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6 Posts authored by: jsisco Employee

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”.

At NFPA, we receive a lot of questions about health care occupancies. In particular, one area that I receive frequent questions about is the application of means of egress requirements in health care suites.

To understand the means of egress requirements within suites, it can be helpful to review the overall occupant protection strategy utilized in hospitals and other health care occupancies. Due to the potential difficulties of evacuation of occupants in health care occupancies a defend-in-place strategy is often utilized. The defend-in-place strategy must account for a plan to relocate patients, should the need arise. The features and floor space arrangements, including the configuration of suites, must also be factored in. NFPA 101 recognizes two types of patient-care suites in health care occupancies: sleeping suites and non-sleeping suites. The Code also has permissions for non-patient care suites, but those suites do not have suite-specific means of egress requirements and are not addressed in this blog.

Suites are a unique feature to health care occupancies and have some original means of egress requirements. To fully achieve the convenience and benefits afforded by suites it is important to understand the differing means of egress requirements.

In general, the means of egress requirements for sleeping suites and non-sleeping suites are similar. Both types of suites are required to have at least one exit access door from the suite either to a corridor or a horizontal exit. Since the protection strategy in health care often relies on the horizontal movement, the use of stairways or other vertical openings is generally used as a last resort for the relocation of occupants.

A second exit access door is required to be provided for sleeping suites greater than 1000 sq. ft. or non-sleeping suites greater than 2500 sq. ft. The second means of egress is permitted to include exit stairway doors, exterior doors, or an exit access door to an adjacent suite.

Suites are required to meet two separate travel distances: (1) travel distance to the nearest exit access door from the suite and (2) travel distance to the nearest exit.

Travel distance from any point within a suite cannot exceed 100 ft. to the nearest exit access door from the suite. Only exit access doors leading to a corridor or adjacent suite, or horizontal exit doors are given credit for this travel distance measurement. As previously discussed, since health care relies upon the horizontal movement of occupants this measurement only applies to exit access doors to areas where occupants can be relocated. Where exit access from a suite goes through an adjacent suite, the 100 ft. travel distance should be applied to each suite individually.

The second travel distance is exit travel distance. Travel distance from any point within a suite cannot exceed 200 ft. to the nearest exit in sprinkler-protected buildings (or 150 ft in non-sprinkler-protected buildings). This measurement is permitted to be to any exit door including an exit stairway door, a horizontal exit door, or an exterior door. This requirement aligns with the overall exit travel distance for the remainder of the health care occupancy.

The use of  suites is just one tool within NFPA 101 that can be applied to hospital design to deliver effective health care and  treatment. However, when using suites, it is important to understand the unique means of egress requirements.

Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “FREE ACCESS.” 

Many people who work with NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, or any other building or life safety code, can understand finding themselves in a Goldilocks scenario, where the prescriptive requirements in the code just don’t fit. For this reason, the code offers several option for compliance:

(1) Prescriptive

In general, the core requirements in the code are prescriptive requirements. The code specifies that new stairs are required to have no more than a 7 in. rise and an 11 in. run, or that a new sprinklered office building is limited to an exit travel distance of 300 ft. The prescriptive requirements provide quantitative, measurable, and enforceable requirements. These requirements provide designers with clear guidance on minimum design requirements to achieve an acceptable level of life safety.

(2) Equivalency

The code also offers an option for equivalent compliance in section 1.4. It is developed on a three-year cycle and several more years before being adopted by a jurisdiction. In a world where technology and innovation are changing rapids, there may be times that a technology is not specifically addressed in the code, or an edition of the code. It is not the intent of the code to exclude the use of new technologies based on the sole reason that it was developed or popularized after the code was published. Hence, section 1.4 provides an equivalency that allows the use systems, methods or devices of equivalent or superior quality.

It is the responsibility of the building owner or designer to provide technical documentation to the AHJ demonstrating that their technology, design, or method provides equivalent protection to the prescriptive requirements in the code. If it is determined by the AHJ that equivalent protection is provided, the alternate technology, design, or method is considered to be code compliant. Therefore, although I have broken it out as a separate option for compliance, it is really a subset of prescriptive compliance.

(3) Performance

Finally, there is the performance-based option. Sometimes the design of a building is too specialized or a building designer wishes to incorporate a building element that is too unique to fully comply with the prescriptive requirements of the code. Then the use of the performance-based option in accordance with Chapter 5 may be necessary for a desired design.

The purpose of a performance-based design is to determine if a building or building element meets the fire and life safety goals and objectives of NFPA 101, without strictly complying with the prescriptive requirements. Performance-based designs are required to be completed by a registered design professional and can provide designers with a significant amount of flexibility in their designs. Similar to equivalencies, it is the final determination of the AHJ to determine if the performance objectives are met.

The design of a building does not need to take a singular approach. A designer can use a combination of prescriptive, equivalent, and performance-based approaches. Therefore, just like Goldilocks, through proper application of NFPA 101, you should be able to find a solution that is “just right” for most every design problem.


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.”

Photo by Tom Rumble on Unsplash

This week is the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative's (FSI) Home Fire Sprinkler Week. So it's a good time to highlight the requirements in NFPA 101 pertaining to the protection of one- and two-family dwellings, and the importance of these requirements.

According to data published by the Fire Protection Research Foundation, fires in one- and two-family homes account for nearly half of all report fires in the United States. Between the years 2012 and 2016, more than 2,000 people were killed annually in fires in one- or two-family homes, accounting for nearly 80 percent of fire deaths in the United States during this time period.

Chapter 24 of NFPA 101 provides requirements for the design and protection of one- and two-family dwelling. Specifically, I will be focusing on fire sprinklers and smoke detection.

The Code requires all new one- and two-family homes to be sprinklered with an NFPA 13, NFPA 13D, or NFPA 13R system. According to FSI, fires are contained within the room of origin in 97 percent of fires in homes with sprinklers, and having a sprinkler system in a home reduces the risk of death by about 80 percent, compared to homes without fire sprinkler systems. The city of Scottsdale, Arizona adopted an ordinance requiring all new homes to be provided with sprinklers in 1986. During the first fifteen years that the ordinance was adopted there was not a single fatality in a sprinklered home.

In a January 2019 report published by the Foundation, it was found that in more than half of fatal home fires smoke alarms were either not present or failed to operate, and the presence of working smoke alarms in a home reduces the likelihood of death in a home fire by nearly 50 percent. Therefore, the presence of working smoke alarms in homes is an important factor to reducing home fire deaths.

NFPA 101 requires all new and existing homes to be provided with smoke alarms or smoke detection. Although the use of a fire alarm system with smoke detection is permitted, most home are provided with either single-station or multiple-station smoke alarms. All new homes are required to be provided with interconnected multiple-station smoke alarms, which will sound throughout the entire home upon activation of a single smoke alarm. The use of existing battery-operated single station smoke alarms is only permitted in existing homes. The Code requires the installation of both single-station and multiple-station smoke alarms to comply with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code.

The use of synthetic materials in home construction and home furnishing, in combination with construction trends, including larger areas and open floor plans, have resulted in significantly reduced safe egress time from homes. Working smoke detection and fire sprinklers have been proven to significantly reduce the likelihood of death in fires in homes.

To learn more about the Home Fire Sprinkler Week, including access to public videos, data sheets, and infographics, visit the NFPA Fire Sprinkler Initiative website.


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.”

Photo Credit:
By Bill Dickinson (websites [2][3]) - [1], CC BY-SA 3.0,


Generally when people walk into a building, they assume that the building will provide a reasonable degree of life safety. NFPA 101, along with other codes and standards, provide the road map to achieving the reasonable degree of life safety that is generally expected by the public. However, unless enforced, codes and standards do not have the ability to protect building occupants. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) plays a vital role in enforcement of the code for the entire lifetime of a building; during construction, occupancy, and rehabilitation.


The term AHJ can apply to many different people and groups. A single building may have multiple AHJs which can include federal, state, and local agencies such as a fire marshal, electrical inspector, or health department inspector. In addition to the public sector, an AHJ might also include an insurance company, listing agency, corporate safety officer, and even a property owner. The AHJ shall determine whether the provisions of this Code are met.


The role of the AHJ is to determine if a building, building component, or design meet the provisions and intent of the code. This can be a challenging task as the code has a very broad application including new and existing buildings and structures that can range from an existing single-family home to a new high-rise hospital. Paired with rapidly changing technology, innovation, operational needs, and design trends, it is not feasible to have the code address every possible design scenario. As a result, often times an AHJ is required to use the code requirements and their professional judgement on whether a design is code-compliant or meets the intent of the code.


In addition to determining compliance with the prescription requirements, there are many provisions which are left to discretion of the AHJ. For example, a hazardous area is defined as an area in a building that poses a degree of hazard greater than the general occupancy. The ambiguity to this definition is intentional to give the AHJ the ability to determine on a case-by-case basis if an area should be classified and protected as a hazardous area. While a storage room larger than 100 sq. ft. storing combustible materials would be required to be classified as a hazardous area in a new health care occupancy, the same storage room in an assembly occupancy would only be required to be classified as a hazardous area where the quantity of combustible supplies is “deemed hazardous” by the AHJ.


6.4.5 Modification Requirements for Existing Buildings. Where it is evident that a reasonable degree of safety is provided, the requirements for existing buildings shall be permitted to be modified if their application would be impractical in the judgement of the authority having jurisdiction.


The code also provides the AHJ with a degree of flexibility when applying the provisions of the code to existing buildings where “a reasonable degree of safety is provided.” It is not the intent of this section to make the requirements of NFPA 101 not applicable to existing buildings, but there are many times in existing buildings where modifications to the building would require significant effort and expense for minimal life safety benefit. For example, an AHJ may permit an existing non-compliant travel distance in an existing building that has been retrofitted with sprinklers, if they determine that a reasonable degree of life safety is provided.


Ultimately, the determination if a building, new or existing, is safe for occupancy is up to the AHJ. As NFPA 101 (4.6.9) indicates, a building shall be occupied only where “no serious life safety hazard exists as judged by the authority having jurisdiction.” It is also important to remember that each potential AHJ may have different goals and thresholds that they consider an acceptable level of life safety. For example, your local fire marshal may have a different goal than your insurance company, and so when enforcing the same code may have varying thresholds of what they consider acceptable.


To uphold the level of life safety that the public expects, it is important during the entire lifetime of a building, to understand the role and responsibilities of the AHJ, and their enforcement of the code in the interest of building occupant safety.


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.”

Photo Courtesy of Andysmith248 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]


As a staff engineer I often get the question through our technical question service (TQS) if a smoke control system is required. Although there are a few times where NFPA 101®  prescribes the use of a smoke control system, for the most part it is a choice by the building designer to comply with performance criteria in the Code.

Smoke control is an engineered system that is designed to modify the movement of smoke. Where the NFPA 101 requires a smoke control system, it is required to comply with NFPA 92, Standard for Smoke Control Systems. There are two main types of smoke control systems per NFPA 92: smoke containment systems and smoke management systems. The purpose of smoke containment system is contain smoke to a given area and prevent it from entering another area, such as with a stairwell pressurization system. The purpose smoke management system is maintain tenability of an area or means of egress and reduce migration of smoke between the fire area and adjacent spaces, such as with an atrium smoke control system.

There are several times in which NFPA 101 prescribes the use of smoke control:

  1. New underground buildings or portions of buildings that have an occupant load greater than 100 persons underground, has a human occupied level more than 30 ft. or more than one level below the lowest level of exist discharge, and has combustible contents, interior finish or construction, is required to be provided with an automatic smoke venting.
  2. The second is for levels in new assembly occupancies 30 ft. or more below the lowest level of exit discharge which are required to be divided into two smoke compartments, each provided with its own independent smoke control or smoke exhaust system.
  3. Enclosed mall concourses connecting more than two stories.

There are other times that a smoke control system may be required in order to meet a performance criterion. Such as new atria which require an engineering analysis to demonstrate that the smoke layer interface is maintained above the highest opening or at least 6 ft. above the highest floor level for a time period of 1.5 times the calculated egress time or at least 20 minutes. An atrium may be able to achieve this performance criteria without the use of a smoke control system, however, for some buildings the installation of a smoke control system may be necessary to achieve a desired atrium design.


Stairwell pressurization systems as a means to provide a smokeproof enclosure is another common example of smoke control systems. Smokeproof enclosures are required to be designed to limit the movement of smoke, this is permitted to be achieved through natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation incorporating a vestibule, or by enclosure pressurization.


In addition to atria and smokeproof enclosures, smoke control systems may be utilized to meet a design criterion for buildings and designs including underground and limited access buildings, smoke-protected assembly seating, stages in assembly occupancies, detention and correctional occupancies, mall concourses, as part of an engineered life safety system, or in performance-based designs in accordance with Chapter 5.


For most buildings and designs, with the exception of underground buildings and mall concourses, the Code will not prescribe the use of a smoke control system. However, based on the use and design of the building, the use of a smoke control system may be desired or necessary to meet the prescribed performance criteria in the Code.


Did you know NFPA 101 is available to review online for free? Head over to and click on “Free access." 

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