Topic: Building & Life Safety

Electrically Controlled Egress Door

#101Wednesdays: Electrically-controlled egress doors (and fake history)

A few weeks ago, in my #101Wednesdays post about escape rooms, I talked about the importance of not locking occupants in buildings. Quite simply, when people are locked in buildings and a fire occurs, they have a tendency to die. So the Life Safety Code goes to great lengths to ensure occupants have the ability to open doors and get out of the building when they need to. (There are, of course, exceptions for occupancies like detention and correctional and health care, where occupants are secured in the building for their safety and ours.) The Code does, however, recognize the need to secure doors in the closed position, and that's fine as long as people can easily get out. Thus we have the requirements for door locks and latches in of NFPA 101 (you can review them online, for free ). In summary, occupants must be able to open an egress door with not more than one simple operation, without the use of keys, tools, special knowledge or effort, and under all lighting conditions, including no light. Traditionally, doors have been secured closed mechanically; go up to the door, operate the releasing mechanism which mechanically retracts the latch, and the door opens. These days, thanks to Alexander Hamilton's invention of electricity* (that was for my daughter), doors can be secured closed by electronic means, using electromagnets and electronic control hardware. Instead of mechanically releasing a latch, the occupant operates a releasing switch, which sends a signal to the control hardware, which in turn drops the power to the electromagnet and allows the door to open. From the occupant's perspective, this door operates the same as a door with mechanical latching hardware.  Mechanical latches are pretty simple – not a lot of opportunity for failure. Electronic systems are more complicated and have more potential failure modes, so the Code needs to address them. The requirements for electrically controlled egress doors are located in of NFPA 101. Six criteria are specified: (1) The hardware for occupant release of the lock must be affixed to the door leaf. (2) The hardware must have an obvious method of operation that is readily operated in the direction of egress. (3) The hardware must be capable of being operated with one hand in the direction of egress. (4) Operation of the hardware must interrupt the power supply directly to the electric lock and unlock the door assembly in the direction of egress. (5) Loss of power to the listed releasing hardware must automatically unlock the door assembly in the direction of egress. (6) Hardware for new installations must be listed in accordance with ANSI/UL 294, Standard for Access Control System Units. Where these criteria are met, the door should operate just like any other egress door, and it is not considered a special locking arrangement. Special locking arrangements are addressed in; I'll discuss those in a future post. Just yesterday, I had an advisory service call about electronic locks. I knew immediately what the caller was going to say – I hear it all the time. “I have a door that's locked with an electromagnet. To get into the facility, you swipe a key-card and the door unlocks.” No problem, NFPA 101 doesn't care about occupants' ability to get into the building - only their ability to get out. Caller: “It's also tied into the fire alarm system, so the magnet will release when there's a fire.” To which I replied, “I see. And how does someone get out under normal conditions?” Caller: “Oh, they have to swipe a key-card.” Me: “I see. What if they don't have their key-card?” Caller: “Well, it will unlock if the fire alarm goes off.” Me: “What if the fire alarm doesn't go off for some reason?” Caller: “Oh, there's a push-to-exit button on the wall by the door.” President Trump: “WRONG!” While this might sound like a compliant arrangement, it's not, because to open the door, an occupant would need to know about the push-to-exit button, which might not be visible in an emergency if the lights go out (special knowledge). The door has to be able to be opened by releasing hardware attached to the door leaf, which is typical of mechanically latched doors, and is a requirement for electrically controlled egress doors. Another question we sometimes get relates to standby power. If the electronic locking system is provided with standby or emergency power, are the doors required to unlock if the building loses power? The answer is no, as long as the system functions like it's supposed to when powered by an alternate source. If the electronic system loses primary power and there's no backup, the locks are required to fail-safe – that is, unlock. The Life Safety Code got its start as the Building Exits Code; I can't overemphasize the need to provide building occupants with free egress. If the provisions I've described here are followed, security can be provided without sacrificing life safety. I hope you'll return for a future installment of #101Wednesdays. Until then, stay safe! *IMPORTANT HISTORICAL ACCURACY DISCLAIMER: For all you 8th graders doing your science fair projects on egress doors, Alexander Hamilton didn't invent electricity. As we all know, Hamilton was a hip-hop artist who founded the American financial system and died in 1804, years before the invention of electricity by Al Gore, who also invented the Internet. #ItsMyBlogICanHaveFunIfIWant Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I'd love to hear your suggestions! Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.” Follow me on Twitter: @NFPAGregH

NFPA 1: Requirements for seasonal and vacant buildings, #FireCodefridays (Monday edition)

The topic of vacant buildings seems minute in the scale of the Fire Code provisions, and the provisions can often be overlooked.  However, vacant buildings, especially those of combustible construction, pose a hazard to adjacent exposures, fire fighters, and the community and can often be the scene for disastrous fires during the cold winter months. For example, 6 fire fighters in Worcester, Massachusetts, died on December 3,1999 fighting a fire in an abandoned cold storage warehouse. Two Chicago, Illinois, fire fighters died while fighting a fire in an abandoned warehouse on December 22, 2010. Section 10.12, NFPA 1, Fire Code, requires that every person owning or having charge or control of any vacant building, premises, or portion thereof shall remove all combustible storage, waste, refuse, and vegetation and is required to lock, barricade, or otherwise secure the building or premises to prohibit entry by unauthorized persons. Reducing the fuel load in a vacant building (buildings used on a seasonal basis are exempt) is critical because, in the event of a fire, little or no combustible contents should contribute to the spread of the fire. In addition, vacant buildings are subject to vandalism and arson and, therefore, must be kept secure by placing substantial barricades on all doors, windows, and other openings at all levels where access can be gained. All fire protection systems must be maintained in service in seasonal and vacant buildings unless otherwise approved by the AHJ. (With the approval of the AHJ, fire protection and fire alarm systems in these buildings may be removed from service, see Section  All fire protection systems, including fire alarm, sprinkler, and standpipe systems, and all associated waterflow and supervisory alarm systems must be maintained in a manner acceptable to the AHJ. The maintenance of the associated alarm systems and supervisory systems is important to ensure that they are monitored properly and have the ability to transmit alarms when needed. Vacant buildings of totally fire-resistant construction that are void of any combustible contents and that pose no hazard to exposures might be exempt from maintaining fire alarm, sprinkler, and standpipe systems where approved by the AHJ.  The AHJ may also require other systems or components pertaining to fire protection to also be maintained.  This might include fire doors, fire barriers and other passive or active systems. Finally, the AHJ has the authority to require an inspection and test of any fire protection system or fire alarm system that has been out of service for 30 days before restored back into service. Whenever a fire protection system is shut off for an extended period of time, an inspection and test of the system for system integrity are necessary before the system is put back in service. When any system is out of service, the potential exists for damage or vandalism that might not be detected until the system is tested. Moral of the story...don't neglect vacant and seasonal buildings.  Even though they may not be occupied, they still pose a threat to firefighters and the environment around them.  Following the guidelines of the Code will help make sure these buildings stay on the radar and are properly maintained. You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. 

Four Die in Confined Space Incident

Confined space hazards know no borders.   Less than two weeks after three workers died in a confined space in Florida, four workers died from atmospheric hazards  while preparing to clean a sewage pit at a Bangkok market on Thursday. The same story-just a different country.   The incident occurred in a Bangkok marker area where workers were about to carry out maintenance on a 3 meter deep sewage pit. The first worker opened the cover, leaned over, and likely was overcome by the atmospheric hazard and fell into the space.  A second worker entered in an attempt to save the first worker.   A third worker entered and also became non-responsive.  His brother proceeded to enter to try to save him, making him the fourth victim. A team of rescue workers arrived on scene and assumed that four men had been electrocuted while cleaning the pit.   After turning off the power to the entire market, one rescue worker proceeded to enter the space on a rope but without a proper respirator such as an airline respirator or an SCBA.  The rescue worker passed out but fortunately was pulled to safety using the rope.  Without that rope, he likely would have become victim number 5.   This first fatality that started this incident began before the first worker had even entered the space.   NFPA 350 Guide for Safe Confined Space Entry and Work discusses "adjacent space" hazards that occur in the vicinity of confined spaces and provides safe practices to prevent incidents such as this from occurring.     Note- these recent tragedies have authorities across the country looking to NFPA to learn more about the codes, standards and safety practices related to confined space entry. NFPA offers an online confined space training series for those that design, work in, or supervise a facility that has one or more confined spaces. Content is ideal for facility managers, risk managers, safety directors, architects, engineers, industrial hygienists, construction workers, and technicians.

NFPA 1: Automatic sprinkler systems, where required. #FireCodefridays

A few week's ago I wrote about NFPA 1's requirement to provide automatic sprinkler protection for new buildings housing emergency fire, rescue, or ambulance services.  In addition to that requirement, there are many other instances in the Code where sprinkler protection is mandated.  Section 13.3.2 of NFPA 1, Fire Code, addresses those scenarios.  As NFPA 1 extracts from 50+ other NFPA codes and standards, the requirements for sprinkler protection may also be included elsewhere.  However, Section 13.3.2 is where to start to determine if a building/structure needs sprinklers.  The first subsection, reminds users that were required anywhere in NFPA 1 or by the referenced codes and standards in NFPA 1, the automatic sprinkler system is required to be installed in accordance with the provisions of 13.3.1, which mandates compliance with NFPA 13. NFPA 1 requires automatic sprinkler protection in the following scenarios: Basements exceeding 2500 ft2 (232 m2) in new buildings. ( New building housing emergency fire, rescue, or ambulance services ( New buildings three or more stores in height above grade ( Stand-alone open parking structures that are detached from other occupancies are not required to be protected with sprinklers. ( In addition to the conditions specifically noted by NFPA 1, other requirements may drive the need to automatic sprinkler protection. Section, extracted from NFPA 13, addresses exterior roofs, canopies, porte-cocheres, balconies, decks, and similar projections. Section begins a series of code sections, extracted from NFPA 101, that address the occupancy specific sprinkler requirements based upon the occupancies (new and existing) that are contained in the Life Safety Code. Section mandates that all new high-rise buildings be protected by sprinklers.  Existing high-rise buildings must be fully sprinklered within 12 years of adoption of the Code. Finally, Section requires automatic sprinkler protection for all occupancies containing areas greater than 2500 ft2 (232 m2) used for high-piled storage of combustibles.  Any occupancies containing areas greater than 12,000 ft 2(1115 m2) used for general storage of combustibles must also be sprinklered. An automatic sprinkler system is also required throughout all occupancies containing storage commodities classified as Group A Plastics in excess of 5 ft (1.5 m) in height over an area exceeding 2500 ft2 (232 m2) in area. Sprinkler requirements for other facilities such as mini-storage buildings, bulk storage of tires and woodworking operations are extracted from NFPA 5000. There are a lot of instances that trigger the need to automatic sprinkler protection.  With the importance of these life saving and property protecting systems its critical to understand where in the Code to locate and identify these requirements...Section 13.3.2! Happy Friday and thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter for more updates and fire safety news @KristinB_NFPA. 

#101Wednesdays: Medical Facility Occupancy Classification

The 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code was recently adopted by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. In over-simplified terms, this means medical facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), and free-standing emergency departments (EDs), must comply with the 2012 edition of NFPA 101 in order to receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement. (I'm not an expert on Medicare or Medicaid, so I'll stick to the Code issues.) NFPA 101 is an occupancy-based code, so it's very important to classify occupancies correctly. Otherwise, the wrong requirements will be applied. This could result in occupants being provided with insufficient life safety features, or conversely, a building owner spending more money than necessary on life safety features that aren't warranted. Three occupancy classifications exist in the Code that could apply to medical facilities; they are: Business Occupancies, Ambulatory Health Care Occupancies, and Health Care Occupancies. The NFPA 101 definitions and a brief description of each, as they apply to medical facilities, follow. Business Occupancy. An occupancy used for the transaction of business other than mercantile. While this might not sound like a medical facility, the definition does capture the correct classification for facilities such as doctors' offices, dentists' offices, and urgent care clinics, provided that no more than three occupants are incapable of self-preservation at any time (as will become apparent momentarily). In these types of medical facilities, patients are fully capable of evacuating under their own power in the event of an emergency. The occupant life-safety risk is no different than that found in an office building. Granted, when I was a call-fire fighter/EMT back in the day, we ran the occasional ambulance call to the local doctor's office, usually for someone who was brought there because they weren't feeling well, only to find out they were having an MI (myocardial infarction, or heart attack… I remember some of what I learned in EMT school nearly 30 years ago!). While those patients were incapable of self-preservation due to their medical condition, that did not make the doctor's office anything other than a business occupancy. Those patients simply went to the wrong facility. (They should have dialed 911 and gone to the hospital.) Ambulatory Health Care Occupancy. An occupancy used to provide services or treatment simultaneously to four or more patients that provides, on an outpatient basis, one or more of the following: (1) Treatment for patients that renders the patients incapable of taking action for self-preservation under emergency conditions without the assistance of others (2) Anesthesia that renders the patients incapable of taking action for self-preservation under emergency conditions without the assistance of others (3) Emergency or urgent care for patients who, due to the nature of their injury or illness, are incapable of taking action for self-preservation under emergency conditions without the assistance of others The big difference between business occupancies and ambulatory health care occupancies is the presence of four or more patients who are incapable of self-preservation because of a variety of reasons. The other key to this definition, and what differentiates it from health care, is the phrase “on an outpatient basis.” This means that a doctor has not signed an order admitting the patient to a facility for longer-term care with housing and sleeping accommodations. When patients are outpatients, they receive medical treatment or observation and are then subsequently admitted to a facility as inpatients, or they go home. Part (1) of the definition describes something like a dialysis clinic. The treatment renders the patient incapable of self-preservation because of the lack of ability to evacuate without the assistance of staff due to being hooked up to a dialysis machine. Part (2) of the definition describes something like an ASC, in which the patient walks into the facility, is then rendered incapable of self-preservation by anesthesia for a procedure, is moved to a recovery area for observation, and then walks out of the facility, typically on the same day. A dentist's office could be classified as ambulatory health care if, at any time, four or more patients are rendered incapable of self-preservation. Part (3) of the definition, which was new in the 2003 edition of the Code, can apply to an emergency department (ED), whether it is attached to a hospital, or a detached, free-standing facility. If attached to a hospital and classified as ambulatory health care, it must be separated from the remainder of the building by two-hour fire barriers (see of the 2012 edition and of the 2015 edition). The advantages to classifying an ED as ambulatory health care include: it is not subject to suite size limitations applicable to health care occupancies, patient rooms can be open to the corridor, and the health care occupancy corridor protection requirements don't apply. Again, the key is the patients in the ED are outpatients; once four or more inpatients who are incapable of self-preservation are present, the facility is classified as health care. Health Care Occupancy. An occupancy used to provide medical or other treatment or care simultaneously to four or more patients on an inpatient basis, where such patients are mostly incapable of self-preservation due to age, physical or mental disability, or because of security measures not under the occupants' control. Health care occupancies are like ambulatory health care occupancies in that they contain four or more patients who are incapable of self-preservation; however, health care patients are inpatients, rather than outpatients, and are provided with housing and sleeping accommodations to facilitate extended care. Examples are hospitals, nursing homes (SNFs), and limited-care facilities, which could include something like psychiatric hospitals. These facilities are provided with the highest level of life safety features due to the number of patients expected to be unable to evacuate themselves on an around-the-clock basis. For health care occupancies, the Code utilizes a defend-in-place strategy, in which patients are moved from the area of fire origin to an adjacent, protected smoke compartment, without requiring vertical travel in the building. While all three of these occupancies provide varying degrees of health care services, the protection requirements for life safety from fire vary significantly, all dependent on the occupant risk. It's important to note that it's always the authority having jurisdiction's (AHJ's) responsibility to determine occupancy classification. The AHJ always has the authority to apply the Code in the manner it deems appropriate. My discussion is based on how the Code is intended to be applied as developed by NFPA's Technical Committees on Safety to Life. If you have any thoughts on the occupancy classification of medical facilities, please post them in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and until next time, stay safe! Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I'd love to hear your suggestions! Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.” Now you can follow me on Twitter: @NFPAGregH

#101Wednesdays - Inspection of Egress Doors for Life Safety

Image courtesy of Jake Pauls With the recent move from the 2000 edition of NFPA 101 to the 2012 edition by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), we've been getting questions at NFPA periodically about the Code's requirements for door inspections, particularly as they apply to health care occupancies. Here's a little history on the Code's door inspection provisions. In the 2009 edition, Chapter 7, which addresses means of egress, introduced a new set of requirements titled ‘Inspection of Door Openings' (see in the 2009 edition). The provisions were intended to ensure reliability of egress doors, especially in areas like assembly occupancies, where door hardware might be subject to accelerated wear due to high-frequency usage. The provisions were formatted to apply where required by Chapters 11 through 43, and served as a ‘menu item' that could be referenced by the various occupancy chapters where the applicable technical committees deemed it appropriate. In addition, the provisions only applied to those egress doors that were required to swing in the direction of egress travel – generally, doors serving a room or area with an occupant load of 50 or more, doors serving exit enclosures, and doors serving high-hazard content rooms. The annual inspection included items such as: Inspection and testing in accordance with NFPA 80 where the door is a fire door Functional testing to ensure proper operation Visual inspection to assess the door's overall condition Verification of the following: The door can be opened fully and closed freely Opening forces do not exceed maximums prescribed by the Code Latching and locking mechanisms comply with the Code Releasing hardware is installed between 34 in. and 48 in. above the finished floor Doors installed in pairs comply with the Code's releasing requirements Door closers are properly adjusted Projection of door leaf into egress path does not exceed Code maximums Powered doors comply with Code requirements Any required signage is intact and legible Any special locking arrangements comply with Code requirements Security devices that impede egress are not installed The annual inspection was to be documented and kept for inspection by the AHJ. Further, any deficiencies were to be repaired or replaced “without delay.” Fast-forward to the 2012 edition; the door inspection provisions were revised so that rather than applying to doors that swing in the direction of egress travel, they would apply to any of the following: Doors equipped with panic hardware or fire exit hardware Doors in exit enclosures Electrically-controlled egress doors Doors with special locking arrangements (delayed-egress locks, access-controlled egress doors, and elevator lobby door locking) Further, a requirement for inspection and testing of smoke door assemblies in accordance with NFPA 105 was added. The occupancies that mandated the annual egress door inspection were: Assembly occupancies Educational occupancies Day care occupancies Residential board and care occupancies This is where a bit of confusion comes in for health care occupancies. Since the door inspection criteria is not referenced by either Chapter 18 or 19 for new or existing health care occupancies, respectively, does that mean doors in health care occupancies, including fire doors, are not required to be inspected? The answer is no, fire doors need to be inspected, regardless of occupancy classification or the lack of reference to The inclusion of the reference to NFPA 80 (and NFPA 105) in was well intended; it was supposed to remind users that, while you're doing your required egress door inspection, if the door also happens to be a fire door, it needs to be tested and inspected in accordance with NFPA 80. In the 2012 edition, you get there via, which requires fire doors and windows to comply with NFPA 80, including its inspection and testing requirements. This confusion got cleared up in the 2015 edition. The references to NFPA 80 and NFPA 105 were removed from and moved to Chapter 8 – requires fire door inspection and testing per NFPA 80 in all cases, and addresses smoke door maintenance. Although most health care occupancies must comply with the 2012 edition, the revision in 2015 clarified the Code's intent. The 2015 edition added a couple other inspection items: Verification of the presence of required door hardware marking Verification of the presence and proper function of emergency lighting at access-controlled egress doors and doors equipped with delayed-egress locking systems So what can you expect for the 2018 edition of NFPA 101, which will be released later this year? Not much has changed this time around with the egress door inspection requirements, other than some changes in terminology: ‘Electrically controlled egress doors' will be known as ‘electrically locked egress door assemblies' ‘Delayed-egress locking systems' will be known as ‘delayed-egress electrical locking systems' ‘Access-controlled egress door assemblies' will be known as ‘sensor release of electrical locking systems' I hope you found this installment of #101Wednesdays to be informative. Now I have to figure out why there's a red light flashing on and off on the (relatively newly installed) GFCI outlet in my kitchen. Buy a house, they said… It'll be fun, they said… Good thing I know where the NEC guys sit at the office! Until next time, stay safe! Got an idea for a topic for a future #101Wednesdays? Post it in the comments below – I'd love to hear your suggestions! Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access to the 2015 edition of NFPA 101.”
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