Mar 30 2017

Hot Patches on Fire Barriers

Q: In regards to penetrations through fire separations: Our latest survey from Joint Commission identified that “Hot Patches” (a piece of 5/8 sheet rock placed over a hole and the fire caulked around sheet rock) are not an effective way to seal a penetration. We just built a 90,000 square foot addition where builders used “hot patches”. Our district Deputy Fire Marshal states this is an acceptable method (not in writing). Your thoughts?

A: My thoughts…? I think the Deputy Fire Marshal is incorrect. He may accept them on behalf of the Fire Marshal office, but a ‘patch’ over a hole in a fire-rated barrier is not consistent with the UL listing of the way the fire-rated barrier was required to be built. The Joint Commission surveyor is correct. To maintain the UL listing of the fire-rated barrier, you would have to remove the section of gypsum board that has the hole from stud-to-stud, and cut in a new solid piece of gypsum board (without the hole of course) and secure it with the proper amount of screws, tape and joint compound as called for in the UL listing.

Just another example where one AHJ approves something, does not mean it is acceptable for another. The Joint Commission is not under any obligation to accept what the fire marshal says, and vice-versa… It is within the rights of the Deputy Fire Marshall to accept a ‘patch’ over a hole, but that is only for his review and approval. No other AHJ has to accept the fire marshal’s opinion and in this case, I believe the Joint Commission surveyor was correct in his observation.

Jun 06 2016

Fire Barriers in Ambulatory Healthcare Occupancies -Part 2

 Q: Our ambulatory healthcare occupancy was constructed without a fire barrier separating the other business in the building. Now I have been asked to find out if we have to install a fire barrier after the unit is constructed and if there are any other options. Your comments would be appreciated.

A: Well…. From a code standpoint, you may be obligated to have two different barriers:

  1. A 1-hour fire rated barrier to separate the ambulatory healthcare occupancy from other units that are not ambulatory healthcare occupancies (i.e. physician’s offices that would be classified as business occupancies). See sections and of the 2000 Life Safety Code.
  2. A 1-hour rated smoke compartment barrier to subdivide your ambulatory healthcare occupancy into two compartments. Exceptions to this requirement apply if your unit is less than 5,000 square feet and the unit is fully protected with smoke detectors, or if the unit is less than 10,000 square feet if the unit is fully protected with automatic sprinklers. See section of the 2000 Life Safety code.

If you receive Medicare & Medicaid reimbursement funds then you are obligated to comply with these codes. However, CMS does allow you to apply for a waiver if compliance with the Life Safety Code is a hardship for the organization. You cannot apply for a waiver until you are first cited for a Life Safety Code deficiency by an accreditation organization or a state agency surveying on behalf of CMS. But there are no guarantees that CMS would grant approval of a waiver request for this deficiency. Even if they did, the waiver is only valid for 3 years then you have to be cited again and then you have to submit a waiver request again. At best, it is a temporary process… not a permanent solution. My suggestion is to make plans to resolve the deficiency as soon as possible and if you get cited in the meantime, you can always submit a waiver request as part of your Plan of Correction.

May 30 2016

Fire Barriers in Ambulatory Healthcare Occupancies – Part 1

Q: We have built a new Wellness Center with physician offices, diagnostic areas, cafe, etc. and included in the facility is an Ambulatory Endoscopy Center. A question has been raised as to whether or not this Endo Unit needs a firewall separation. Where does the Life Safety Code discuss the requirements for Endo Units? What options do we have if we do not have the requisite fire barriers?

A: You won’t find the phrase Ambulatory Endoscopy Unit (or Endo unit) in the Life Safety Code, because the code deals with different occupancy designations, not different uses within those specific occupancies. You didn’t say, but I’m guessing the Endo Unit is classified as an ambulatory healthcare occupancy, as I suspect the patient is sedated and incapable of self-preservation. Another assumption is made that this unit is an outpatient unit, thereby supporting the thought it is an ambulatory healthcare occupancy. It appears you have an outpatient endoscopy unit that serves 4 or more patients that are incapable of self-preservation. That makes it an ambulatory healthcare occupancy designation. Ambulatory healthcare occupancies are required to be subdivided into at least 2 separate smoke compartments with a 1-hour fire rated barrier. The 1-hour fire rated barrier must extend from the floor to the floor or roof slab above, and openings (i.e. doors) must be at least 1¾ inch thick, solid-bonded wood core and be self-closing. Exceptions to the subdivision into two smoke compartments are if the ambulatory healthcare occupancy is less than 5,000 square feet and fully protected with smoke detectors; or if the ambulatory healthcare occupancy is less than 10,000 square feet and protected throughout by automatic sprinklers. Ambulatory healthcare occupancies must be separated from other occupancies (i.e. business occupancies) by a 1-hour fire rated barrier that extends from the floor to the floor or roof slab above. Doors in this barrier must be ¾ hour fire rated, self-closing, and positive latching. There are other fire barriers that could be part of the Endo Unit, such as fire barriers separating hazardous areas from occupied areas, and barriers separating exit enclosures from occupied areas.