What happens if one life safety product category compromises another? Code consultant Thom Zaremba raised the question this morning during the National Glass Association’s Glass Conference taking place this week in Miramar Beach, Fla. He made his point amid the Fabricating Committee’s discussion on fire-rated glazing.
Zaremba explained that the challenge begins with confusion around egress terms, particularly in multi-floor buildings, and how they relate to exiting. In multi-floor buildings, “exit access” is the route of travel on each floor leading to exits. If that pathway is fire-rated, it’s called a fire partition; if it’s not fire-rated, it’s a corridor. The “exit” consists of a fire-resistance-rated exit stairway that extends from the top to the grade level. That exit leads to the “exit discharge”—a path from the building to a public way.
These three components—exit access, exit and exit discharge—are in every building with more than one story.
In 2019, Chicago adopted the 2018 International Building Code (IBC) with some amendments. Zaremba explained that one of the Chicago code modifications requires each corridor in every classroom in every building to be one-hour fire-resistance rated, whether or not there is a sprinkler. This compares to the base 2018 IBC, which requires a fire-resistance rating only when there isn’t a sprinkler.
Adding to this, he pointed out that there are one-hour fire-resistance rated walls; glass and windows have to be ¾-hour rated, as do transoms and sidelites. Glass in a fire door only has to be 20-minute rated.
“This is why architects come to glass suppliers and ask what they have to have,” Zaremba said. “Even architects and engineers don’t fully understand how these pieces come together.”
To further complicate matters, Zaremba raised questions surrounding corridor walls and their relationship to lockdowns. He said there is a “terrible dichotomy” between the events of a lockdown and school fire-resistance ratings. The rules in a lockdown, he said, universally say to ignore fire alarms and stay in the lockdown.
The question to address, he said, is how to integrate lockdowns with the fact that fire alarms are ignored and the schools don’t have fire-rated hallways (other than in Chicago).
“All of this highlights that there is a horrible lack of integration in what’s going on in the fire integration and protection,” he said.
Attendee Devin Bowman with Technical Glass Products agreed with Zaremba.
“The challenge with schools is what happens when you’re in a scenario where one life safety situation overlaps another? The threat becomes larger and larger because the threat (i.e. an active shooter) is unknown,” he said.
He added that in many cases, there are existing materials in buildings that are combustible or flammable. For example, Bowman said some schools are trying to enhance safety and security by applying window film, but that doesn’t address fire safety.
“We must ensure not to compromise one life safety product category for another,” Bowman said.
Zaremba added that glass is critical in many issues: you need glass to see the intruder and glass to keep them out. Additionally, glass has to yield to first responders, and glass has to protect occupants in the event of a fire so they can get out.
“It serves so many goals. It has to be carefully planned out and designed for the risk to the building,” Zaremba said.
The safety, security and protective glazing conversation will continue this afternoon, including an International Code Council ad hoc Building Safety and Security Stay Update from Zaremba. Stay tuned to usglassmag.com for more news and reports from the conference.