July 20, 2020 – As states continue working to find ways to safely re-open, many jurisdictions have allowed the use of tents among restaurants and other businesses. In response, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recently released a new fact sheet, Building and Life Safety for Tents, which provides guidance to code officials, business owners, and facility managers, helping ensure that tents are being used properly and safely.
“Because tents are temporary structures, it may be assumed that precautions for fire protection and life safety aren’t needed,” said Shawn Mahoney, a technical services engineer at NFPA. “However, particularly given today’s environment and circumstances, these provisions are more important than ever.”
When erecting a tent or membrane structure, multiple safety precautions must be followed. Mahoney says that any restaurant, business, or other group planning to use a tent must contact the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) and that all applicable requirements should be followed; all plans for tent usage should be reviewed by a qualified person.
NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, and NFPA 1, Fire Code, contain requirements that address the use of tents and membrane structures, including a provision stating that tents can only be used on a temporary basis and should not be erected for more than 180 days. In addition, the means of egress must comply with the requirements for the occupancy of the tent. Additional egress features should include exit markings and emergency lighting within the tent, along with measures to ensure that exits from the tent cannot be blocked.
Mahoney points to the Hartford Circus fire in 1944, an historical deadly fire that was the foundation for many safety requirements in place today. In this incident, a fire broke out in the circus tent and spread rapidly due to the combustible canvas, killing 168 people and injuring over 500 more. The occupants within the tent were unable to evacuate in time due to the limited means of egress, which were not properly maintained.
“One of the biggest concerns with a tent, also demonstrated during the Hartford Circus fire, is the flammability of the tent fabric,” said Mahoney. Both NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 require that tent material meets the flame propagation performance requirements of NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. This is a test performed on the fabric of the tent by a testing organization, which will issue a certificate if the fabric has passed the test.
NFPA’s new tent fact sheet addresses these and other associated requirements and considerations. To access this free resource, and for the most up-to-date information from the NFPA regarding fire and life safety in the midst of COVID-19, visit nfpa.org/coronavirus.
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Founded in 1896, NFPA is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to eliminating death, injury, property and economic loss due to fire, electrical and related hazards. The association delivers information and knowledge through more than 300 consensus codes and standards, research, training, education, outreach and advocacy; and by partnering with others who share an interest in furthering the NFPA mission. For more information, visit www.nfpa.org. All NFPA codes and standards can be viewed online for free at www.nfpa.org/freeaccess.
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