I just saw an article in the Preston Blog, about a fire in a block of student apartments that was contained by a closed and latched fire door assembly in a fire barrier. These photos from the Preston Fire Department accompanied the article, and clearly show the effects of the fire on one side of the door, while the non-fire side is unscathed:
This article reminded me of a recent call from a hardware consultant, who was writing a specification for a college dormitory. In order to improve interaction and communication between students in the dorm, the architect had requested a code modification to omit the door closers from the fire door assemblies so the students could leave the doors open. And the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) approved the request.
This is a very delicate situation. Personally, I disagree with this code modification, especially since there are products available that would allow the students to leave their doors open under normal conditions but would close and latch the doors during a fire alarm. The intent is for the fire door assembly to help compartmentalize the building and deter the spread of smoke and flames; a door in the open position provides no protection. But the hardware consultant’s job is to serve the architect, and it’s always best to avoid opposing the AHJ if possible.
Photos: Preston Fire Department
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Why would the modification be allowed if it blatantly disregards life safety?
I have no idea.
As an architect who has designed university residential hall projects that have petitioned and received this code variance, let me try to explain. The following text is from a recently approved variance.
THE SHORT ANSWER:
Removing the closers is not an isolated decision, but is one part of a whole life safety strategy.
It is a hardship to the buiLding owner to maintain 200-300 closers on student room doors; therefore, the design team will exceed code requirements on smoke detection (see below) in order to offset for this variance.
THE LONG ANSWER:
Reference International Building Code 716.5.9.
New dormitory sleeping room door assemblies on upper floors will not be provided with closers. The corridor doors are required to be either self- or automatic-closing, based upon the 20-minute fire rating.
The new residence hall building will have multiple stories. The first floor will have common amenity spaces, with dorm rooms on upper floors. Upper floors will also include student lounge spaces. The building will be of Type IB Construction.
The building will be protected throughout with a sprinkler system per NFPA 13 as part of this project. The corridors will be provided with a smoke detection system connected to the building fire alarm system – corridor smoke detectors are not required by code. Each sleeping room will be provided with single-station smoke alarms, as required.
The hardship is the ongoing cost of maintaining door closers or door hold-open devices that are rendered essentially inoperative in a short period of time in the student environment.
Hi Ryan –
Thanks very much for sharing your insight. In my experience, AHJs look for some give-and-take when a code modification is proposed. It looks like corridor doors have been added to help mitigate the smoke transmission. I’m curious how many dwelling units are in each area separated by the corridor doors.
The doors I am referring to are to individual, double occupancy student sleeping rooms.
Is what is saved in maintenance and installation worth what the cost of repairing the damage, students displaced by a smokey fire that does not trip the sprinkler system. I think not, I would rather have the smoke damage contain to a single room than a whole floor or area of a floor
So removing smoke and fire separation is ok because properly maintaining door closers is expensive…. Really. Wow. As someone who oversees the maintenance of 10’s of thousands of doors on a campus I am blown away that this was even requested. I would never even think about putting our students and staff in this position. Where do you draw the line on this kind of thinking? Nothing replaces the value of a fire separation door.
Whenever we run into a situation where our opinion (common sense and code chapter and verse)does not agree with the architect or the AHJ, we send a detailed email to everyone involved, with as many facts as we can to support our reasoning and a copy of the code verbiage that we feel is being ignored or violated. We state that we are “giving up the fight” and that we will abide by their decision. We are only the installers and we must be uneducated if we don’t agree with the mighty architect. As installers, we have no power to change things, so we just make sure they know that we brought it to their attention before the job was completed.
On more than one occasion, we have seen the AHJ reverse their opinion when they realize that we have documented their decision for all to see and that we have quoted the code that is being ignored. They don’t want their name on the decision when it gets into a documented chain of email and they can be proven wrong at a later date. The liability becomes personal when we tie them to it with emails and they don’t want to be linked to poor decisions.
Unfortunately, most decisions these days come down to the cost. Locks for classroom doors in K12 are too expensive so the Ohio legislature gets in the business of taking enforcement of the life safety codes away from the fire marshals and allows barricade devices to be employed. I’m dreading the day when some lunatic barricades themselves in a room full of students. Allowing anyone to lock any door at any time for any reason is a bad idea. Life safety costs money. The cost of maintaining door closers is minimal. Most of them get installed and no one touches them for 30 years. Students want their doors open. I get that. So if we put standard closers up, they disconnect arms or wedge things between the door and frame. That is a maintenance problem for sure. There are door closers that allow the doors to swing freely all the time except when the fire alarm is activated – these are multi-point hold open closers and were originally designed for patient room doors in hospitals when the corridors were rated. Perfect application for dorms. The doors function as if they are free swinging except in the event of fire. Smoke detectors do not stop fires from spreading. so……what price do we place on life safety?
I agree with Rich. Most of the time AHJs are swayed by whomsoever is strong in putting across to them the desired change. But when AHJs are ‘educated’ about its code violation, they reverse their decision are grateful to us. Therefore we must oppose them when their decision is life threatening as we see it.
This all boils down to education. The general public does not understand the requirements or importance of fire doors. We see it all the time with propped open fire doors in a variety of occupancies. Those violating the codes have no idea they are doing anything wrong.
There are only a small handful of news reports that address the importance of fire doors or show the positive effect of a closed door (whether it’s rated or not). And those few reports usually aren’t the TOP STORY on the evening news. They are 15 minutes into the program when most of us have tuned-out because we’ve seen/heard the most important topics already. We need some sort of public broadcast messages on local radio stations. I don’t think TV is the go-to-source for news or entertainment anymore. With Netflix, Roku, Fire TV and many other cable-cutting options now available, normal cable TV is no longer the best way to reach people. I don’t have the stats but I imagine most people that still watch cable TV spend most of their time watching recorded shows from their DVR and fast forward through the commercials.
However, almost all of us listen to the radio while we’re driving. The other option is a very creative Facebook clip that would need the help of everyone that reads this blog to go viral. Lori, I’m sure your whiteboard artist could play a big role in developing such a thing.
Easy but not cheap answer if your dorm is Nerd Castle (like mine was): LCN 4310ME-SFs. Shame the SF function isn’t available on the 2310 track arm, because that sure would be nice for a high-end apartment or such…nor is it available on an institutional closer, and I wouldn’t trust the frathouse crowd not to mess up regular closers, unfortunately.