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Fire Curtain - Code Question

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by MNicolai, Apr 8, 2009.

  1. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Is there any existing fire code in circulation that states fire curtains should be closed each night a theatre is dark?

    Our building & grounds supervisor and arts center manager got a hold of a book about schools and theatres they seem to be recognizing as legal fire codes; I haven't seen the book yet but it sounded like a Dr. Doom book, but I didn't think his book seemed that code-oriented.

    Now they're going to ask our rigger if they need to, and how they would modify the fire curtain system so that it could be manually raised and lowered without having to hand crank it up and down. Let's face it, our system was designed to come crashing down, and attempts to raise it to be slow and futile. However, they're recognizing this book as legal code. I told the arts center manager that I think that's a book that is not legal code, and info in it merely firm suggestions. However, he said the tone of the book was that it was intended as code, but I brought up NFPA as an example, that even though NFPA has to be adopted and that simply because it's written in a book doesn't mean that a given area acknowledges it. He said he'd bring the book in for me to look at, but I think they've scared themselves unreasonably into spotting a school theatre safety book and immediately assuming it to be a legally-adopted code that they are in violation of. I have seen no theatres though where the fire curtain is intended to be raised manually via something less a PITA than the hand crank that is so convenient it could be used each and every day.

    Additionally, the suggestion seems a little odd, as fire curtains are intended to prevent smoke and fire from spreading into the audience so quickly that they do not have time to evacuate, but who is it protecting if the theatre is dark?
     
  2. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Interesting question. Old textbooks I have state that in the UK, code requires that "proper operation of the fire curtain (The Iron) be demonstrated to the audience." Thus it is down as the audience enters, and raised just before each performance. I've asked for confirmation on this previously, unsuccessfully.

    I know of no US code requiring a fire curtain be in the closed position [edit: Wrong! NFPA 101 Life Safety Code, 13.4.5.7.6.3. (G). See below.], but it's a good idea to exercise the apparatus on a regular interval to ensure it will perform as expected in an emergency. An added benefit is that the fire curtain may be used to secure either the stage or the auditorium, or even to allow both spaces to be used for different purposes simultaneously.

    Here are the applicable codes, courtesy of I. Weiss:

    As always, final determination will be made by the AHJ, and practices will vary by region.

    "Controlled descent" is a better term, I think. Most modern Fire Curtains incorporate a Dash Pot, specifically to prevent "crashing down."
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2009
  3. cprted

    cprted Active Member

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    An old English stage hand told me about that once. Theatre companies would sell adds on the fire curtain for extra revenue. No first hand knowledge on my part however.
     
  4. fredthe

    fredthe Active Member

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    I haven't read Dr. Doom's book, but several theaters I've worked in kept the fire curtain down when the theater was otherwise not in use. Among other things, it can keep random people from wandering into the pit in a dark theater :)

    If your fire curtain isn't designed to be frequently raised and lowered, but the management feels that it should be, perhaps it's time to ask for an upgrade to a motorized system. (The fact that it is a hand crank may in itself be a danger).

    As an aside, the height of the fly gallery in our theater renovation was limited to 49', because in Montgomery County, MD you need a fire curtain if it's over 50' (or so we were told, I haven't personally checked the codes.)

    -Fred
     
  5. willbb123

    willbb123 Active Member

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    I have never heard of doing it every night. But I see how it could make sense. Its always nice to have a "just in case" back up plan.

    We have a motorized fire curtain. We bring it in regularly during the winter, during long load ins to keep the warm air in the house.
     
  6. techguy57

    techguy57 Member

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    The easiest way to find out is contact your local Fire Marshall, or if you can't find out who that is, at least contact the local fire chief. Codes often vary by city and/or state and can even be covered by a local ordinance. For example, our local fire marshall won't let us put flip down door stops on our auditorium doors. He says it can be an issue for responders, though I'm not sure I see how.

    Regardless, I find that it has been beneficial for me to have a rapport with the local fire authorities. They have been extremely helpful and understanding. They even helped me get a fire alarm system contractor to get his butt moving and get a problem fixed!
     
  7. doctrjohn

    doctrjohn Active Member

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    The Life Safety Code, NFPA 101, does have language on "Proscenium Curtains" (13.4.5.7). Specifically, 13.4.5.7.4 requires them to be in the closed position except for performances, rehearsals, etc. Unfortunately I am looking at the 2003 version at the moment, so there may be additional/different language in the 2009 version. Obviously, as with any other model code, it is up to the local AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) to decided how they wish to interpret said code, and how/if they want to enforce it. There are also stated exceptions in the code including, but not limited to, deluge/water systems. If this is something you are concerned about it could be worth talking to your AHJ outside of a normal inspection (IE: non adversarial, information gathering, make sure we are all on the same page before there is an issue/question). I have found that most AHJ's like to be consulted, or used as a reference, and that establishing a relationship, and demonstrating an active interest in safety, can make the inspection process easier (especially if there are questions, problems or concerns).

    Best,
    John
     
  8. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I agree with what others have state, ultimately this is up to your AHJ. Mine requires that we bring it down each night before leaving the facility. I have read the Dr. Doom book and think it is great. However, the statements in the book are not necessarily code. I do believe, however, that most of them are really great ideas that more people should try to incorporate into their operational practices.

    ~Dave
     
  9. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Mind you, I'm still not sure that this is Dr. Doom's book that we're talking about, but that's what came to mind first when the ACM was telling me about this.
     
  10. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    It appears doctrjohn is absolutely correct, at least in 2005 in CT. From this document: www.ct.gov/dps/lib/dps/office_of_state_fire_marshal_files/code-files/2005_ct_state_fire_safety_code.doc -
    I wonder how many users actually abide by this? See here for poll.

    From Practical Health and Safety Guidelines for School Theater Operations, Dr. Randall W. A. Davidson. Risk International Publishing, 2005, pages 407-8:
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2009
  11. willbb123

    willbb123 Active Member

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    Ok, I dont know my Fire Curtain history. Bringing the curtain in whenever there is not something going on, makes perfect sense if the curtain isn't tied into the fire alarm system. But I dont see a need to do that, if the curtain will drop when the fire alarm is tripped.
     
  12. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I don't know that most fire curtain systems are tied into the FA system in a manner which they can trigger the entire system to go off. That said, if the FA system gets tripped, our fire curtain does not automatically drop in. I believe it has two pull rings on either side of the proscenium with a fusable link. Fire protection systems are often very unique to each building though, so that's not to say that someone else has an FA system that when triggered, automatically drops the fire curtain in.

    I do know that our large doors to the scene shop automatically close on an FA test of the system.
     
  13. Sony

    Sony Active Member

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    This is true, I can confirm this from personal experience. I spent an entire semester in the UK in 2006 as part of my theatre program pretty much just going to see theatre in the UK. I saw close to 50 different shows in about 40 different venues and I can confirm that in every venue equipped with a fire curtain that they had to show that it worked. Usually it was not in place when the audience walked in though, more commonly it was brought in during intermission. Unless the show had no intermission and in this case it was displayed at the beginning of the show. I went back this year at the end of March for just a week and I saw Billy Elliot while there and I can confirm that this procedure is still in place.
     
  14. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    I have Dr. Doom's book and he definitely points out that it's much safer to keep your fire curtain in the down position. However there are many theaters that were not designed for that sort of use and you can damage the system cranking them up and down every day. I would write to Dr. Doom for clarification or send an e-mail to Bill Sapsis or Jay Glerum. If your system is a hand crank I would say it's not designed for daily use and you are likely to put far more stress on the system than it's designed for cranking it up and down all the time.

    Either leave it up or have them upgrade your fire curtain to something that is designed to be raised and lowered regularly.
     
  15. fredthe

    fredthe Active Member

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    (OT) We had our large roll-up door connected to the FA, so it would drop during any test. The only problem was, it took a visit from the door company to reset the mechanics of the door after any test, and the door wouldn't open until it was reset. The finally disconnected it from the FA system, and left it with just a fusable link.
     
  16. kenneth

    kenneth Member

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    In Aberdeen's main theatre, His Majesty's, they have the iron covered in ads from local businesses and it's shown before, at the interval, and after each performance.

    We don't have one on our stage at school, and I'm not sure what is meant to happen to it with regulations...
     
  17. JChenault

    JChenault Well-Known Member

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    My understanding has always been that it is up to the local jurisdiction. My memory of Chicago is that there the audience has to see the fire curtain in when the house opens, and then it can be removed. This is probably the most extreme code in the country ( As I remember triggered by the Iriquios theatre fire in 1903.

    Now as to what makes sense - If you have a fire curtain I would certainly test it regularly if it can easily be tested. Many of them are not made to be raised and lowered regularly.
     
  18. DuckJordan

    DuckJordan Well-Known Member

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    Doesnt matter
    in our high school we have never ever brought down the fire curtain, Except for the time it randomly decided to slowly bring itself in... since it is a cut cord fire curtain there is obviously no way to lower and raise the fire curtain without an actual fire at least its not designed at all to be lowered unless there is a fire or under conditions which an operator with a knife would cut a holding cord... since a fire marshal comes in every year and complains of our red door constantly, we decided to mention the fire curtain situation, since it kept randomly coming down on its own... he said tie the rope to something... so long story short in our area the only code on fire curtains is they have to be there... they may not have to work correctly but as long as they can be brought in durring a fire its ok... i can understand bringing it in for regular testing if its do able but i don't think you would have to bring it in when no one is in the theater as its more designed to save audiences from a fire on stage than as a preventative measure against further spread of fire for the whole building.
     
  19. venuetech

    venuetech Well-Known Member

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    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 12, 2011
  20. teqniqal

    teqniqal Well-Known Member

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    The 2009 version of the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code (www.nfpa.org) also requires that the fire curtain be deployed (flown-in) when the faciity is not in use. One must also realize that the design requirements for fire curtains have changed over the years as well, so having a curtain that cannot be manually (or electrically) operated is no longer acceptable.

    Additionally, the code requires that the system be tested every 90 days, and inspected annually. Furthermore, the staff must be trained annually on how to operate the system. This builds familairity with the system so that people arn't afraid to use it, and acts as a reminder regarding the requirements for the curtain to operate properly (i.e. the curtain path is not blocked, the signage is in place, and someone knows how to activate it).

    There are three other NFPA documents that also address the Fire and Smoke Control Systems:
    NFPA 204 Standard for Smoke and Heat Venting
    NFPA 80 Standard for Fire Doors and Other Protective Openings
    NFPA 70 National Electric Code

    Your local building code will also have conditions that must be met.

    You should consider having a Theatre Consultant (<insert shamless plug here>) redesign the System so that it meets all of the locally adopted codes.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 30, 2013
    soundofsparks likes this.

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