#101Wednesdays: Maintaining Fire Safety in Medical Tents

With the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and around the world, many hospitals and health care organizations are preparing for the need for additional space for treatment, testing, triage, or quarantine. For many facilities, this includes the use of tents. It is vital that during these times we remember to maintain fire and life safety in these structures to allow medical teams to focus on patients. The 2018 edition of NFPA 101, Section 11.11 (same section in 2012 edition, which is adopted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) outlines the fire and life safety requirements for tent structures used in outdoor environments.

As with any building, adequate egress facilities are imperative in tents, not only within the tent, but outside the tents as well. All tents should have at least 10 ft. between stake lines to allow for egress. This space should be kept clear of storage or other items that could impede egress from the tent. The location of tents relative to other structures should be approved by your AHJ. Tents should also not be in locations which would obstruct egress from a building, fire department vehicle access, or access to firefighting equipment such as hydrants, fire department connections, or fire protection system control valves.

Flame propagation and fire hazards are a major concern for tents. The use of an improper tent fabric could potentially lead to a very fast spreading fire. Therefore, it is important to use approved fabrics and limit potential fire hazards. Tent fabrics should comply with the requirements of NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films.  In addition to compliance with the test standard, the AHJ may also wish to conduct field testing using a test specimen affixed to the tent at the time of manufacture.

Potential fire hazards in tents include combustible storage and debris, smoking, and heating equipment. Prior to the erection of tents, the area should be cleared of all combustible debris and vegetation. During the use of the tent, care should be taken to ensure there is at least a 10 ft. perimeter around all side of the tent that is free from all combustibles including storage, vegetation, and debris. Unless permitted by the AHJ (which will be highly unlikely), smoking is not permitted in tents and “NO SMOKING” signs should be posted.

A major potential fire hazard is the use of portable or temporary heating equipment. Only listed heating equipment should be used. Heaters utilizing liquefied petroleum gas should have all containers at least 60 in. from the tent, and comply with the provision of NFPA 58,Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code. Electrical heaters should be connected to an electrical source that is suitable for outdoor use and is adequately sized for the electrical load. All heaters should only be used in accordance with the manufacturer's listed instructions.

In addition to all the precautions already addressed, tents should be provided with portable fire-extinguishing equipment. Fire extinguishers should be the proper type for the potential hazards in accordance with NFPA 10,Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, and should be in locations required by the AHJ. Access to fire extinguishers should be maintained clear so that they are accessible if a fire emergency arises.

During these unprecedented times, we should strive to maintain a high level of life safety to protect all the doctors, nurses, and other health care workers that are working hard, as well as their patients. Most importantly, stay safe and healthy!  

Did you know NFPA 101 and other NFPA documents in this blog are available for review online for free? Follow the links in this blog and click on “Free access”.

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Jen Sisco

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