Active life safety systems include fire sprinkler, fire alarm, and smoke control. These systems have prescriptive requirements for inspection, testing, and maintenance detailed in respective NFPA standards.
Passive life safety systems include compartmentation by horizontal and vertical assemblies that resist the passage of fire and/or smoke. Within these assemblies, openings are protected by doors, shutters, and dampers. Like active systems, there are prescriptive requirements for ITM of passive systems detailed in respective NFPA standards.
Maintaining Egress And Special Hazards
There are other portions of life safety that are not as prescriptive. For example, a building’s egress strategy, emergency action plan, and hazardous material management are multi-faceted and not as prescriptive. Egress, or how people escape a building, is a fundamental building characteristic. It can be the most important part of a building’s life safety. A common factor in deaths during a fire event is not that the egress system was designed poorly. Instead, it is that someone impaired the egress. Unfortunately, impairments of egress systems – done knowingly for security or other similar purposes – is a common factor in deaths during a fire event.
The requirements and safety systems for special hazards, such as hazardous materials, can be complicated. In such instances, life safety systems are determined early in a building design and are contingent on specific operations within the facility. This can include where hazardous materials are stored, the vessel size, the permitted quantity, and how they are dispensed. Deviation from these operations can render the pre-determined life safety system inadequate. The adherence to the operational limits can be convoluted and forgotten about. This can be exacerbated when there is not a specific person who ensures adherence.
Life safety is a holistic building approach. Current codes provide a well-documented prescription of requirements that intends to achieve an adequate level of property protection and safety to life from fire. Architects, engineers, and building officials spend countless hours ensuring a building is designed to meet that prescription. By satisfying that prescription through design a building receives a building permit and a subsequent certificate of occupancy. In so doing, the intended level of property protection and safety to life from fire is achieved at the time of the grand opening. Justification of that accomplishment lies solely in maintaining that same level of protection over the life of the building.
It is necessary for the professionals designing a building to ensure that the approach to life safety is understood by the building operators. Design teams should be planning a building with the building’s life cycle in mind. This includes ensuring there is access to the systems and simplifying the systems whenever possible. Design teams should also ensure that operators understand what the life safety systems are and where the equipment is located. After construction, it is necessary for the building operators to ensure that the approach to safety is maintained throughout the building’s life cycle. Life safety system maintenance is required by code and therefore law.
Arthur Gager is a Senior Fire Protection Engineer at Jensen Hughes. With 11 years in the industry, he has extensive experience in overall building code compliance, laboratory work and smoke control. His work in design, construction and follow-up inspections enables him to view life safety from a variety of perspectives.