At their 2017 Annual Technical Meeting, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) voted to increase the allowable size of smoke compartments, in both new and existing facilities, to 40,000 square feet provided that these smoke compartments meet several minimal requirements, discussed below. This, in our opinion, is a tremendous victory for our industry. This increase will allow healthcare designers to create more efficient and safer facilities; and, it will allow for the additional space needed to support our current and future needs regarding private patient rooms and the ever-increasing technology.

As you can imagine, this change involved a vigorous debate. Those opposed to the increase were most concerned about the evacuation of patients and that a potential decrease in staff to patient ratios may occur, further complicating evacuation. Although we understand their concerns, there are several requirements that we believe eliminate these risks. Perhaps the most important criteria may be found in NFPA 101 (2018) 18.3.7.1(3)(b) and 19.3.7.1(1)(b), which requires every patient room in a 40,000 square foot compartment to be configured for only one patient. It is our hope that the larger compartment size will encourage organizations to move exclusively to private patient rooms, for which the infection prevention benefits are obvious. Additionally, the maximum 200-foot travel distance has not changed. So, even though the aggregate size may go up, the distance that any occupant must travel to a place of refuge remains unchanged. And, finally, any organization electing to take advantage of the larger size must be fully sprinkled, using residential or quick response heads, in patient sleeping compartments.

In addition to the advantages stated above, this change reconciles a conflict between the NFPA 101, NFPA 5000, Life Safety Code, and the International Building Code, which increased its maximum size to 40,000 square feet two revision cycles ago. Aligning these to codes will most certainly help healthcare organizations avoid headaches and costly corrective actions in the future.

For those organizations that are allowed to use the most current edition of the Life Safety Code, they will be able to take advantage of these changes immediately following the publication for the 2018 Edition. For the rest of us, it’s time to start advocating for CMS to adopt the 2018!

 

The exact language for NFPA 101 (2018) is as follows:

18.3.7.1

Buildings containing health care facilities shall be subdivided by smoke barriers (see 18.2.4.3), unless otherwise permitted by 18.3.7.2, as follows:

  1. To divide every story used by inpatients for sleeping or treatment into not less than two smoke compartments.

  2. To divide every story having an occupant load of 50 or more persons, regardless of use, into not less than two smoke compartments.

  3. To limit the size of each smoke compartment required by 18.3.7.1(1) and 18.3.7.1(2) to an area not exceeding one of the following:

    1. (a) 22,500 ft2 (2100 m2), in hospital smoke compartments where any patient sleeping room is configured for two or more patients.

    2. (b) 40,000 ft2 (3720 m2) in hospital smoke compartments where all patient sleeping rooms are configured for only one patient, in which case suites in accordance with 18.2.5.7 shall be permitted where every occupiable sleeping room within the suite is configured for only one patient.

    3. (c) 40,000 ft2 (3720 m2) in hospital smoke compartments that contain no patient sleeping rooms.

    4. (d) 22,500 ft2 (2100 m2) in nursing homes and limited care facilities.

  4. To separate atriums in accordance with 8.6.7, in which case no limitation in size is required.

  5. To limit the travel distance from any point to reach a door in the required smoke barrier to a distance not exceeding 200 ft (61 m).

19.3.7.1*

Smoke barriers shall be provided to divide every story used for sleeping rooms for more than 30 patients into not less than two smoke compartments. (see 19.2.4.4), and the following also shall apply:

  1. The size of any such smoke compartment shall comply with one of the following:

    1. (a) Smoke compartments shall not exceed 22,500 ft2 (2100 m2).

    2. (b) Where the building is sprinklered in accordance with 19.3.5.8, hospital smoke compartments shall not exceed 40,000 ft2 (3720 m2) where all sleeping rooms are configured for only one patient. Suites in accordance with 19.2.5.7 shall be permitted where every occupiable sleeping room within the suite is configured for only one patient.

  2. The travel distance from any point to reach a door in the required smoke barrier shall not exceed 200 ft (61 m).

  3. Where neither the length nor width of the smoke compartment exceeds 150 ft (46 m), the travel distance to reach the smoke barrier door shall not be limited.

  4. The area of an atrium separated in accordance with 8.6.7 shall not be limited in size.

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