Occupancy Separation

Q: I am a consultant hired by a health system to review a potential building they want to purchase. The architect on this project tells me that the building is NFPA 220 construction type II (111) which is basically a 1-hour rated assembly. The building is a fully sprinklered three story building, and has a mixed use including business and ambulatory healthcare occupancies. The health system is planning on buying the building and is looking to put a free-standing emergency clinic on the first floor which you’ve said needs to be healthcare occupancy. The second floor is a business occupancy. Here’s where it gets strange and I want to make sure I’m not crazy. The floor separation between the first and second floors in this case (business and healthcare) would need to be two-hour fire rated. But Type II (111) buildings have one-hour fire rated floors. I’ve received a drawing from the architect that states the construction type as II (111), but it shows the floors being upgraded to two-hour fire rated construction. The question is, can we have a two-hour floor supported by a one hour steel frame?

A: From my point of view, if they can document that the floor is 2-hour fire rated, then that should be enough for an AHJ to approve the separation between healthcare and business occupancies. I would view it as this: The floor is 2-hour fire rated, and it meets the requirements for a separation between healthcare and business occupancies, and it meets the requirements for Type II (111) construction type. Now, my opinion does not count, so I suggest they get an interpretation from their AHJs, including their accreditation organization.

By the way… CMS was the one who said in late 2016 that Emergency Departments need to be healthcare occupancies. Since then, they have modified their position a bit. Now they are saying an ED must be healthcare occupancy if they provide patient observation rooms. CMS’ rationale is if the patient is sleeping in an observation bed, then that should qualify it as healthcare occupancy. (I don’t agree, but my opinion does not count.) CMS does concede that an ED may be classified as ambulatory healthcare occupancy provide there are no observation beds.

Separation of Different Occupancies

Q: There is an existing clinic which is classified as business occupancy that leases space within a rehabilitation and nursing center. Does this need to be separated by a 2 hour rated partition? Does the egress corridor from the clinic to the exterior need to be rated?

A: Uhm… my answer is … it depends. You state the clinic is a business occupancy, but you did not state what occupancy the rehabilitation and nursing center is. I’m not sure what you mean by a ‘nursing center’… is that a hospital, a nursing home, or is it something else? Is the rehabilitation center classified as a hospital or a nursing home? Or is it outpatient only? Are there any patients in the rehabilitation center that are incapable of self-preservation? If so; how many?

If the rehabilitation center and the nursing center is a different occupancy than the clinic (which you say is a business occupancy), then yes, the different occupancies must be separated by fire rated barriers. The fire rating of these barriers depends on whether or not the occupancy (other than the business occupancy) is healthcare occupancy. Where healthcare occupancy is separated from any other occupancies, the fire rating on the barrier must be 2-hours. However, if the occupancy of the rehabilitation and nursing center is not healthcare occupancy, then the fire rating on the barrier separating the occupancies is only required to be 1-hour rated.

Corridors in new construction business occupancies must be constructed with 1-hour fire rated walls, according to section 38.3.6.1 of the 2012 LSC. But the exceptions to 38.3.6.1 say the requirement for 1-hour fire rated walls does not apply:

  • Where exits are available from an open space;
  • Within a space occupied by a single tenant;
  • Within buildings protected throughout by an approved sprinkler system.

If the business occupancy is considered existing construction, then there are no requirements for the corridor walls. If the rehabilitation and nursing center exits into and through the business occupancy, then the corridor in the business occupancy must meet the requirements for corridors in the occupancy where the rehabilitation and nursing center is located.

Creating Separated Occupancies

Q: I have a 3 story hospital and I would like to have a mixed occupancy classifications for different floors. The basement floor is for support – no patients are ever on this floor for any reason. The top floor is administration. Patients are occasionally on this floor if they are being transported to the adjacent hospital – always in the company of nursing staff and only for 1-2 minutes at a time during transport. No treatments and no overnight stays on this floor. Can I declare the main floor to be healthcare occupancy and the other two floors to be business occupancy? If so, what are the proper steps to make this happen; do I need to involve an architect, do the life safety plans need to be retitled, can I make this decision myself or do I need approval of some sort?

A: You should not make this decision by yourself. You need to employ an architect who has healthcare experience and a good working knowledge of the Life Safety Code.

You did not mention what your facility construction type is (according to NFAP 220). Take a look at 19.1.6.1 of the 2012 LSC… there is a Table that lists all of the approved constructions types for existing hospitals. It is important to know because you will need a 2-hour fire rated barrier between the floors where you want separated occupancies in your facility.

It appears you should not have any issues in making the lower level a business occupancy, and there may be some possibility for the upper level as well. But the experienced architect needs to conduct a field review to ensure exiting, construction type and other factors are correct to allow separated occupancies in your facility.

Once the review has determined you can make these changes, then your Life Safety drawings need to be updated and perhaps your state or local AHJ may want to review this change as well.