rating or the doors that are located in fire-rated walls? I have noticed that not all fire doors in the building are located in fire rated walls, according to my Life Safety drawings. What do you say?

A: It is not uncommon for fire-rated door assemblies to be found in walls and barriers that are not fire-rated. This is often due to conflicting building codes that require 20-minute fire rated doors in all corridors, or a misunderstanding by the design professional. But make no mistake: You are required to test and inspect those doors on an annual basis.

My interpretation is based on section 7.2.1.15.2 of the 2012 LSC which says: “Fire-rated door assemblies shall be inspected and tested in accordance with NFPA 80…” This section of the LSC does not have any exceptions for fire-rated door assemblies that are located in walls and barriers that are not fire-rated.

Therefore, all fire-rated door assemblies must be inspected and tested in accordance with NFPA 80 on an annual basis, regardless where they are located.

Another way of looking at this issue is to review section 4.6.12.3 of the 2012 LSC which says existing life safety features that are obvious to the public, if not required by the LSC, must be either maintained or removed. The interpretation of what’s ‘obvious to the public’ is certainly open for discussion, but most fire-rated door assemblies can be determined by looking at a fire rating label on the hinge-side edge of the door, and that is viewable by the public. Whether it is obvious or not is a matter of opinion, but if you take the hardline on that, then all fire-rated doors (with a fire rating label) have to be maintained even if they are not located in a fire-rated barrier.

Either way… I think the LSC is pretty clear… you need to test and inspect all fire rated door assemblies regardless if they are located in a fire rated barrier. And by the way, the first test of the side-hinged swinging fire doors is due in a couple weeks: July 5, 2017. Better have it completed by then.

Life Safety Inspections at Offsite Locations

Q: For off-site satellite facilities, where the building is not owned by the hospital but where the space inside the building is licensed by the hospital, are monthly fire extinguisher inspections required? We have several off-site laboratories and other services in buildings that we do not own.

A: Yes… you must maintain all of the features of Life Safety at the offsite locations, even those that you do not own; the same as you would at the main hospital. Just because you do not own the fire extinguishers, fire alarm system, sprinkler system, fire dampers, exit signs, generator, elevators, medical gas systems, and fire doors does not give you a pass on not properly maintaining them. I understand that landlords rarely conduct the same level of testing and inspection of their building’s fire safety features as you would at the hospital, but the rules for testing and inspection apply evenly across all facilities where you have staff and patients, regardless who owns it. Your survey team may not always ask to see the documentation for testing and inspecting these systems at the offsite locations, but it is a requirement found in the core chapters and occupancy chapters of the Life Safety Code.

Business Occupancy Testing

Q: What are the testing requirements for a two story medical office building with a fire alarm system and sprinkler system? I believe we are required to have an annual fire drill but what about the testing of fire alarm system and sprinkler system?

A: Assuming the two-story office building that you refer to is classified as a business occupancy, the requirements for testing, inspection and maintenance are found in section 39.3.4.1 of the 2000 Life Safety Code, which refers to section 9.6. Section 9.6.1.4 requires the fire alarm system to be tested, inspected and maintained in accordance with NFPA 72 (1999 edition). Likewise, section 9.7.5 requires required sprinkler systems to be maintained in accordance with NFPA 25 (1998 edition). If your sprinkler system is not a ‘required system’, you still need to maintain it, according to 4.6.12.2. The testing, inspection and maintenance requirements found in NFPA 72 and NFPA 25 are the very same requirements that healthcare occupancies need to comply with. The bottom line is: You need to test, inspect and maintain the fire alarm system and the sprinkler system in a business occupancy at the very same frequency and level as you would in a hospital.

Follow-Up on Documentation

imagesIDI1GACXMy recent series of articles on Documentation created quite a bit of response. One individual had this question:

“What is your opinion of documentation being kept electronically rather than in hard copy format?  We will have things organized and easy to find and search, but I don’t want to go through the process of electronic files if a surveyor is going to request hard copies.”

My understanding is most authorities will accept electronic documentation provided it meets all of the requirements for documentation. Many AHJs have specific requirements concerning what’s included in the documentation, such as:

Testing & Inspection- Documentation.

Unless otherwise stated, testing, inspection and maintenance documentation must include, at the minimum, the following information:

  1. Name of individual performing the activity
  2. Affiliation of the individual performing the activity
  3. The signature of the individual performing the activity
  4. Activity name
  5. Date(s) (month/day/year) that activity was performed
  6. The frequency that is required of the activity
  7. The NFPA code or standard which requires the activity to be performed
  8. The results of the activity, such as ‘Pass’ or ‘Fail’

An electronic signature typically would be acceptable in lieu of a hand-written signature. That usually means the technician performing the work would have to enter the data in order to create the electronic signature. Most authorities would not accept an electronic signature from a data-entry person in lieu of the technician performing the work. Most authorities also would not accept a data-entry person issuing an electronic signature of another individual, such as a jpg picture of a signature. However, pdf copies of documentation with all of the above requirements is acceptable. Essentially, it would be similar to a photo-copy of a report.

There are stories of the data-entry person not being present during the survey and they were the only one with the passcodes to access the data, or with the knowledge on how to retrieve the data. I also witnessed a situation where weekly reports were turned into a clerical person to enter the data into the computer. The clerical person allowed the reports to accumulate and the data was not entered during the week that the test/inspection was performed. The data-entry person used the ‘default’ date stamp provided by the software platform when the data was entered, which effectively said the test/inspection was not performed during the required time-period.

It is difficult to attach follow-up reports to electronic copies, such as ILSM assessments or repair work orders to a particular LSC deficiency. With paper files, they can easily be inserted into a binder or a folder.

Bottom line: Electronic documentation is permitted, but most hospitals realize the risks do not out-weigh the rewards. I am not a fan of electronic documentation because I have witnessed the problems with using them. But as with all technology, time is needed to work out the problems and make improvements. I’m an old man, and perhaps the younger generation has already implemented solutions to this problem.

I welcome your feedback on the use of electronic documentation.

Smoke Dampers

imagesW9BNC02CWhat do we do with smoke dampers now that the hospital is fully protected with sprinklers? That question is asked many times by facility managers who are looking to cut back on what they believe are unnecessary maintenance costs. For new construction purposes, chapter 18 in the Life Safety Code does not require the installation of smoke dampers in smoke compartment barriers provided the HVAC ductwork that penetrates the smoke compartment barrier is fully ducted (no open return air plenum ceilings), and both smoke compartments served by the smoke compartment barrier are fully protected with quick-response automatic sprinklers. But sprinklers were not always required for healthcare occupancies and only became a rule for new construction in the 1991 edition of the LSC.

Until then, sprinklers were an option (unless state or local laws required it, and the construction type required it), and not all hospitals choose to invest in the systems when the building was constructed. That means smoke dampers had to be installed in the smoke compartment barriers. After the facility became fully protected with sprinklers, many hospitals believed they could remove the smoke dampers (or disable them in place), since new construction specifications did not require the smoke dampers. Section 4.6.7 of the 2000 LSC says whenever alterations or renovations are made, the requirements of new construction must apply. Since new construction (chapter 18) requirements for hospitals did not require smoke dampers where both smoke compartments are protected with sprinklers, facility managers thought they had good ground to stand on.

While this may be acceptable for NFPA, it is not for the International Code Council which publishes the International Building Code (IBC). The organization needs to request permission from their local and state authorities before they remove them. Usually, permission will not be granted because the IBC does not recognize the removal of existing fire safety equipment. I’ve also been told that in those jurisdictions where the smoke dampers were installed prior to the adoption of the IBC, there is a chance that the authorities may permit it.

Bottom line… Don’t be in a hurry to remove the smoke dampers even if you believe they are no longer required. Check with the state and local AHJs and seek their permission. It will save you a lot of work of re-installing them if you don’t ask for permission, and they find out later.