Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Fire Door Gap Size Allowances - Am I protected?

For me, it’s that time of year again, annual facility fire door inspections.  I already know that the majority of these doors are going to fail, primarily due to door gap size allowances being exceeded. Current codes, NFPA 80, requires a maximum door gap allowance of ⅛” around the top and vertical perimeters of a fire rated door.  They allow up to ¾” door gap allowance at the bottom perimeter of the door. 

As I walk through the facility with my tablet and door gap gauge, I have to be prepared for the litany of questions that I will inevitably receive from facility managers. The primary question being, “How do I know that gap measurement is sufficient?”

In March of 2018, the NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation published a report to answer the question of how did the gap size allowances come to be, and are the current gap allowances the best practice. The study included a literature review of more than 100 published documents and media, and computer modeling.  This report, Influence of Gap Sizes around Swinging Doors with Builders Hardware on Fire and Smoke Development, can be viewed in its entirety.

This study and report made some of the following conclusions:

“From this information a great deal of information and data was collected that directly reveals that the gap sizes around swinging doors have a significant effect on the fire development.”

“A significant amount of work was done to trace the historic record of the prescriptive gaps sizes included in NFPA 80. It was revealed that the first inclusion of these gaps sizes was added in 1959. Initially, requirements were based on the mounting of doors; however, in 1967 the requirements switched to being based on the door construction. There is no evidence to suggest that this was done from a fire performance perspective, however the test reports from that time period indicate that the prescriptive gap sizes are in the vicinity of what was found during full scale testing.”

Aegis Fire Door Gap Gauge



Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Innovating Our Industry [Seven Survival Skills]

Innovator. An innovator is defined as a person who introduces new methods, ideas, or products. these are individuals who blaze a trail into a new territory. Innovation is necessary for our survival - as a people, and as an industry.


In his book Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner provides a clear argument for the changes that are needed in our educational system (and to some extent, our parenting styles) to create innovative people. Without innovation, we will cease to develop and exist. In his previous book, Tony identified seven survival skills that people need to possess and foster in others in order for us to continue to thrive.  These skills are also what is needed within our industry of fire protection, life safety, and codes and standards development, to enable its continued growth and impact.
  1. Critical thinking and problem solving.
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence.
  3. Agility and adaptability.
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship.
  5. Accessing and analyzing information.
  6. Effective oral and written communication.
  7. Curiosity and imagination.
Tony adds to this list, “perseverance, a willingness to experiment, take calculated risks, and tolerate failure, and the capacity for “design thinking”.

The U.S. Army understands the importance and urgency to create innovative thinkers and leaders. In 2015 the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command released a “Learning Conceptpaper that identified three components that would contribute to a more competitive learning model.  These three actions can be implemented within our industries to enhance innovative thinking and growth.

  1. Convert most classroom experiences into collaborative problem-solving events led by facilitators (vs. instructors) who engage learners to think and understand the relevance and context of what they learn.
  2. Tailor learning to the individual learner’s experience and competence level based on the results of a pre-test and/or assessment.
  3. Dramatically reduce or eliminate instructor-led slide presentation lectures and begin using a blended learning approach that incorporates virtual and constructive simulations, gaming technology, or other technology-delivered instruction.
How can we foster these traits within our organizations and personnel? What tools are you using to encourage and create innovation with your company, organization, or industry at large?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Story of American Aviation


Aviation found me. It found me nearly fifteen years ago, sitting in class at the fire academy. Out of nearly 400 hours of training to become a firefighter in the state of Florida, aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) is covered for about fifteen minutes. But, it was in these few minutes that I knew I wanted to work in the aviation industry, and ARFF specialty field.  My first fire department job out of the academy was indeed an aircraft rescue and firefighting job, a career I continue to enjoy to this day. 


I am proud to be part of the innovative and storied history, and continuing advancements, of the aviation industry. In 1946, Jim Ray, captured this history in his well written and beautifully illustrated book, The Story of American Aviation. Seventy-four years later, it is my privilege to be part of the team that has brought this book back into print. I consider it an honor to have written the foreword to this new edition.


Click to order.

Jim Ray described that his purpose for this book was “to trace the progress of aviation in America and to tell the story of the men and machines that have given this country supremacy in the air.” Those of use who are fortunate enough to work, play, or otherwise be involved in the aviation industry can consider ourselves part of this story, part of the tradition of men from all corners of the world who endured hardships, ridicule, injuries, and even death, to make flight possible. Our work everyday continues this mission!



In the concluding chapter Ray prophetically writes, “As a commercial transport, the airplane will also serve to keep the peace. Commercial airliners will make the world much smaller, and no nation will be a great distance from another. We shall all be able to travel by air to the most far-distant country in a matter of hours. All nations will be closer neighbors, and we shall all have a better understanding of our neighboring nations. The more we visit and mingle with the people of the entire world the more we can help to spread the doctrine of democracy of America. The airplane will play a great part in eliminating the greed and jealousy that breeds war. The young people of today will govern America tomorrow. The airplane will be the vehicle through which they will learn to know the peoples of the world. Through this better understanding America may always be the symbol of peace and prosperity.”


The Story of American Aviation shows us how we started and where we have been, however, this story is still being written. It was only through persistence that the Wright brothers were able to succeed where others had failed. It will be this same persistence that the miracle of flight, extending into space travel, will continue to be improved, developed, and the impossible to experience made possible. The miracle of flight continues its promise to take us ever farther and further!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

What our readers are reading?


A few months ago we conducted our annual reader survey, and the results are in! Though I use the survey to collect data and measure multiple points there are three areas that I am primarily concerned with - what is your #1 challenge and what are the most valuable posts (MVP’s). It is the answer to these two questions that let me know how this blog can better serve your needs.

#1 Challenge:
The primary challenges stated are all related to the topic of education. The educational challenges are related to one of three areas:
  • Codes, standards, and compliance - knowledge and interpretation of current codes and standards, and how to properly apply them for compliance.
  • Fire protection systems - understanding the guidelines, references, and standards for system designs
  • Building owners - educating building owners on codes and standards, and the importance of compliance, and how to achieve buy-in.

MVP’s:
The most valuable posts to our readers are ones that provide explanations and details for specific codes and code sections. A good example is these top viewed posts:

Consistent with the above, many readers stated a desire for training products. These products could include webinars, in-person classes, and courses that provide CEU’s. Moving forward we will potentially be developing content, products, services, and opportunities that fill this need.

This reader survey also asked about what other blogs TheCodeCoach.com readers were also reading.  Here’s the top four blogs and sites that were listed:

As always, thank you for being dedicated readers.  I am always open to feedback and requests. Feel free to contact me anytime!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Introduction to ASTM E 119


The IBC, IFC, and NFPA require minimum fire-resistance ratings for various building materials, components, and assemblies. These fire-resistance ratings are based on the data and testing provided by ASTM, according to the procedures outlined in ASTM E 119. These codes point the user, by reference, to ASTM E 119,  Typically this reference is preceded by terminology such as, “...tested in accordance with”.


ASTM E 119 is the guiding document for the Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials. This document provides the fire-test-response criteria and procedures for structural materials used in building construction. The application of the test procedures contained in ASTM E 119 is to “evaluate the duration for which” building construction materials and assemblies can either contain a fire, retain structural integrity or both. The types of assemblies to be tested include, bearing walls and partitions, columns, floors and roofs, beams, and protective membranes. Specific requirements must be met for these building products to produce a successful (passing) result. These requirements are referred to as “conditions of acceptance”. The conditions of acceptance outline what makes a successful test. If these conditions are not met, then the material or assembly being tested will fail.


The fire-resistance of building materials is determined and based on the standard time-temperature curve. In this temperature controlled environment, building materials receive their hourly rating. The standard time-temperature curve looks like this:


The temperature is measured by the use of thermocouples strategically placed across the product or material to be tested. Utilizing the time temperature curve the temperature data produced by the thermocouples are read and recorded every five to ten minutes.


Both sides of the material, exposed and unexposed, are to be monitored by thermocouples. Both, the IBC and the NFPA, have requirements for nonsymmetrical building assemblies and components. Nonsymmetrical assemblies are constructed of different components on each side. Based on the order in which the materials are assembled, a fire will burn differently, or at a different rate, depending on which side the fire is on. The test report for these types of assemblies will indicate the fire-resistance rating for both sides. This is important to note, as some code requirements state that the fire-resistance rating should be based on the shortest test duration.


Building construction materials and assemblies can be subjected to two types of tests, the fire endurance test and the hose stream test. Based on the type of assembly being tested (floor, wall, column, etc.) there may be a requirement for a load to be applied. To successfully pass, the assembly or material must support the load throughout the duration of time that it is exposed to fire.  The hose stream test is conducted to measure the “impact, erosion, and cooling effects” of a hose stream on the heated surface of the test material. The test types and duration required will be based on the conditions of acceptance for the material being tested.

Video of ASTM E 119 test procedure:





Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Ultimate Guide to Fire Door Inspections [for Facility Managers]

Current codes and standards require that all fire doors be inspected at least annually.  Facility managers and building owners are the responsible party for ensuring that these annual fire door inspections are conducted and documented. These inspections can be performed by a "qualified person" who has understanding and knowledge of fire door components, operations, and maintenance requirements.  Documentation of these inspections should be maintained and made available to the fire code official or other authority when requested.

Though it will not make anyone a "qualified person", this interactive guide will provides an educational overview of fire doors, installations, and inspections. Topics covered include:

  • Basic requirements for fire doors
  • Fire door components and installation
  • Inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements and resources.





Fire Doors for Fire Protection and Life Safety

Introduction to Passive Fire Protection - Gain an understanding of how fire doors interconnect with other passive building construction features to contribute fire protection and life safety.

Fire Doors? Whats the big deal? - A brief discussion of why fire doors are important and the the ratings permitted by the code.


Fire Door Testing, Components, and Installation

Testing Fire Doors - Video demonstrates fire door performance under various circumstances and installation.

Smoke Gasketing and Edge Sealing - A series of articles that discuss when and where smoke gasketing and edge sealing are required.

Proper Fire Door Installation - Video demonstrates techniques for proper fire door installation.

Benefits of Fire Door Commissioning - An introduction to fire system commissioning and the role it can play in ensuring proper fire door installation, operation, and maintenance.


Fire Door Inspections, Testing, and Maintenance

Five Step Fire Door Check - Tips for five items of a fire door that anyone can check to ensure operability. 

How to Conduct NFPA 80 Inspections - Tools and resources for creating and implementing a fire door inspection program.













Monday, January 28, 2019

"Want to play a game?" [How to Survive an Escape Room]

AP Photo

The energy in the room was suddenly heightened as smoke began to slowly filter through the from some other, outside and unknown, location. How could they escape? The puzzles and riddles didn’t make sense, the clues weren’t coming together, the tumblers weren’t tumbling in the locks.   They were still trapped. With the additional stress of a real (or perceived?) emergency, clear heads became foggy, and chances of escape diminished to nearly zero. As their eyes met, the girls were suddenly and simultaneously gripped by the terror of the realization that this was going to be there permanent grave and final resting place.

The room seemed to be a perfect square or cube, considering the ceiling and floor.  The walls were the drab brown of wood paneling made even darker and dingier by the countless fingers and hand prints from others that had come before. It looked like an old office or library, maybe a study.  A bookshelf along one wall, an antique roll-top secretaries desk on the other. Loosely mounted on the wall to her back was a nearly wall-sized, sepia toned, map of the world. On the floor in the center of the room was a large round rug, probably Persian or Oriental. They didn’t know. The rug was a plush woven pattern of small star-type shapes, sewn within larger star-type shapes. Neatly positioned on the rug, was a brown leather chair. The leather was worn and scratched. A few miniature tears permitted the protrusion of wisps of cotton from the seat, back, and arms. Next to the chair, plugged directly into an outlet on the floor, was a tall slender lamp.  The lamp was a brushed bronze, with a single bulb. The bulb was surrounded by a tassled cloth lampshade. The yellow hues cast by the dark shade, added to the already low visibility within the room. Of all the rooms features and decor, the most ominous was the illuminated wall clock. The clock had been counting down. Now, as smoke filled the room, the clock had stopped at 00:28. Twenty-eight minutes until, what? How did they get here? How did they end up in this locked room? Where was the way out?

This could be the start of another film in the Saw franchise. Or, it could be the beginning of locked-room, pulp fiction mystery of the early 1900’s.  For Julia, Amelia, Gosia, Karolina, and Wiktoria, however, this is no work of fiction, instead, it was the final activity of their young lives. The five girls from Koszalin, a city in northern Poland, were celebrating the birthday at an “escape room” game attraction. What should have been a joyous and momentous occasion, a birthday party for a fifteen year-old, ended in tragedy.

A fire investigation determined that the cause of the fire was a gas leak in the heating system. Local fire authorities also noted the presence of faulty, non-compliant electrical wiring co-mingled with flammable materials. The fire started in the lobby or one of the other rooms of the establishment, and smoke filled into the girls locked escape room. One employee was taken to the hospital in serious condition from direct burns to his body. One report states that the firefighter had significant difficult entering the building to extinguish the fire and recover the girls. This is consistent with statements that the injured employee had tried to get to the escape room but could not due to fire damage.

The girls cause of death was ruled carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is only one half of the “toxic twins” of smoke.  The other is hydrogen cyanide (HCN). The danger of hydrogen cyanide lies in the fact that it can immediately start to attack and kill the organs, in a fire and smoke scenario this danger is further enhanced by the presence of carbon monoxide. As the HCN attacks the organs, the CO is depriving the oxygen from those same organs. The common materials that are used in the makeup of our homes, businesses, clothing and automobiles - plastics, resins, nylon, polyurethane, melamine, acrylonitrile - produce very high levels of CO and HCN when burning.  These chemicals result in the slow painful death of asphyxiation and bodily organ shut-down.

Originating in Japan, but popularized within just the last few years, escape rooms allow small groups of people to work together using clues, riddles, teamwork, and communication to escape an enclosed space. Typically these rooms are themed, and involve competition with groups in other rooms. The clues are comprised of various combinations of puzzles, props, and riddles.

The thirst for adventure, an adrenaline rush, and an emotion filled social experience has contributed to the growing trend of escape room attractions In the United States.  There is an estimated 2,300 escape room facilities in the US. This is up from only twenty-two in 2014. Bringing in nearly $125,000 a year per room, this is a business that will continue to grow.  How can we prevent the ingredients of escape rooms (and nightmares) - locked in a windowless room, imminent danger, no way of escape - from becoming disaster and tragedy?

One tool we can use is building and fire codes and standards. In the United States there are two primary code-making bodies, the International Code Council (ICC), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Each of these organizations publish multiple codes and standards including a building code and a fire code.  The ICC publishes the International Building Code (IBC), and the International Fire Code (IFC). The NFPA publishes NFPA 5000, Building Construction and Safety Code; NFPA 1, Fire Code; NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.

Utilization of these codes and standards for building construction, fire protection, or life safety is not mandated or required.  However, all fifty states do voluntarily adopt some version of these, or have created their own codes and standards based on their content.  Once adopted by the state, the provisions then become enforceable as law. Currently neither of these code bodies publishes a code or standard specific to “escape rooms”. They do have sections in their codes for “special amusement buildings”.  This is the section of code that is typically applied to these structures. Escape rooms and special amusements fall into the general building classification of an “assembly occupancy”.

The National Fire Protection Association defines an assembly occupancy as, “an occupancy (1) used for a gathering of 50 or more persons for deliberation, worship, entertainment, eating, drinking, amusement, awaiting transportation, or similar uses; or (2) used as a special amusement building, regardless of occupant load.”

Similarly, the International Code Council defines an assembly occupancy as an occupancy that “includes, among others, the use of a building or structure, or a portion thereof, for the gathering of persons for purposes such as civic, social or religious functions; recreation, food or drink consumption or awaiting transportation…”

A thorough review and application of these codes and standards generates the following mash-up of requirements.

Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems.
A fire sprinkler system is required for the protection of these structures. Both code bodies allow the omission of fire sprinklers for amusements and attractions that are less than 1,000 sq.ft. and when the travel distance to an exit is less than 50 feet. If the space is less than 10 feet high and 160 feet wide, then sprinklers may also be omitted.

Smoke and Fire Detection.
Smoke alarms and other fire detection devices are required to be installed throughout the amusement space.

Fire Alarm System.
The smoke and fire detection devices are required to send any activation signals to a constantly monitored location.  Additionally, the system must be equipped with an emergency voice/communication system that can be clearly heard throughout the facility. If the fire alarm or fire sprinkler is activated, lighting should be activated so that the exits and exit pathways are clearly illuminated.  Any other sounds or visual application that may be confusing or conflicting are required to be terminated.

Exit Markings.
Exit signage is required to show the location of exit doors and pathways. Directional markings are also required, but they can be setup to be visible only in the event of an alarm or fire sprinkler activation.  Floor proximity exit signage is required and must be mounted with the bottom of the sign between 6” and 18” above the floor. The IBC states that the bottom of the sign must be no more than 8” above the floor. If the exit sign denotes the location of a door, the sign must be within 4” of the door frame.

Interior Finish.
Interior finish includes paints, fabrics, carpets, and other items that are applied to the walls, floors, or ceilings of a structure. These products are classified based on flame spread and smoke development. Class A is the most flame resistant, with a flame spread index of 0-25 and a smoke developed index of 0-450, and is the rating required for special amusement structures.

Another tool that can be utilized for the protection of occupants within escape rooms is to follow industry best practices. The primary best practice is to have a sufficient number of personnel, that are properly trained, to staff the escape room attraction. The staff must be knowledgeable of emergency procedures, fire alarm response, safe exiting and emergency egress procedures, and proper operations of the escape room components and access ways.  Staff should provide instructions on emergency procedures and exit locations to participants prior to the start of the event. Staff should monitoring the rooms via live video feeds. This allows for prompt notification of issues or injuries, and can also be an effective method of communication with participants, if needed.

In construction of the room itself, it is recommended that they have a simple progression and avoid many twists, turns, or small passageways. This contributes to a more quick and direct  exit access in case of emergency. Utilizing only low-voltage electronics for room equipment and props can minimize any potential fire hazard.

It is always a good practice for escape room owners and managers to maintain clear and open communication with the local fire department.  Regular inspections of fire protection and life safety equipment, and the space as a whole, should be encouraged and conducted.

Don’t let the fun, excitement, and faux-adventure of the special amusement of an  “escape room” become a tragedy. Before starting the game ensure that you know where the exits are, you know how to get out of the building, and you know how to notify staff of any issue that may arise.  

John Denley, whose company Escape Room International designs and builds escape rooms across the country, tells owners this, “In order to stay in business, you have to stay up with safety standards, and you have to play by the book. It helps everyone sleep better at night...You want to go into a place with as much safety as possible because you also want to know your investment is safe.”

The man who ran the escape room that killed Julia, Amelia, Gosia, Karolina, and Wiktoria has lost his livelihood and his standing in the community. He is facing up to eight years in prison for “intentionally creating a fire danger and unintentionally causing the deaths.”  At the girls’ funeral, Rev. Wojciech Pawlak eulogized, “In their friendship they were and will remain together. They were together when their lives were ending, they are together here and they will rest together in the cemetery. Forever…”

Monday, January 21, 2019

Managing the Fire Prevention Organization

With the many tasks, responsibilities, and requirements of the fire prevention organization how can personnel and resources be best utilized to  ensure that they are functioning at optimal effectiveness? Can they know that they are focusing on the right tasks and activities? The solution is a clear plan of action that identifies and provides for the most effective and efficient methods for performing essential fire prevention functions.

  • Identify the seven disciplines of effective and efficient fire prevention organizations.
  • Describe the key functions, features, and components of each discipline.
  • Apply practical guidance for implementation of each discipline.
  • Utilize readily available tools and resources for continued effectiveness and efficiency.





I have written extensively on this subject. Articles that delve deeper into these topics can be found at the below links.

Fire Prevention Blueprint - What it is, and how it can benefit your department.
Seven Disciplines for Effective FPO's - Identifying and defining the seven disciplines.
The FPO Effectiveness Tool -  How to use the “FPO balance wheel” to assess your organization.



Learn more at, FPOblueprint.com.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Facility Managers Guide to Fire Sprinkler Inspections


The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines the role of Facility Manager as, the "organizational function which integrates people, place and process within the built environment with the purpose of improving the quality of life of people and the productivity of the core business.” 

Today's facility manager is a key contributor to a companies bottom line. This contribution is realized in the maintenance of a companies most valuable assets - property, buildings, and equipment. Facility managers are expected to be an expert on all building related subjects, and the often serve as a "catch all" for jobs and responsibilities that do not fit anyone else's job description. 

The regular inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire protection systems is an important part of the job, and a critical component of ensuring life safety of the building's occupants. The Quick Response Fire Supply team has written an excellent series of articles to educate the facility manager on what to inspect in fire sprinkler systems.

Part #1: What Facility Managers Need to Inspect on a Fire Sprinkler System
What to look for on the required annual visual inspection - "from the floor level".

Part #2: What Facility Managers Need to Inspect on a Fire Sprinkler System
Understanding deficiencies, impairments, and tagging systems.

Part #3: What Facility Managers Need to Inspect on a Fire Sprinkler System
Inspection requirements for fire pumps.

Part #4: What Facility Managers Need to Inspect on a Fire Sprinkler System
Fire sprinkler system signs, gauges, and alarms.

Part #5: What Facility Managers Need to Inspect on a Fire Sprinkler System
System components and valves.

Part #6: What Facility Managers Need to Inspect on a Fire Sprinkler System
Inspection requirements for water storage tanks.

Part #7: What Facility Managers Need to Inspect on a Fire Sprinkler System
Automatic detection systems and air-compressors.

Monday, January 7, 2019

In Caves of Steel: Fire Protection and Life Safety for Underground Structures

From "Robbies World Blog"
In his serial, The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov writes of a future crowded nation where underground living is commonplace. However, in Beijing this is a current reality.  Nearly one million people live beneath the city. These people are referred to as the shuzu, or “rat tribe”, and they take advantage of the bunkers and fallout shelter systems that were dug in the late 1960’s to 1980’s. These subterranean dwellings present multiple issue to the fire protection and life safety of occupants. NFPA 101, Life Safety Code,  Chapter 11, Section 7, provides the basic requirements for life safety within underground and limited access structures.
Underground structures are defined as, “a structure or portions of a structure in which the floor level is below the level of exit discharge”.  A limited access structure is, “a structure or portion of a structure lacking emergency access openings”. To qualify as an emergency access opening the window, panel, or similar opening must meet the following criteria:
  • minimum dimensions of 22" width x 24" high
  • bottom of opening  less than 44" AFF
  • unobstructed, identifiable, and accessible from both the interior and the exterior

It is important to clearly define whether the space is considered an underground or limited access structure. Each of these have their own, and overlapping, fire protection and life safety requirements. Both structure types must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Fire sprinkler system is required (with some exceptions, noted in 101:11.7.3.4)
    • Sprinklers may be omitted if the following applies:
      • Occupant load is 50 or fewer for new structures, 100 or less for existing
      • If the structure is permitted to have a single exit (per occupancy use), and the common path of travel does not exceed 50 feet.
  • Emergency lighting is required, throughout

In addition to these requirements, structures that expressly meet the definition of underground structure must comply with these additional requirements.

  • Automatic smoke venting systems (required, if following applies):
    • Occupant load is greater than 100 persons
    • Occupiable floors are greater than 30 feet below exit discharge
    • Space contains combustible contents, interior finishes, or construction
  • Exit stair enclosures are required to have code compliant signage that points to the direction of exit discharge

This is only an encapsulation of the fire protection requirements as outlined in the Life Safety Code. There are many other factors to be considered for safe underground dwelling. Aside from the building code, loads, and material requirements, there are very real emergency response issues. These challenges include ventilation, communication, orientation, access and egress, and patient removal.  In areas of occupied subterranean environments departments should be aware of their existence and have robust plans for the maintenance and enforcement of codes and standards, and emergency response.