Clearing Up Confusion on New Standards for Fire Curtains

fire industry today Steve Weyel

While smoke and fire protective curtain assemblies have been used extensively in Europe since the 1980s, they are still relatively new to North America.

Recently, test standards and codes have been developed so that additional compliant applications are available for North American markets. However, evolving standards and codes have left some designers and code officials confused and uncertain as to which standards and codes apply to fire and smoke protective curtains.

The Curtains

Fire and smoke protective curtains are designed and tested to limit the movement of heat and smoke generated by a fire. They can help contain heat and smoke within a specific volume or channel it in accordance with the design intent. Fire- and smoke-protective curtain assemblies can be used for specific applications or as part of an engineered smoke control system. These curtains create a nonstructural barrier between interior portions of a building.

Comprising a flexible fire-resistant fabric mounted into a head box, these products can be installed above an opening or above the opening within the ceiling. In the event of a fire, the curtain is electrically actuated and descends upon receiving a signal from a fire-detection-initiating device. Curtains are available in large sizes to accommodate virtually any opening and can be weighted to assist deployment as well as limit deflection caused by air movement. While curtains are not replacements for fire door assemblies, they offer interior design flexibility and provide an additional layer of fire protection that can be concealed from view.

Architects, engineers, specifiers, plan reviewers, construction project managers, and code officials should be aware of the test standards and codes that apply to fire curtains. Understanding these codes and standards is necessary to determine appropriate uses for specific applications.

Codes and Standards

Test standards from Underwriters Laboratories that apply to smoke and fire protective curtains include UL 10D, UL 1784, and UL 864. UL 10D and UL 1784 were recently introduced to the United States. In 2014, UL 10D was approved and evaluates fire protective curtain assemblies intended to provide supplemental, passive fire protection as part of an engineered fire protection system. UL 1784 tests assemblies for air leakage of door assemblies and other protectives. UL 864 addresses requirements for control units and accessories for fire alarm systems.

National Protection Association (NFPA) 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, regulates the installation and maintenance of assemblies and devices used to protect openings in walls, floors, and ceilings against the spread of fire within or into buildings. The 2016 edition of NFPA 80 added a new definition for fire protective curtain assemblies. NFPA 80, Section 21.1.1, clarifies that the current generation of curtain assemblies is not to be confused with fabric fire safety curtains, which are specifically intended for protection of proscenium openings. Fabric fire safety curtain assemblies are part of the passive fire-resistive separation between the stage and the audience seating area. They are intended to provide at least 20 minutes of protection so the audience can safely evacuate. For recognition as proscenium opening protection, curtains must meet the requirements of NFPA 80, 2016 ed., Chapter 20, which deal specifically with fabric curtains.

With the codes and standards currently in place, compliant applications for curtains include draft curtains for escalators, stair openings, and warehouse storage areas; smoke partitions, including opening protectives; elevator hoistways to limit smoke migration; nonegress opening protectives in corridors that require a 20-minute rating and smoke barriers; proscenium openings (provided the curtains also meet the requirements of NFPA 80, 2016 ed., Chapter 20); and service counter fire doors where 20-minute opening protectives are allowed. A UL Task Group is also considering including horizontal sliding applications, which will create even more opportunities to use curtains.

Considerations

Code compliance, performance and aesthetic characteristics, integration with an engineered smoke control system, and available options should be considered when evaluating the use of smoke and fire curtain assemblies in commercial buildings. Options include firefighters’ override, sizing, orientation, guide systems, fabric materials, and siren/strobe light capabilities.

As technology and codes have evolved, smoke- and fire-protective curtain assemblies are becoming widely accepted throughout North America. They have proven to be cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing. While fire and smoke protective curtains are not a substitute for code-required structural hourly rated partitions, barriers, or opening protectives that have been tested for fire endurance and hose stream performance, there are many applications that are well-suited for this new form of safety technology.

STEVE WEYEL is a product manager with the BILCO Company.

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