Code Red Consultants

When considering doors that form part of an egress route, such as those in a common area or corridor, there is a common misconception that they can be locked as long as they automatically unlock upon activation of the building’s fire alarm system. However, this belief is incorrect as there are no such provisions within the 2021 IBC that permit egress doors to be locked and only released during a fire alarm event.

Egress doors are required to be readily available and operable from the egress side without requiring a key or special knowledge (2021 IBC 1010.2). This requirement ensures that in non-fire emergencies (i.e., natural disasters) requiring building evacuation, occupants can readily exit without delays caused by locked doors. Any listed exceptions to the above can be found in 2021 IBC Section 1010.2.

Understanding and complying with this requirement is crucial to ensuring the safe and swift evacuation of building occupants during emergencies.

Fire pumps are an important piece of life safety equipment, used to supplement water-based fire suppression systems where adequate water pressure is not available. They are often necessary to meet NFPA design requirements. This blog addresses the importance of fire pumps and how to determine if a fire pump is needed.

Does my building need a fire pump?
It depends. During the planning and design phases of a construction project, the fire protection designers should address this question. As a fire suppression system is designed, its water demands will be compared to the local municipality’s available water supply. A fire pump will be required if the available water supply cannot meet the system pressure requirements.

How are fire pumps designed and tested?
NFPA 20, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection, addresses the design, installation, and testing of Fire Pumps. Chapter 14 “Acceptance testing, performance, and maintenance,” requires that fire pumps must be formally commissioned and tested in accordance with the pump manufacturer prior to formal acceptance of the fire suppression system and prior to building occupancy.

This test is critical in confirming that the fire pump operates as intended according to the manufacturer’s performance curve and in line with the design specifications. Additionally, it provides transparency that the performance meets the approval of the manufacturer, installing contractor, building owner, engineer of record, and the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Once accepted, fire pumps are required to be regularly tested in accordance with Chapter 8 to make sure they continue to perform as intended. Depending on the type of fire pump (i.e. electric driven or diesel driven), specific testing criteria may vary..

Why are fire pumps important in high-rise applications?
City water supplies often do not have adequate pressure to supply water to tall buildings, and a pump is frequently required.  The pump must be capable of providing water to the highest portions of the building to serve both the sprinkler systems and the standpipes for firefighting operations (both of which could be operating simultaneously).   High-rise system design requires careful consideration of pump, piping, flows, and pressures to ensure proper operation of systems in all areas and all levels of the building.

To learn more about fire pumps or for assistance with fire protection system design, email us at

With the increasing number of laboratory buildings of varying sizes, ages, and conditions, the pending 10th Edition of the Massachusetts State Building Code (780 CMR) continues to generate industry excitement regarding the Laboratory Suite approach. This new chemical compartmentalization approach will allow for more significant quantities of flammable and combustible liquids within R&D laboratories than the Control Area approach recognized by the currently adopted 9th edition of 780 CMR.

In a previous post, we introduced the concept of Lab Suites and the associated implications for new construction (link to the article is provided at the end of this post). What about using lab suites in existing laboratory buildings that currently employ a Control Area approach?

To implement a Laboratory Suite approach in an existing building, several critical protection features are anticipated to be required for prescriptive compliance and may necessitate upgrades to existing building infrastructure. Such features include, but are not limited to:

  • Rated interior partitions
  • Rated floor assemblies with supporting construction
  • Automatic sprinkler protection
  • Laboratory ventilation
  • Standby power

Consideration should also be given to the following items when evaluating the feasibility of using a Laboratory Suite approach within an existing building.

(a) A Lab Suite approach can be partially or wholly implemented on a floor(s) in existing and new buildings. Partial implementation may lessen any infrastructure upgrades necessary within existing structures.

(b) Fitout projects planned to be permitted under the 10th edition can prescriptively utilize the Lab Suite approach within base buildings that have been (or are anticipated to be) permitted under a previous edition of the MA Building Code. Before this occurs, the building infrastructure will need to be evaluated to determine if the features required to support a Laboratory Suite are provided or if the building can support the necessary features.

(c) Implementation of Laboratory Suites before the adoption of the 10th Edition of 780 CMR would necessitate local AHJ approval or a state variance.

Previous Blog Post Link:

“Do I need smoke detectors at doors on magnetic hold opens?” This is a frequently asked question by designers who are faced with the challenge of creating open circulation in portions of buildings where doors are required for fire protection purposes. A common solution for this problem is to put those doors on magnetic hold opens so they don’t interrupt these circulation paths and site lines unless there is a fire condition where they need to be closed. Unfortunately, the installation of the magnetic hold opens isn’t as simple as installing the magnets and connecting them to the fire alarm system such that they close on activation. A compliant arrangement also requires examination of the location of the detectors themselves which tell those magnets to release the doors so that they will shut in a fire condition.

Unfortunately, the answer to where to install those detectors is “it depends”.

The International Building Code as well as NFPA 101, the Life Safety Code, references NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code where you can find the detailed requirements for installation of smoke detectors. Chapter 17 Initiating Devices of NFPA 72 provides compliant options for smoke detector layouts for door release devices including various ceiling height scenarios.

Option 1:

The first option is to utilize complete area detection, where the entire space (i.e. corridor) is protected throughout by smoke detectors that are commonly spaced at 30-foot intervals. This option does not require any special detectors near the doors since they will be told to close if a smoke detector anywhere in the department is triggered.

Option 2:

Option 2 uses an approach where it only requires a detector or detectors near the hold open door. The challenge here is that the header depth above the door can create different airflow patterns for smoke to travel across the door. To ensure detection will be located in an area where smoke is likely to exist, NFPA 72 has varying requirements on if the detectors are needed on one side of the door or both, depending on that header depth. Section 17.7 Smoke-Sensing Fire Detectors of NFPA 72 has a table (Figure that designers can use to locate the detectors properly.

With the influx of new and repositioned life science buildings coming to market in recent years, a key attribute leading to the success of these buildings has been the ability to maximize available quantities for tenant chemical storage. To achieve this, centralized chemical storage rooms are often provided (designed as either Control Area or Group H, High Hazard storage rooms), allowing chemicals to be remotely stored without detracting from the maximum allowable quantities (MAQ’s) of chemicals available for use within tenant spaces.

Within such rooms, a component that requires significant thought and coordination is the ventilation systems used to mitigate dangerous vapor accumulation. Chemical storage rooms that accommodate small, normally closed vessels may not need as robust of a ventilation system as rooms containing large vessels and/or dispensing operations. Of the latter, two distinct ventilation system types are often found in the larger chemical storage applications:

  • Group H Exhaust (per International Mechanical Code [IMC] Section 502.8), for rooms with large chemical quantities, and
  • Hazardous Exhaust (per IMC Section 510), for rooms with open use operations that generate dangerous vapors.

Group H Exhaust (IMC 502.8.1) is required for any indoor storage area where the quantity of chemicals exceeds the MAQs per Control Area. The requirements for a Group H Exhaust system are outlined in IMC Section 508.1.1, and include, but are not limited to:

  • Exhaust rate of 1 CFM per square foot of room area
  • High/low exhaust (within 12” of the ceiling/floor depending on the weight of expected fumes),
  • Manual ventilation shutoff switch exterior to the room,
  • Continuous operation of equipment, etc.

Also note that specific hazards such as compressed/cryogenic gases, fumes posing health hazards (and associated point-collection systems), and other unique hazards may require additional protection.

Hazardous Exhaust (IMC 510), on the contrary, is not dependent on the MAQs. Rather, IMC 510 is applicable where any one of the following thresholds may be exceeded during normal operations, in the absence of the exhaust system running:

  • A flammable vapor, gas, fume, mist, or dust is present in concentrations exceeding 25 percent of the lower flammability limit of the substance at the expected room temperature;
  • A vapor, gas, fume, mist, or dust with a health-hazard rating of 4 is present in any concentration.
  • A vapor, gas, fume, mist, or dust with a health hazard rating of 1, 2, or 3 is present in concentrations exceeding 1 percent of the medial lethal concentration of the substance for acute inhalation toxicity.

One of the major features of a Hazardous Exhaust system is that it must be independent from other ventilation systems, typically requiring separation by rated shaft construction and/or fire-rated ducts.  Other design requirements may include internal duct suppression, redundant fans, standby power, etc., which should be reviewed with respect to the installation and design goals.

The misconception we often see with the two system types is that they are either thought of as one in the same, or mutually exclusive. To help clarify some ambiguity surrounding these system types, we offer the following:

  • A Hazardous Exhaust system (IMC 510) may sometimes be required in a non-Group H (i.e. Control Area) occupancy, depending on the operations taking place.
  • A Group H room with Group H Exhaust (IMC 502.8) may sometimes also require a local Hazardous Exhaust system (IMC 510) given the operations taking place within.
  • Where both types of systems are warranted, it’s possible to achieve both goals with a single HVAC system designed to meet both criteria.

Existing accredited healthcare facilities are required to maintain the fire-resistance rated walls identified on their Life Safety Plans as part of the ongoing maintenance for Life Safety per the Joint Commission requirements. During State of Condition surveys of existing healthcare facilities, it is common to see citations associated with fire-resistance rated walls or smoke barriers. More specifically, deficiencies associated with opening protectives such as doors, dampers, or penetrations of fire- or smoke-rated walls.

This blog post specifically addresses commonly observed issues associated with dampered ducts penetrating a fire-resistance rated wall. Often, issues are cited relative to the installation of intumescent firestopping applied around the annular space of duct penetrations where fire dampers are installed. A vast majority of fire dampers are not permitted by their fire tests to be installed with an intumescent product in the annular space around the duct penetration. This is caused by the nature of the intumescent firestopping itself – when the product expands in elevated temperatures, as designed, it can deform the duct work and prevent proper closure of the fire damper.

Another common deficiency observed are dampered ducts that do not have angle irons installed. All fire, smoke, or combination fire/smoke dampers are required to be installed per the manufacturer’s listing for its specific use, which typically requires the use of angle irons to rigidly support the duct from deforming. It is common for listings to require non-intumescent materials to be utilized in the installation of the damper, but in some specific listings a firestopping material may be permitted. However, if the installation instructions for the model of damper do not permit the installation of firestopping, it will need to be removed to maintain the listing of the damper.

Lastly, it is commonly observed that damper access panels are not labeled. Damper access panels are required to be identified with the words “Fire Damper”, “Smoke Damper”, or “Fire/Smoke Damper” in letters not less than one inch in height, as required by NFPA 80.

If you have any questions or would like assistance with fire and life safety code compliance related to life safety deficiencies your facility might have, please do not hesitate to contact us at

Atriums are one of the grander features that can be incorporated into a building design. Still, they introduce several design considerations that should be taken into account as a project progresses through design and into construction. This post will present an overview of some of these major considerations.

Sizing and location of the smoke control exhaust and make-up air are paramount

Typically, the exhaust is located at the top of the atrium, and make-up (or supply) air is located toward the bottom of the atrium, such that the airflow path facilitates smoke being efficiently removed from the space. The goal is to clear enough smoke to maintain visibility for exiting occupants at walking surfaces and egress paths. The number and location of exhaust inlets, as well as the location and distribution of supply air, are both critically important to developing a solution suitable for maintaining a tenable environment for those in the atrium. CFD (computational fluid dynamics) computer modeling can often be used to help simulate the various effects of these design factors. CFD model results can also be helpful visual aids when discussing the evaluation with a building or fire official. For more details on makeup-air considerations, please see our prior blog post on the topic found HERE.

What is the atrium boundary and how is it determined?

All spaces within an atrium are required to be separated from any areas not included within the atrium (IBC Section 404.6). This can be accomplished in two prescriptive ways:

  • 1-hour fire barrier walls
  • Sprinklers on glass achieving an equivalent 1-hour fire resistance rating

Additionally, there may be an option to utilize smoke curtains listed under UL 10D & 1784 (with building official approval). These options can also be mixed and matched for flexibility in the overall design. Also of note, the code allows for atrium separation to not be provided between the atrium and the adjoining spaces of up to three floors, if the spaces or rooms are accounted for in the design of the smoke control system.

Are there any specific sprinkler or fire alarm features required for the atrium?

Atriums are required to be provided with both automatic sprinkler protection and a fire alarm system. Both the sprinkler and fire alarm initiating devices serving the atrium are required to be appropriately zoned in alignment with the atrium boundary. This is done so that a fire event outside the atrium does not activate the smoke control system (exhaust fans, makeup air, sprinklers, etc.) within the atrium and vice versa. Therefore, establishing and clearly documenting the atrium boundary within design documentation is important for the success of the project.

Is the smoke control system able to be controlled via the Building Management System (BMS)?

The smoke control system is permitted to be controlled by either the fire alarm system or the BMS; however, splitting controls between multiple systems should be avoided.  In either case, the controlling system is required to be listed in accordance with UL 864 and specifically, subcategory UUKL.

Determining the most cost-effective means to control a smoke control system generally depends upon the complexity of the system, whether the equipment is dedicated to the smoke control system, as well as other design considerations.

What about the smoke control panel?

Every smoke control system requires a firefighter’s smoke control panel, which annunciates equipment status and provides manual control of system components. The smoke control panel for the fire department is required to be in the fire command center if the building requires an FCC. If the building does not have an FCC, the panel is required to be located at a location approved by the AHJ and is often adjacent to the building fire alarm panel. It is always a good idea to consult with the local fire official on the location and design of the smoke control panel before releasing it for production.

What are some other requirements for an atrium outside of the overall design?

Not to be forgotten, a typical requirement for atrium smoke control systems also includes smoke control special inspections through IBC Chapter 17. Special inspections require a comprehensive understanding of system design, performance, and construction schedules to support rather than obstruct the process. Code Red Consultants has experience stemming from dozens of smoke control special inspection projects, should you need such services.

Additionally, depending on local or state requirements, an independent third-party review of the atrium smoke control design may be required. For example, a third-party review of the project’s smoke control rational analysis (which is required to be developed by IBC Section 909) is required in Massachusetts via state code amendments. The third-party review is completed to establish that the design of the atrium smoke control system is consistent with the generally accepted/established principles of engineering and code requirements relevant to the design. The third-party review should be submitted along with the permit application.

In summary, atriums are a desirable but complex part of building design (and construction). We are happy to bring our atrium and smoke control experience to bear to support the design and/or construction side of your next atrium project. Please contact us at for more information.

Emergency Responder Radio Coverage (ERRC), also commonly referred to as a Bi-Directional Amplifier (BDA),  is required by the 9th edition of the Massachusetts State Building Code (780 CMR) Section 916 in certain new buildings.  NFPA 72 Chapter 24 provisions of the two-way radio communications enhancement system are applicable to these systems. NFPA 72 Chapter 24 requires that the riser and feeder coaxial cables and their connections shall be protected within a 2-hour rated enclosure. Since the riser and feeder coaxial cables terminate on the radio amplifiers, the amplifier(s) must also be located within a 2-hour rated enclosure. The coaxial cable terminations to the Distributed Antenna System, Donor Antenna, Fire Alarm System interface, and the Annunciator are not included in the 2-hour rated enclosure requirements.

It is anticipated that the 10th edition of the Massachusetts State Building Code could be adopted as soon as 2024.  The 10th edition of 780 CMR will reference the 2019 edition of NFPA 72 and 2019 NFPA 1221, Standard for the Installation, Maintenance, and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems. A new term is introduced through the standard, “backbone”, which is defined as “the communications cable in an in-building radio enhancement system that carries wideband signals important to the entire building, from the donor antenna, through the amplifiers, and to the distribution antenna lines” [2019 NFPA 1221: 3.3.10].  NFPA 1221 Chapter 9 requires that the backbone cables and the connections between the cable backbone and antenna cables shall be made within an enclosure that matches the building’s fire rating. For example, in a building that includes fire-resistive ratings up to 1 hour, the backbone and connections are required to be within a 1-hour rated enclosure.

A dry pipe sprinkler system is a water-based fire protection method that typically installed in spaces subject to freezing conditions and cannot constantly maintain a temperature of at least 40°F. Common installation areas for dry pipe systems include parking garages, cold storage spaces, attics, loading docks, and more. Unlike the water-filled piping in wet pipe systems, dry pipe systems use pipes filled with compressed air. This air holds back water at the dry pipe valve, allowing a low air pressure (20 to 30 psi) to hold back over 100 psi of water pressure.

When fire activates the sprinklers, the air in the dry pipe system is released. As the air discharges, the pressure inside the dry pipe valve drops, causing the valve to open and fill the sprinkler piping with water. This process introduces a delay in water delivery compared to wet systems. NFPA 13 provides requirements for the time needed for the dry valve to open, fill the system with water and deliver water through the activated sprinkler head. To mitigate this delay, quick opening devices are utilized.

NFPA 13 requires dry pipe systems deliver water to the most remote point, known as the inspector’s test connection, within specific times based on the protected occupancy hazard. Some exceptions apply. For example, dry systems with interior piping volume less than 500 gallons do not need to meet these delivery times or have quick-opening devices. For systems up to 750 gallons, if a quick-opening device is installed, it negates the need to meet any delivery time requirements. Systems exceeding 750 gallons are required to meet the times listed in NFPA 13 (2019) Table

In addition to the above times, dry systems protecting dwelling units must deliver water within 15 seconds to each dwelling unit (NFPA 13-

Quick-opening devices, like exhauster and accelerators, are used to help meet delivery time requirements. Exhausters were mounted on sprinkler piping, where it would sense a drop in the system air pressure and open a larger valve to allow air to escape, thus draining air from the piping more rapidly. Exhausters are no longer manufactured but may be found on older dry sprinkler systems.

Accelerators are mounted to the dry pipe valve itself as part of the trim package. Similar to an exhauster, an accelerator senses a drop in air pressure and will open a larger valve to the dry valve’s intermediate chamber, letting air inside the dry pipe valve escape and equalize with ambient air pressure. While exhausters removed air from the dry sprinkler pipe, accelerators drop the air pressure only within the dry pipe valve itself – reducing the time it takes for water to begin traveling down the pipe towards the open sprinkler(s).

Older accelerators are mechanically operated and tend to be a component that requires a higher level of maintenance throughout the life of a system. One of the traditional issues with mechanical accelerators is that when they are not properly maintained, they will trip when there isn’t a pressure drop in the dry sprinkler system, activating the dry pipe valve and filling the piping with water. These events also tend to activate the dry pipe system’s pressure switch, causing a fire department response.

Newer accelerators are available that utilize electrical components to operate, which sense a pressure drop electronically and activate the valve. These devices tend to be more responsive and far less prone to accidental activation. Electronic accelerators typically have a higher installation cost compared to their mechanical counterparts; however electrical accelerators have been found to have a lower level of maintenance required through the life of the system.

A well-maintained fire protection system is a crucial piece in protecting properties from experiencing loss from fire events. Each component in these systems play a specific role and must be properly maintained to ensure it will operate as intended. Proper maintenance on a system does not necessarily begin once a system has been installed and put in service, it begins with the design and selection of cost-effective, long-lasting components.

One of the most common accidents within laboratories involves the spilling or leakage of hazardous chemicals. As an added safety precaution to limit the impact of a spill or leak, NFPA 45, Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals, contains provisions for laboratory flooring in order to contain a spill to the floor of origin and prevent the spread of liquid to any spaces below. For designers, some questions naturally arise: What are the requirements for flooring within a laboratory, and what are the options for compliance?

Section 5.1.5 of NFPA 45 (2019 edition) addresses flooring within laboratories. Specifically, this section requires laboratory floors, floor openings, floor penetrations, and floor firestop systems to be sealed or curbed to prevent liquid leakage to lower levels (i.e., liquid-tight). Further, the sealing material is required to be compatible with the chemicals being stored or used within the laboratory, or a program is required to be in place to inspect and/or repair any sealing materials, if necessary, after exposure to a chemical spill or leak.

The spread of liquid to an area below can be prevented by permanent means such as curbs around floor penetrations, trenches at doors, and/or curbing at the laboratory perimeter to raise the start of the walls. The use of resinous floor coatings such as epoxies or other impermeable floor systems is also recognized as an option. Construction sealants can also be utilized, however, sealants are more susceptible to degradation depending on the specific sealant, the type of chemical spilled, and the exposure time to the chemical, such that an inspection and maintenance regimen may be necessary where using sealants.

Penetrations through floors are also required to be protected to prevent spills from reaching lower levels. While a typical firestop system will prevent the spread of smoke and hot gases, a W-rated firestop system can be utilized to prevent the passage of liquid. These systems may not be chemically resistant, however, they may be able to stop chemical leakage for a sufficient period of time to clean up a spill. As with sealants, an inspection and maintenance regimen may be necessary to ensure the integrity of the system is maintained. If a firestop system is not liquid-tight, other provisions, such as curbing, will be necessary.

If you have any questions or would like assistance with fire and life safety code compliance related to laboratories, please do not hesitate to contact us at