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:
- 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 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 of the 2000 Life Safety Code.
- 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 188.8.131.52 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.