Used in place of traditional compartmentation or sprinkler systems, smoke and fire curtains offer greater flexibility to designers, enabling open plan areas to be greater in size than permitted under the current building regulation recommendations. However, since they often replace other fire safety measures, they play a vital life safety role and must be maintained to BS 8524 to ensure they will perform as expected in the event of a fire.
Fire and smoke curtains offer a flexible method for creating compartmentation and protecting means of escape. When used as part of a fire-engineered design solution, they become a critical element of that design. As a result, should a curtain fail to deploy to its operational position, the fire-engineered design solution would be compromised.
This is recognised by BS 8524-1: Active fire curtain barrier assemblies. Specification, which outlines requirements for the design, testing and classification of active fire curtain barrier assemblies. But the standard also recognises that the maintenance of fire curtains throughout their lifetime is just as important as the initial specification.
BS 8524-2: Active fire curtain barrier assemblies. Code of practice for application, installation and maintenance offers recommendations for the application, installation and maintenance of active fire curtain barrier assemblies.
Since, in the UK, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RR(FS)O) places the responsibility on the building occupier to ensure that all fire safety measures are maintained in an operational state at all times, building occupiers should ensure that fire curtains are maintained in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions, and should follow the recommendations outlined in BS 8524-2 since infringements may lead to prosecution.
On the completion of any building work, be it new build or refurbishment, the building contractor is legally obliged to pass on to the building occupier information regarding the fire safety measures installed within the building.
The Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2007 require that all buildings constructed after 1994 should have a safety plan containing details of the installed fire safety provisions, making clear the obligations on a designer concerning fire safety.
Regulation 38 of the Building Regulations makes it mandatory for fire safety information for all buildings constructed after 2007 to be passed on to the building occupier on completion – creating a key link between the building as finished and the building in use.
Regulation 38 applies to any new building or extension to which the RR(FS)O applies, and to any material change of use. For these buildings, the person carrying out the work is required to give fire safety information to the Responsible Person (as defined under the RR(FS)O).
The purpose of Regulation 38 is to assist the Responsible Person in fulfilling their duties in respect to fire safety for the building, allowing them to operate and maintain the building or extension with reasonable safety. The information required relates to the design and construction, and the services, fittings and equipment provided.
For simple buildings that may be as basic as a location plan of fire protection measures and key elements of compartmentation. For complex buildings more detail of the fire safety strategy should be provided, including a design risk analysis, highlighting fundamental assumptions (such as fire load) and any consequences for building management and operation.
It is important to check that the information supplied is valid and correct. Critical systems, such as fire and smoke curtains, should be accompanied by a completion certificate which provides details of exactly what has been installed. This should be checked against the original design specification.
Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations and BS 8524 recommend third party certification as a way to ensure the use of quality products and installers, such as Coopers Fire.
Completion certificates, fire test certificates and any information supplied should be checked against the information on the issuing authority’s website to ensure that the product installed matches the design specification.
BS 8524 requires that planned inspection, testing and maintenance should be carried out by a ‘competent person who is able to check and confirm that barrier assemblies are operating and performing effectively, when required’ and that all such tests are accurately logged. Similarly, it recommends that maintenance, servicing and testing are conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Manufacturers, such as Coopers Fire, offer specialist after care packages, tailored to your specific requirements. This is the best way to ensure that fire curtains will operate as expected in the event of a fire. While many general facilities management firms may offer contracts to maintain all systems and offer local service agreements that ensure a rapid response, many of these contracts do not take into account competence. While they may arrive quickly, they may be unable to solve the problem, as they will not have the necessary parts or expertise.
This is a specialist area so it is important to employ those who understand it and have the technical back up. Coopers Fire products are third party accredited and the company has IFC (International Fire Consultants) approval for the installation and service of smoke and fire curtains. All of its engineers are factory trained at its in house training facility. Its service vehicles are fully equipped and carry a comprehensive range of spare parts to enable on the spot repairs in most instances.
As a result, its service engineers can offer a quality response that will usually result in immediate problem resolution. If a non-authorised service agent is used it could take time to effect a repair, leaving a site unprotected.
Coopers Fire recommends that if you employ a manufacturer to supply and install a smoke or fire curtain system, it is important to inspect the system when it is commissioned to ensure that the equipment installed matches the specification and to get assurance that the manufacturer provides an effective after-sales service.
There are a series of regular checks recommended by BS 8524. Some of these can be undertaken by the Responsible Person on site, others must be undertaken by a competent engineer as part of a planned maintenance programme.
As part of their regular risk assessments, clients should check for obstructions that might prevent the curtain from deploying, such as alterations to cosmetic finishes, lighting, shelving, sales displays or racking, furniture or temporary displays.
They should also remember that changes to building layout or to activities within it could impact on the installed fire safety systems. For instance, if a wall has been moved or removed then the protection offered by a curtain may be affected.
At least monthly, and on escape routes weekly, the curtain should be operated. If it forms part of a smoke control system protecting a means of escape, the barrier assembly should be operated in conjunction with the smoke control system, at least every three months.
BS 8524 also recommends that tests are undertaken at the same time each week so that all staff are familiar with the system’s operation. It recommends that all maintenance staff should be fully trained by the manufacturer.
The client should undertake a test at least monthly of self-closing devices and automatic release mechanisms via a test switch. They should also check that the sensory detection equipment and self-test facility is functioning correctly.
An inspection should be undertaken by a qualified engineer at least annually. Coopers recommend an annual inspection in domestic premises or small offices but at least 6-monthly inspections for large installations such as shopping malls etc.
Service engineers will check the security of fixings, mechanical parts and linkages to other systems such as the fire alarm and smoke control systems and undertake a range of electrical checks. These include testing the power draw of motors; the charging capacity of batteries and their ability to hold charge; and the operation of the brakes. The batteries perform an essential role as they ensure that the system will operate in a power cut. Batteries are designed to last around two years, but this time can be extended with regular servicing.
Smoke seals also play a vital role. Older silicone seals were prone to vandalism and damage due to obstructions but the more modern systems now use internal seals that are less prone to damage. Any replacement seals should be of the same formulation, dimensions and configuration as that in the manufacturer’s fire test report and should be fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Fire curtains offer a flexible and cost-effective alternative to traditional compartmentation. However, they play a vital life safety role and must be adequately maintained to ensure they will perform as expected in the event of a fire. Fire curtains are life-cycle products so, when specifying a system, it is essential to consider the whole package from quality, performance, installation and maintenance, to after sales care.
For further information, go to www.coopersfire.com