Topic: Building & Life Safety

Train at a station

Means of Egress with NFPA 130

NFPA 130 is the Standard for Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems. It contains requirements for train stations, subway stations, the trains or subway cars themselves, and the tracks or paths these vehicles travel on. While NFPA 130 covers a wide array of topics this blog is going to concentrate on the unique means of egress requirements for fixed guideway transit and passenger rail stations. Means of Egress First, what is the means of egress? In layman’s terms the means of egress is the pathway out of a building or structure that leads to a point of safety and is comprised of three parts, the exit access, exit and exit discharge.    EXIT ACCESS - The exit access is the path that leads to the exit EXIT - The exit is the portion of a means of egress that is separated from all other spaces of the building or structure by construction, location or equipment as required to provide a protected way of travel to the exit discharge. Examples include an exit door that leads directly outside, an exit staircase, exit passageways, etc. EXIT DISCHARGE - Exit discharge is that portion of a means of egress between the termination of an exit and a point of safety. In NFPA 130 the point of safety can either be the concourse or a point of safety outside of the building. In general, the station needs to comply with the means of egress requirements in NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, for New Assembly Occupancies except where it is modified by NFPA 130. For more information on the means of egress check out this blog! The following sections discuss those modifications. Occupant Load Determining the occupant load is needed to figure out how quickly those occupants can egress the station. To determine the occupant load we need to assume that all of the trains are simultaneously entering the station full of passengers who need to disembark and that there is a full train’s worth of people waiting on the platform to enter the train. So, the occupant load includes both the people exiting the train as well as those waiting on the platform. This will give us a worst-case scenario of having all of the trains recalled to the station at once and having to evacuate both the vehicle and station. There is also the occupant load for each platform that must be calculated in order to make sure each platform can be evacuated in a timely manner. This number is based on peak ridership numbers, which can often require an analysis be done to determine peak ridership statistics. Similar to the station occupant load, the platform occupant load needs to assume a full train has pulled into the station and drops off an entire train load while there is another train load of people waiting on the platform. Evacuation Time When looking at evacuation times there are two main figures that must be considered. The first is the platform evacuation time which is required to be less than 4 minutes. The second is the station evacuation time, in which the occupant load needs to be able to reach a point of safety in under 6 minutes.  Travel Distance There are also limitations on travel distances and common paths of travel for platforms. Travel distance is your natural path of travel measured from the most remote point on the platform to the where the means of egress path leaves the platform. NFPA 130 requires that the travel distance is 100m (325ft) or less. There is also the concept of a common path of travel which is measured in the same manner as travel distance but terminates at that point where two separate and distinct routes become available. The common path of travel is not allowed to exceed 25m (82ft) or one car length, whichever is greater. Platforms Corridors & Ramps Many of the requirements for platforms, corridors and ramps are summarized in the table below. In addition to those limitations, when calculating available egress capacity on platforms, corridors, and ramps, 12 inches must be subtracted from each wall and 18 inches subtracted from the platform edge.   Capacity Travel Speed Minimum width Platforms 2.08 p/in.- min (0.0819 p/mm-min) 124 ft/min (37.7 m/min)   44 in. (1120 mm) Corridors 2.08 p/in.- min (0.0819 p/mm-min) 124 ft/min (37.7 m/min)   44 in. (1120 mm) Ramps 2.08 p/in.- min (0.0819 p/mm-min) 124 ft/min (37.7 m/min)   44 in. (1120 mm) Concourse   200 ft/min (61.0 m/min)   Stairs   48 ft/min (14.6 m/min)* 44 in. (1120 mm) Escalators 1.41 p/in.-min (0.0555 p/mm-min) 48 ft/min (14.6 m/min)*   Elevators carrying capacity for 30 minutes     *Travel Speed for vertical component of travel Escalators NFPA 101 typically doesn’t allow escalators to be used as a component in the required means of egress but because of the short evacuation timeframe, NFPA 130 allows it. When determining egress capacity for escalators there are a few rules that need to be followed. One escalator at each level must be assumed to be out of service and escalators cannot account for more than 50% of the egress capacity for a level unless they meet additional criteria. Elevators Elevators are another unique component of the means of egress that is allowed to be used in fixed guideway and passenger rail stations, but they also come with additional rules. One elevator must be considered out of service, elevators can’t account for more than 50% of the egress capacity and one elevator must be reserved for the fire service. The capacity of elevators is determined by calculating the carrying capacity over a 30-minute timeframe. Elevators also must meet certain construction requirements and they need to be accessed through holding areas or lobbies. Exit Hatches Exit hatches are another unique component of the means of egress permitted for fixed guideway and passenger rail stations. Exit hatches must be manually opened from the egress side with only one releasing operation requiring less than 30lb (130N) of force and have a hold-open device. It also needs to be clearly marked on the discharge side to prevent blockage. Fare Barriers Fare barriers are typically gate type or turnstile type, each of which have additional requirements that must be met to be allowed in the means of egress. Fare barriers are a unique characteristic of a station and have unique requirements. For a fare barrier to be allowed in the means of egress it must either be designed to release in the direction of travel during an emergency or be able to open by providing 15lbf (66N) of force in the egress direction. Platform Edge Provisions Finally, the platform edge is another unique feature of a station. Guards are not required along the trainway side of the platform edge. Certain horizontal sliding platform screens or doors are permitted to separate the platform from the trainway, but the doors or screens must open with less than 50 lb (220N) of force at any stopping position of the train and it needs to be able to withstand the positive and negative pressures caused by the passing trains. There are many unique fire and life safety elements found in Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems. This blog discussed some of the unique means of egress characteristics, but NFPA 101 contains many more requirements that must be followed. 
Workers at a construction site

Latest NFPA Podcast Highlights Benefits of Using a New Online Tool That Helps Communities Assess their Safety Ecosystem and Address Gaps Before a Disaster Strikes

In early August, Meghan Housewright, the director of the NFPA Fire & Life Policy Institute announced the launch of the new Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem Assessment Tool that is helping users identify gaps in their community’s capacity to support safety and draw on the results to advocate for specific changes that will better protect citizens and property. The free tool comes on the heels of a recent report from the Policy Institute, “The Year in Review: A look at the events of 2020 through the lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem” and both the tool and the report are helping serve as important resources for safety professionals across the globe to understand and apply the Ecosystem in their daily roles. Last week, Angelo Verzoni from NFPA Journal talked with Meghan about the safety ecosystem, the assessment tool and its benefits, and why the tool was created with communities in mind. The conversation is included in the latest episode of the NFPA Podcast, and is featured in an article, “Eco Assessment,” in the latest issue of the magazine. Read the short article and listen to the podcast (the interview with Meghan and Angelo starts at 30:37) and share it with others you know. Find more information and related resources about the Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem at                  
A woman with candles

As Colleges Re-Open, Keep Campus Fire Safety at the Forefront

With the new school year approaching fast, college students are returning to campus, many for the first time in over a year, marking the start of new classes, new friends, and new living spaces. Through their Campus Fire Safety for Students campaign, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and The Center for Campus Fire Safety (CCFS) are working together to ensure living spaces are as safe as possible during Campus Fire Safety Month in September and throughout the school year. The goal of this campaign is to raise awareness about the threat of fire among college students in both on- and off-campus housing, and to put relevant information in the hands of students, parents, and campus housing administrators and staff who are encouraged to take proactive measures to protect themselves, family members, and peers against fire. According to campus fire safety research, September and October have the highest incidences for fires in dormitories, meaning the best time to prepare is now! The following tips are a great place to start: Know and practice your building’s evacuation plan, as well as alternate routes. Cook in intended areas only, and never leave cooking equipment unattended when in use, even briefly. Test smoke alarms monthly in an apartment or a house. Ensure smoke alarms are installed outside of all sleeping areas, and on every level of the apartment or house. NEVER remove or disable smoke alarms. Place combustible items away from heat sources and never overload electrical outlets, extension cords, or power strips. Bear in mind that many fires are also caused by portable light and heat sources, like space heaters and halogen lamps. Keep common areas and hallways free of possessions and debris. Never block exit routes. Many of the resources offered by the campaign are designed to be shared through social media, school newspapers, college websites, and posted in dormitory common areas. These resources include videos, checklists, infographics, tip sheets, and more. Learn preventative actions that can save lives and share the information with people you know. Keeping campuses safe from fire is a collaborative effort; help foster a culture of awareness and preparedness by starting today and spreading the word. For more resources and information online about the Campus Fire Safety for Students campaign, visit or the Center’s website and its Share! For Students webpage. 

Basics of Fire and Smoke Damper Installations

Heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems and other components that support the movement of air throughout buildings are necessary for the day-to-day function of buildings in order to properly heat, cool and (re)distribute air throughout them. Air is distributed in air-conditioning and ventilating systems by ducts and plenums and for the system to reach everywhere it needs to within the building, it may require penetrating fire-resistance rated assemblies or assemblies protected against the transfer of smoke. Like fire doors protecting openings in fire-resistance rated construction, dampers also protect openings where ducts pass through or terminate in or at fire rated assemblies in order to maintain the integrity of the assembly and to prevent fire and smoke from spreading to and contaminating other areas of the building that might be otherwise unaffected. During a fire, the air distribution system may transport deadly smoke and products of combustion instead of breathable air. If proper design and installation precautions are not taken, smoke, fire gases, heat, and even flame can spread throughout the area served by the duct system. Improper plenum locations, lack of detection equipment in the system, and lack of required fire and smoke dampers in appropriate walls, ceilings, or partitions can lead to tragic situations. What are fire and smoke dampers and where are they installed?  Fire dampers are installed in ducts passing through or in air outlet openings terminating at shaft walls, fire barriers (such as an occupancy separation wall, horizontal exit walls, corridor walls, corridor ceilings, floor-ceiling assemblies) and other fire resistance–rated assemblies as required by a building or life safety code and other applicable standards.  Under severe fire exposure, a duct may eventually collapse or significantly deform, creating an opening in the fire barrier. Fire dampers provide a method of protecting such penetrations and openings.   A fire damper is designed to, and required to, close automatically upon detection of heat (such as a fusible link or heat detector) and to interrupt airflow and to restrict the passage of flame.  Fire dampers are required to close against the maximum calculated airflow of that portion of the system in which they are installed. Those that are intended to close under airflow are labeled for use in Dynamic Systems (A dynamic systems is an HVAC system designed to maintain the movement of air within the system at the indication of a fire); those that are intended to close after airflow has stopped by automatically shutting down the fan or airflow in the event of a fire are labeled for use in Static Systems (a static system is an HVAC system designed to stop the movement of air within the system at the indication of a fire). Fire dampers are provided with an hourly fire rating.    Smoke damper’s primary function is to control the movement of smoke in dynamic air distribution systems, and they reduce the possibility of smoke transfer within ductwork or through wall openings. They are installed in ducts passing through, or air outlet openings terminating at, smoke barriers, shaft walls, horizontal exit walls, corridor walls, corridor ceilings, and other barriers designed to resist the spread of smoke as required by a building or life safety code and other applicable standards. Smoke dampers operate automatically on detection of smoke and must function so that smoke movement through the duct is halted.  Their activation can be by area detectors that are installed in the related smoke compartment or by detectors that are installed in the air duct systems. Smoke dampers are provided with leakage and temperature ratings.   A combination fire/smoke damper is used when a barrier is both rated for fire resistance as well as designed to restrict the transfer of smoke and will meet both the fire damper and smoke damper requirements.   What standards area applicable?  Multiples codes and standards are applicable to the installation of fire and smoke dampers.  Knowing what each document addresses can help map out the provisions for a safe and successful damper installation.  It is suggested that these documents be reviewed for further details beyond the summary that is provided here.  NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code® mandates where smoke dampers are required as well as their ratings, access and identification requirements, and activation requirements. Smoke dampers are required in air-transfer openings (an opening designed to allow the movement of environmental air between two contiguous spaces) in smoke partitions and in air transfer openings and duct penetrations in smoke barriers.  Where a smoke barrier is also constructed as a fire barrier, a combination fire/smoke damper must be used.  There are multiple exemptions where smoke dampers may not be required in smoke barriers such as where ducts or air-transfer openings are part of an engineered smoke control system and that smoke damper will interfere with the operation of a smoke control system or where ducts penetrate floors that serve as smoke barriers. NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code® mandates where fire dampers are required and their required ratings as well as access and identification requirements for fire and smoke dampers. Fire dampers are required in the following locations:  Ducts and air-transfer openings penetrating walls or partitions having a fire resistance rating of 2 or more hours, Ducts and air-transfer openings penetrating shaft walls having a fire resistance rating of 1 or more hours, Ducts and air-transfer openings penetrating floors that are required to have protected openings where the duct also is not protected by a shaft enclosure, Air-transfer openings that occur in walls or partitions that are required to have a fire resistance rating of 30 minutes or more.   NFPA 90A, Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems also mandates additional locations where fire and smoke dampers are required, working in conjunction with the building code and life safety codes. In addition, it mandates the minimum required rating of the fire damper based on its location.  Compliance with NFPA 90A is mandated by NFPA 101, NFPA 5000 and NFPA 80.  NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives and NFPA 105, Standard for Smoke Door Assemblies and Other Opening Protectives apply after it has been determined where a damper is required and how to access and identify it.  Users are directed to NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 for additional installation details as well as all requirements for the inspections, testing, and maintenance of the dampers. NFPA 80 covers fire dampers as well as combination fire/smoke dampers and NFPA 105 addresses smoke dampers.  Fire dampers are tested and listed for use in air-conditioning and ventilating ducts by UL in accordance with UL 555, Fire Dampers. These dampers include single-blade, multiblade, and interlocking-blade types, all actuated by fusible links. Smoke dampers require compliance with UL 555S, Smoke Dampers.  Combination fire and smoke dampers will meet the applicable requirements of both UL 555 and UL 555S       Fire and Smoke Damper Installation  First and foremost, dampers must be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation instructions and in accordance with their listing. For new installations, retaining the installation instructions on site can help verify that a damper has been properly installed.     Access to both fire and smoke dampers is required for inspection, testing, and maintenance. Smoke and combination fire and smoke dampers in new construction must be provided with an approved means of access large enough to allow inspection and maintenance of the damper and its operating parts.  Access cannot affect the integrity, continuity, or rating of the assembly where its located and must also comply with any access requirements in the mechanical code. Access points must also be provided with permanent identification indicating the type of damper (fire damper, smoke damper, fire/smoke damper). In some situations, where space constraints or physical barriers in new construction restrict access to a damper for periodic inspection and testing, the damper is required to be a single- or multi-blade-type damper and must comply with remote inspection requirements (found in NFPA 80 or NFPA 105.)   After a damper has been installed, an operational test much be completed. This test ensures that the damper has been installed correctly within the air distribution system, is fully functional, closes completely without obstructions and contains all the correct components and devices as part of its assembly. The operational test may be required be conducted under normal HVAC airflow and non-airflow conditions. The damper shall fully close under both test conditions.   Conclusion  Both fire and smoke dampers are important building and life safety equipment that protect people and buildings from the effects of fire. It is critical that they are installed, and accessible, where required throughout buildings and installed properly so that they will operate when required under fire conditions. Without them, fire and smoke could travel throughout the building to spaces otherwise untouched by the fire. Check back for future blogs where we will address the requirements, both in-person and remote, for inspection, testing and maintenance of fire and smoke dampers.  For more information on fire and smoke dampers as well as other opening protectives, you can check also out our various training offerings here.  
Firefighters at a wildfire

As Wildfires Burn Across Parts of the US, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association Endorses Outthink Wildfire, an Initiative Aimed at Significantly Reducing Risk to Communities

The relentless tally of wildfire losses makes it increasingly clear that the U.S. is facing a serious wildfire problem. During the first week of August, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reported seven new large fires, bringing the total number of fires currently burning in the U.S. to around 91. As wildfires continue to seriously affect much of the west, the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) in its latest resolution action, unanimously approved support of Outthink Wildfire™, an NFPA initiative aimed at eliminating the destruction of communities by wildfire in 30 years. The resolution emphasizes the fact that the U.S. has witnessed a steady increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires, a trend that experts predict will continue. The number of homes lost in wildfires per year has increased by 163 percent and wildfires now cost the U.S. billions of dollars each year in losses. In the past three years alone, metropolitan fire departments in the western U.S. have seen over 100 lives and thousands of structures lost to wildfire, and these fires have caused billions of dollars in direct damage to property and local economies. Launched in February 2021, Outthink Wildfire lays out five policy changes that must occur at all levels of government that will make it easier for communities to foster collaboration, enact change, achieve resilience, and protect themselves from wildfire. Leveraging this information, the resolution calls for support of the five tenets that form a complete wildfire mitigation approach, including the need for more and better training and protective equipment to ensure fire departments are properly prepared to respond safely and effectively to wildfire.  According to an NFPA report, Fourth Needs Assessment of the U.S. Fire Service, 88 percent of U.S. fire departments—some 23,000 departments—provide wildland and/or WUI firefighting services. Of those, 63 percent have not formally trained all their personnel involved in these activities. Only 32 percent have all their responders equipped with appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE), and 26 percent do not have any of the necessary PPE at all. For the years 2011 to 2015, wildfires caused an average of 1,330 fireground injuries to local fire department personnel each year. “Metropolitan fire departments are continuing to face the threat of wildfire to their communities and the residents they serve,” said Chief Don Lombardi, President, Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association, in a recent press release from NFPA. “While wildfire response efforts have increased significantly, spending on resource management and community preparedness activities has not. We endorse Outthink Wildfire and its five tenets as a holistic approach to end the destruction of communities from wildfire.” As the average number of acres that burn in wildfires each year rises over time, it is imperative that communities in wildfire hazard zones put into action practices to lower the risk to lives, homes, businesses, and overall prosperity. Through collaboration that begins with policy implementation in the U.S., we can work to better protect our neighborhoods, citizens, and our first responders. Learn more about Outthink Wildfire at
Vertical opening

Types of Permissible Vertical Openings

The Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, aims to protect the life safety occupants by minimizing their exposure to fire, smoke, and its effects. One of the ways this is done is through building compartmentation. To limit the spread of fire, smoke, and its effects one of the base requirements of the Life Safety Code is that every floor that separates stories in a building must be constructed as smoke barriers. However, some openings in these smoke barriers are necessary for the functionality of the building while others are for convenience or aesthetics. These openings can provide a pathway for fire and smoke to travel vertically through the building. To minimize the spread of fire and smoke vertically throughout the building, openings in these separations are limited to those specifically identified in the Life Safety Code. Ultimately, they allow the effects of fire to impact occupants on other floors who would otherwise be protected if it weren’t for these openings. In addition to limiting the types of openings, the vertical openings must be protected to minimize the spread of the effects of fire. Pipe Penetrations and Expansion or Seismic Joints Pipes, cables, conduits, and similar items must run vertically through the building to allow utilities to reach all areas of the building. Similarly, vertical openings created by expansion or seismic joints are necessary for the structural integrity of a building. Any type of vertical openings created by pipe penetrations must be protected with a listed firestop system or device which must also limit the transfer of smoke. Expansion or seismic joints must be listed showing that it is designed to prevent the penetration of fire. Shafts Shafts are used for a variety of reasons, such as for elevators, pipes, mechanical equipment, and even stairs. Shafts must be separated from the building with fire-resistance rated walls and typically extend from the top of the building all the way to the bottom of the building. The fire-resistance rating of the walls will depend on if it is a new or existing shaft and the number of stories it connects. If the shaft does not extend through the entire building, then it must terminate at construction of equal or higher fire resistance rating. Atrium  Atria are a type of vertical opening that are used for convenience and/or aesthetics. They are some of the largest vertical openings you might see in a building and recognized by NFPA 101. An atrium is permitted to be open to any number of stories and can be located anywhere in the building.  The atrium must be separated from the remainder of the building with 1-hour fire-resistance rated walls. Glass walls are permitted to be used instead of the rated walls provided a number of other conditions are met. The entire building must be protected by a supervised automatic sprinkler system. Only low- or ordinary-hazard contents are permitted within the atrium. Additionally, atriums, other than existing, previously approved atriums, must have an engineering analysis that shows that the smoke layer interface stays a safe distance above the highest unprotected opening or the highest walking surface. If the engineering analysis shows that the smoke layer interface can’t be kept high enough, then a smoke control system is required. Communicating Space A communicating space is sometimes referred to as a “mini-atrium”. Although the protection scheme is different, they may look very similar. The major differences are the number of stories they connect and the location in the building. A convenience opening can only connect three or fewer adjacent stories (to connect three stories, at most two floors would have openings in them) with either the lowest floor or the next to the lowest floor of the communicating space being a street floor. Protecting occupants in a communicating space relies on the space either being open and unobstructed providing occupants with a high level of awareness of what is happening in the space, or the space must be open and have smoke detection. Smoke detection ensures occupants within the communicating space have an early indication of fire or other emergency condition and can react appropriately. The egress capacity within the communicating space must be sufficient for all occupants, on all levels within the communicating space, to egress at the same time and every occupant within the space must have access to at least one exit without having to travel vertically through the communicating space to get to one. Occupants not in the communicating must have access to at least one exit without having to travel through communicating space. The communicating space must be separated from the rest of the building by 1-hour fire-resistance rated walls unless the building is fully sprinklered. Lastly, the contents within the communicating space are limited to low-hazard contents unless there is an automatic sprinkler system, then the contents can be ordinary-hazard. All occupancies, with the exception of healthcare permit this type of vertical opening.     Allowable Locations for Communicating Spaces   Convenience Opening In some cases, for convenience or aesthetic purposes, building owners may want a vertical opening between fewer floors. Convenience openings are another vertical opening option. They connect two adjacent stories, piercing only one floor.  If travel is permitted within the convenience opening, it cannot be considered part of the required means of egress. The opening must be separated from other unprotected vertical openings and separated from corridors by construction that is equivalent to what the occupancy chapter requires for corridor wall separation. For new construction, if the occupancy does not require fire-resistance rated corridor separation then the convenience opening must be separated from the corridor by a smoke partition.  Convenience Stair Convenience stairs are permitted to connect no more than 4 contiguous stories for new construction. An example of a convenience stair opening would be if you had a four-story business occupancy that had unenclosed stairs that allowed for travel between all four floors. Although similarly named, the protection requirements for convenience stairs are different than the protection requirements for convenience openings and thus you are permitted to have more floors open to each other. Convenience stairs cannot serve as part of the required means of egress (exit access, exit, or exit discharge), the building must be protected with a supervised, automatic sprinkler system, and the opening has to be protected with closely spaced sprinklers and a draft stop as outlined in NFPA 13. When used in new construction, the size of the opening is limited to less than twice the horizontal projected area of the stairway. Two-Story Opening with Partial Enclosure A two-story opening with a partial enclosure is permitted in all occupancies. On one floor, the opening must be separated from the remainder of the floor by fire-resistance rated walls and a fire-protection rated door. On the other floor, the enclosure is open to the floor. This separation prevents the spread of fire and smoke on one of the two levels from spreading to the other floor. It is up to the designer to choose which floor the opening is separated from and which it is open to.   Two-Story Opening with a Partial Enclosure on the 2nd Floor Mezzanine A mezzanine is a partial floor level between stories. The mezzanine itself is not considered a story where it meets certain area limitations and openness requirements. Additional requirements such as supervised automatic sprinkler protection and access to exits are driven by the size and design of the mezzanine. Mezzanine Escalator There are a few options of how to protect a vertical opening created because of the presence of an escalator. One of the more common methods is to provide protection in accordance with NFPA 13 through the use of closely spaced sprinklers and a draft stop around the opening. Conclusion Vertical openings need to be properly protected in order to minimize the number of occupants on other floors that are exposed to fire, smoke, and its effects. Here, the high-level requirements for the more common types of vertical openings are provided. Section 8.6 of NFPA 101 provides additional details for how these openings need to be protected as well as requirements for some less common types of openings. 
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