Topic: Building & Life Safety

A hallway in a hospital

Basics of Suites in Health Care Occupancies

The use of suites in health care occupancies can provide significant flexibility in the design, construction, and functional daily use of a space. The term suites can be heard frequently when speaking with health care professionals and often very casually being tossed around. “Is it a suite? Can it be a suite? Have you designated it as a suite?” All of this is with great intentions but can certainly be overwhelming for someone just getting into their field or simply without experience in some more advanced life safety concepts. In terms of the Life Safety Code, a suite must meet very specific criteria. A quick google search for healthcare suite or hospital suite returns images of patient rooms that are much nicer than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in; not quite what we’re talking about here.  This blog discusses the definition of suites, the different types of suites, the benefits of a suite, and the requirements for their application.  What is a suite? For some life safety and fire protection topics a quick reference to a definition can give a user a good idea of what a code is talking about. This is not quite the case with suites. While there is a definition in NFPA 101 and it has been recently tweaked for the 2021 edition it’s not truly painting a full picture of all that encompasses a suite. Health Care Suite: A room or rooms sharing a means of egress separated from the remainder of the building by walls, doors, floors, and ceilings. (NFPA 101, 2021) While this gives an indication of what the concept is, it leaves a lot for a user to figure out beyond the simple definition. Instead of jumping directly to the requirements for suites, we need to first start by looking at the context that exists around their use. Without suites, what does the code require? The primary requirement to consider is that every habitable room in a health care occupancy is required to have an exit access door leading directly to an exit access corridor. This is demonstrated by the sleeping rooms in the bottom left of the image below. In providing life safety, corridors are protected spaces that come with their own set of requirements including a minimum width of 8 ft (2440 mm) in new health care occupancies, door operational requirements, and limited amounts of projections (more on these below). One exception to this rule for rooms opening directly to the corridor is for rooms within suites.   A common description of a suite that is often used is “rooms within a room.” This is because instead of requiring every room to open directly into an exit access the main door(s) from the corridor into or out of the suite is considered the exit access door(s) for that ‘room.’ Even if the suite is subdivided into more rooms, those are then permitted to open into a passageway within the suite. A further benefit of the suite provisions is that the passageway within the suite is not required to meet the requirements for a corridor, such as the minimum width requirements. Key Point: Suites allow larger areas to be treated as a single room permitting a single exit access door leading to an exit access corridor even if that space is subdivided into more rooms. Key Point: Suites are not easily described by a simple definition. Understanding the context in which they play a role in life safety is key to understanding what they are. What are the benefits of suites? In framing the context of suites within NFPA 101 one of the main benefits of utilizing the suite provisions has already been mentioned. The fact that there are no corridors within a suite provides multiple benefits. The first of these being added flexibility of the use of the space in between rooms that looks and feels like a corridor but is not subject to those requirements and should be referred to as “circulating space,” “passages” “halls” or some similar term to avoid confusion on life safety drawings. Where a corridor in new health care occupancies must have a minimum width 8 ft (2440 mm) and can only have a very limited amount of projections or wheeled equipment in them, the halls within a suite are only subject to minimum widths of exit access which is 36 in (915 mm) per NFPA 101, although it should be sized to be able to readily evacuate or relocate patients in the event of a fire and plans should be in place for prompt removal of any equipment reducing widths. Another benefit to not being considered a corridor is that patient rooms inside the suite can be open to the space and/or use a variety of different doors. If located directly off a corridor the requirements for the patient room door are much more prescriptive and include requirements for maximum clearances, and latching, among others. The doors, or lack thereof in some cases, that can be used in suites have the potential to improve clinical staff efficiency and patient care. Within suites there is no limit on the number of intervening rooms permitted provided minimum travel distances are met. In patient rooms not located within a suite exit access is permitted only through a single intervening room and only where the room has no more than eight patient beds.  Key Point: The space within a suite is not considered a corridor. This allows more flexibility with patient care equipment permitted outside of the rooms, permitting rooms open to the space, and opportunity to use different door types. What are the different types of suites? There are three subcategories of health care suites. Non-patient care suite - A health care suite that is not intended for patient sleeping or care.  Patient care non-sleeping suite - A health care suite providing care for one or more patients not intended for overnight patient sleeping. Patient care sleeping suite - A health care suite containing one or more beds intended for overnight patient sleeping. Key Point: Suites are designated by whether or not patient care is intended for the space and whether or not it is intended for overnight patient sleeping. Construction Considerations In order to take advantage of the benefits that suites offer they must meet a number of requirements including separation from the remainder of the building, size limitations, construction materials for internal walls, and adequate levels of staff supervision. Separation - Separated from the remainder of the building and from other suites by walls and doors meeting the requirements for those of corridor separation. Maximum Size Varies by suite type and some variables: Non-patient-care suite: in accordance with primary use/occupancy Patient care non-sleeping suite: 10,000 ft2, 12,500 ft2, or 15,000 ft2 (930 m2, 1160 m2, or 1394 m2) Patient care sleeping suite: 7500 ft2 or 10,000 ft2 (700 m2 or 930 m2) Internal walls - The subdivision of suites must be by means of noncombustible or limited-combustible partitions or partitions constructed with fire-retardant-treated wood enclosed with noncombustible or limited-combustible materials. The partitions are not required to be fire rated. Staff supervision - Patient care sleeping suites only must be provided with constant staff supervision within the suite.  Direct supervision of patient sleeping rooms is required if smoke detection is not provided in individual rooms or throughout the suite with total (complete) coverage automatic smoke detection. Key Point: Suites must be separated from the remainder of the building and from other suites by walls and doors meeting the requirements for those of corridor separation. Egress Considerations In addition to the requirements listed above there are a number of requirements that must be met in relation to the means of egress for a suite to be compliant. All patient care suites, whether sleeping or non-sleeping, must have at least one exit access to a corridor or to a horizontal exit directly from the suite. This allows for horizontal evacuation from the suite if needed. A second exit access door is required for patient care sleeping suites more than 1000 ft2 (93 m2) gross floor area and for patient care nonsleeping suites of more than 2500 ft2 (230 m2) gross floor area.  Exit Access - All patient care suites require exit access directly to a corridor or to a horizontal exit directly from the suites Additional Exit Access - An additional remotely located exit access door must be provided for patient sleeping suites more than 1000 ft2 (93 m2) and patient care nonsleeping suites more than 2500 ft2 (230 m2). Second exit access doors are permitted to be to one of the following: An exit stair An exit passageway An exit door to the exterior Another suite provided separation between suites is equivalent to corridor Travel distance - Not to exceed 100 ft (30 m) to an exit access door or horizontal exit door from any point in a patient care suite Not to exceed 200 ft (61 m) between any point in patient care suite and an exit [150 (46 m) in existing construction not protected throughout by approved electrically supervised sprinkler system.  Key Point: All suites must have at least one exit access directly to a corridor or a horizontal exit from within the suite. Larger suites require at least a second exit access door. Second exit access doors can be to a larger variety of exits/exit access. Key Point: The maximum travel distance to an exit access door or horizontal exit door is 100 ft. The maximum overall travel distance to an exit is 200 ft for sprinklered buildings and 150 ft for those without complete sprinkler coverage. Suites get a lot of attention in the life safety approach to health care occupancies for good reasons. While not a requirement, these provide a useful design option. They offer an approach that has appeals to architects and designers as well as health care engineers and clinicians. Understanding the context of suites within the overall fire protection and life safety scheme for a facility helps to ensure that the appropriate precautions are applied to ensure that the increased flexibility provided by their use is supported with compliance to the code provisions in place to make sure the environment remains safe.
2021 FPW theme art

Planning for 2021 Fire Prevention Week

It’s never too early to get ready for Fire Prevention Week™ which is celebrated October 3-9 this year, featuring the theme “Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety™.” Fire Prevention Week (FPW) is NFPA’s signature fire prevention awareness event and the oldest continuously running U.S. Public Health Observance, launched in 1922.  This year’s theme grew out of the increased attention received of alarm notifications being heard in the background of people’s homes during remote learning and work.  Recognizing the different sounds alarms make, and the action needed based on that sound, is critical to preventing injury and death from fire.  This year’s theme also pays particular attention to smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms and alert devices that meet the needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  These includes strobe lights, low frequency alarms, and bed/pillow shakers which activate at the sound of the alarm.  Every year throughout North America, Fire & Life Safety (FLS) educators, classroom teachers, injury prevention professionals and other community education professionals plan and implement a myriad of in person and virtual activities to celebrate Fire Prevention Week.  The FPW Toolkit on the firepreventionweek.org website provides plug and play social media cards, FPW activity ideas, templates for press releases and event flyers, and campaign logos for use in a variety of settings.  Let NFPA be your guide to a successful Fire Prevention Week by visiting www.firepreventionweek.org and using the toolkit and online catalogue to plan your public education events and activities to help your community "Learn the Sounds of Fire Safety," and know what to do! Follow me on Twitter @AndreaVastis and NFPA on Twitter,  Facebook, and Instagram to keep up with the latest from the Public Education Division.

HFSC Video Series: FM Global Discusses Beneficial Environmental Impact of Home Fire Sprinklers

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC) and to help celebrate, HFSC developed a weekly video series featuring interviews with industry professionals and practitioners who share stories of their commitment to advocating for home fire sprinklers in communities across the country. Last week, HFSC president Lorraine Carli was joined by Shane Ray, president of the National Fire Sprinkler Association (NFSA) and Vickie Pritchett, NFSA executive officer, as they discussed NFSA’s role as a founding member of HFSC, its partnership with the American Fire Sprinkler Association and NFPA, and their continued efforts to educate local officials, the fire service and first responders, home builders, developers, realtors, and consumers about the value of sprinklers. If you missed that video, check out our blog on it here. This week, HFSC board member and FM Global assistant vice president and fire service programs manager Mike Spaziani discusses FM Global’s full-scale fire test on the effectiveness of home fire sprinklers, the beneficial environmental impact of sprinklers, and FM Global’s partnership with HFSC in educating the public on home fire sprinklers. In the video, Spaziani discusses FM Global’s environmental impact report from 2010, which can be found. In 2021, FM Global took another look at the impact of sprinklers, and found that in homes with fire sprinklers: Greenhouse gas emissions were cut by 97.8% Water usage was reduced between 50% and 91% Fewer persistent pollutants, such as heavy metals, were found in sprinkler wastewater versus fire hose water The high pH level and pollutant load of non-sprinkler wastewater are an environmental concern Learn more about the study and check out the full video below: This year, help us celebrate HFSC’s 25th anniversary by sharing the facts about the affordability, reliability, and effective protection of home fire sprinklers. For additional information, visit the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and the Fire Sprinkler Initiative websites.
A house burning

New Fire in the US report highlights factors that have reduced loss in the days since America Burning and areas where work is still needed

Much has changed in the nearly four decades since the America Burning report was issued in 1973 and revisited in 1980. The number of fires and fire deaths in the United States has reduced dramatically and that progress has unfortunately led to fire safety taking a back seat to other societal concerns that seem more pressing. To understand the headway that has been made and the challenges that remain, NFPA commissioned the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the association’s affiliate, to examine the current state of fire safety in the United States. The new seminal report, Fire in the United States Since 1980, Through the Lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, is expected to be a key document with valuable insights that will help to advance fire and life safety. The report references success in several occupancies such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and hotels and really zeroes in on residential fires because they account for the largest share of reported structure fires and most of the civilian fire deaths and injuries. And although there have been fewer fires in the U.S. than in past decades, statistically, if a home fire is reported, occupants are more likely to die today than 40years ago. In fact, research shows that: Every 24seconds, a US fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the country Nationwide, a civilian dies in a fire every 3hours and 10minutes In the US, a home fire injury occurs every 43minutes The 63-page Fire in the United States Since 1980, Through the Lens of the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem report shows, in part, that: The most successful recipe for fire safety in the built environment has been the implementation of fire safety technologies through mandated codes and standards NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem™ elements – government responsibility, development and use of current codes, and an informed public – have had an obvious impact on the fire experience Approaching fire safety as a system, and not individual bits and pieces, provides an opportunity to unravel the complex and ongoing fire safety challenge for society Smoke alarms are a huge success story Cooking remains the leading cause of home fires and injuries Smoking has the been the leading cause of home fire deaths for roughly four decades Fire deaths of children under fire have dramatically declined, but there has been little change in older adult death tolls States with higher fire death rates correlate with larger percentages of people who have a disability; are current smokers; have incomes below the poverty line; live in rural areas; or are either African American, Black, Native American, or Alaskan Native Wildfire is becoming the dominant type of fire that causes catastrophic multiple deaths as well as large losses The new study analyzed fire data and other research from the past 40years to provide a snapshot of what has influenced safety. Additionally, catastrophic multiple-death fires and fires in the wildland/urban interface (WUI) were looked at because they have the potential to cause significant human loss. As the report name suggests, the new benchmark research was conducted with the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem in mind. NFPA introduced the Ecosystem in 2018 so that professionals, practitioners, and the public had a framework that identified the key elements that play a critical role in fire, life, and electrical safety. The eight components are government responsibility, development and use of current codes, referenced standards, investment in safety, a skilled workforce, code compliance, preparedness and emergency response, and an informed public. When all the Ecosystem elements work together, the result is a fully functioning system that can benefit everyone. If one or more of the components fails, the system breaks down and tragedies can occur. To download the full report today, visit here and be sure to check nfpa.org/fireprogress for related content and resources in the months to come.
Fire doors

As buildings re-open, fire door and opening protectives ITM is critical to occupant safety

During the pandemic, many ITM programs were put on the back burner as facilities worked to keep building occupants safe from the virus, which included implementing social distancing strategies, meeting the demand for hand sanitizer, and more frequent cleaning, among other new requirements. As buildings begin to transition back to normal operations, it’s a critical time to re-examine and revamp fire door and opening protectives ITM programs to ensure adequate levels of occupant safety, including compliance with NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives. NFPA 80 requires that fire doors and other opening protectives such as shutters and windows are operable at all times. Operability of these systems includes opening, closing and latching. Fire doors must be kept closed and latched or arranged to provide automatic closing during the time of a fire. In addition, blocking or wedging of doors in the open position is prohibited, as it violates the required operation and closing feature of the door. These requirements are particularly important to consider as buildings begin to re-open while continuing efforts to keep people safe from the coronavirus.  In the beginning of 2020, when the threat of COVID-19 was growing but buildings hadn’t shut down yet, there were reports of doors being propped open so that people wouldn’t have to touch them. As occupancies begin to open, it’s conceivable that these types of scenarios may occur once again. This is a serious concern, as interfering with fire door operation can have grave consequences during a fire. In addition, allowing fire doors to be held open runs a risk of this becoming an accepted practice in the building for any number of situations. Building residents and staff should be taught code-compliant solutions and not get into a habit of overriding fire safe practices. Anything that could prevent the door from closing and latching properly during an emergency condition such as propping the door open with objects, taping the latch, using wood wedges or kick-down door stops, or overriding the closing device, is a violation of the standards. If they are to be effective, fire doors must be not only closed but also held closed. Building fires are capable of generating pressures sufficient to force fire doors open if they are not held closed with enough latching force, thereby rendering the doors incapable of protecting the opening in which they are installed and potentially allowing the fire to spread to an adjacent space and beyond the compartment of origin. To learn more about what’s required to ensure adequate levels of safety around fire doors and opening protectives, sign up to attend “Re-Vamping Your Fire Door and Opening Protectives ITM Program” on Tuesday, June 22, 4-5pm EST. Hosted by Shawn Mahoney and Jen Sisco of NFPA, this session is part of “Keeping Your Informed: The Big Wide World of Building and Life Safety”, a full-day program covering a wide range of issues, challenges, and opportunities facing today’s building and life safety professionals and practitioners.  Register by June 18 using the code BLS125 and receive a free, full-day pass for a friend.
Cannabis growing facility

FINAL REMINDER: Application deadline to serve on the NFPA 420, Standard on Fire Protection of Cannabis Growing and Processing Facilities Technical Committee is June 15

The NFPA Standards Council recently approved the development of NFPA 420, Standard on Fire Protection of Cannabis Growing and Processing Facilities. Originally proposed in response to serious fires that have occurred at cannabis facilities in recent years, the new standard will provide clear guidance on fire protection standards for facilities that produce, process and extract cannabis. If you would like to submit an application to serve on the NFPA 420 Technical Committee, remember that the deadline is June 15, 2021. To learn more about the primary fire and life safety hazards at cannabis growing and extraction/processing facilities, as well as best practices to safely run these facilities, NFPA is hosting a two-hour Fire and Life Safety Hazards in Cannabis Cultivation and Processing Facilities presentation on June 22, 10:30-12:30 EST. Presented by Kristin Bigda and Val Ziavras of NFPA, the session is one of several online presentations that day addressing timely issues facing building and life safety professionals and practitioners. Learn more about all this and the wide array of sessions planned in support of the NFPA 125th Anniversary Conference Series at www.nfpa.org/conferenceseries. Use the BLS125 code to attend the full-day conference and get free, full-day access for a friend. Visit the NFPA cannabis fire and life safety page to access and/or download a wide range of information and resources on fire protection at cannabis facilities.
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