College Planning & Management

MAR 2013

College Planning & Management is the information resource for professionals serving the college and university market. Covering facilities, security, technology and business.

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Fire & Life Safety FOCUS ON PREPAR AT ION AND PRE V EN T ION Keeping Up With Codes Be aware of occupancy codes and how they afect the safety of your facilities. BY MIKE HALLIGAN R ECENTLY I SPENT A DAY talking to facilities staff about the challenges they face keeping their campus buildings in basic compliance with fire and life safety codes and standards. As the conversation evolved it focused in on the fact that there was a lack of awareness that many buildings are considered multiple occupancies. There are the traditional higher education occupancies (B Occupancy Group), assembly portions of the building or campus — multipurpose rooms and theaters (A Occupancy Group). There could also be office/business portions (B Occupancy Group) or shops, which may fall into F Occupancy Groups, and labs that are considered hazardous H Occupancies. Application of a single code group for a review of the entire facility won't assure you that the institution meets applicable fire and life safety standards. Properly classifying occupancies and the corresponding code requirements for each occupancy will move your facilities and all their operations closer to code compliance. There are, however, a number of items that seem to be repeat problems every year for many campuses. Artwork Walk into any college of art and you won't need to step very far into the building before you notice artwork on the walls. The International Fire Code and NFPA Life Safety Code both place limits of 20 percent of the wall space in a classroom that may be used for display. While even fire officials understand the need to display student work and for instructors to display posters and lessons, there must be some control over the grouping of combustible materials. There are a few ways to help faculty comply with the 20 percent rule, and even two methods to allow greater than 20 percent of the wall space to be used for display of materials. Installation of wallboards or a different paint color, indicating areas suitable for posting of material, can help instructors stay within the 20-percent rule. Glass cases can also be installed; once materials are displayed behind glass, they are not counted as part of the 20 percent. In addition, newer buildings with fire sprinkler systems are allowed to increase their display areas to 50 percent of the wall area before they exceed permitted levels. Corridors Since corridors play such an integral part in the safety of building occupants, it is imperative that they be maintained free 14 COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT / MARCH 2013 and unobstructed at all times. All campus buildings should have a means to continuously monitor that egress routes are available for full and instantaneous use. No furniture, storage, decorations, or other objects should be placed in the required egress system width that would impair or visually obstruct any part of the path students, visitors, and staff need to take to leave the building. The prohibition of items in hallways also applies to the storage of clothing or personal items, although many localities have exceptions for this. Furnishings Furnishings (such as chairs) can add a nice comfortable feel to a campus art studio. However, rarely will the types of furniture allowed in the home be suitable for the studio. There are strict requirements for fire-retardant capabilities of furniture used in campus buildings. Each piece of furniture should have a label attached from the manufacturer indicating the UL testing standard it complies with. If there is no label attached, the furniture is not permitted. The requirement to review furnishings extends to other fabrics and displays as well. Stage curtains and scenery for productions have specific requirements adopted by most states that set minimum requirements for flame and smoke spread. There may also be limits to the total amount of combustible set components. Large quantities of wood used in a production could quickly overload the ability of the fire sprinkler system to control and extinguish a fire on stage. Contact your local fire prevention office for participation in the production design process to reduce the risk of the sprinkler system not being able to control a fire. System Testing and Maintenance Not properly testing and maintaining any mechanical system will guarantee its failure. This also holds true for fire alarm, fire sprinkler, fire extinguisher, and emergency lighting systems. Review all local and state codes governing the testing and maintenance of these life safety systems. Too often the easy items such as smoke detector cleaning and operation are maintained, but the more difficult items — such as battery testing and sampling of sprinkler heads — are overlooked. Should there be a problem with any component of these systems, the institution will be held liable. CPM Mike Halligan is the associate director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Utah and is responsible for Fire Prevention and Special Events Life Safety. He can be reached at 801/585-9327 or at WWW.PLANNING 4EDUCATION.COM

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