Let's talk asbestos curtains

Aaron Clarke

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Mar 20, 2017
Location
Richmond, IN
So the down time at our theatre allow me some time to do some repairs to the rigging and bring in our fire curtain for the fist time in almost 12 years. Of course this raises questions of how much we "could/should" operate this safely.

I've searched and searched and in previous threads for some opinions on things I was wondering though the discussion often is focused on the need of fire curtains and possible replacement options. The financial reality for us is there is no options for this at this time. So we have what we have, it's historically significant to our building and honestly a beautiful piece of artwork.

I've suggested and have some mild push back, to running the curtain monthly for testing. Given the historic nature and the artwork I though inviting our members to come see it when it's in would be a nice event for them.
I've also pondered about the idea of using this for non-show events. I.E. board meeting on the thrust, if it coincides with when a test was near due I could have it in for that meeting. The idea being we only move the curtain during 'unoccupied' times but that it can be in when occupied for observation by the public.

Here is the oral history I know of (paperwork not being something this organization is good at):

-All indications is this is original (1920's) but if not it would date back to the 50's/60's so it's most certainly asbestos.
-It is believed that when this was last operational the curtain was coated by 'someone' declared it would not be safe to use outside a fire.
-Funny enough, shortly after that declaration, it was re-weighted balanced and is used as a show curtain for several shows.
-These past few weeks I've inspected all the lines, replaced the purchase lines and we successfully tested and repaired the arbor tracks as needed for smooth operation.

I'd like to pose a few questions specifically around the asbestos nature of the curtain and how that could be dangerous.

1) If actually coated about 12 years ago (we've started a paperwork hunt) how effective were these coatings and did they have a life span?
2) I've seen mention of air testing the Met did related to how much, if any, asbestos is air borne from the operation. Is anyone aware of any newer studies or more details on previous ones?
3) To notion that we could "only use this in the event of a fire" without testing is a bit of a joke to me. It took us 2 hours and about 20 attempts before we got a smooth and complete in an out. Thoughts?
4) Anyone else blessed with one of these want to share their practice?

I've attached some pictures for reference.
 

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DrewE

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Vermont
The artwork certainly looks to my thoroughly untrained eye to be of a 1920's vintage rather than from the 1950's/1960's.

If you aren't familiar with them, it may be fruitful to get in touch with Curtains Without Borders, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of historical painted theatrical curtains and associated scenery. I don't know whether they could help much with the asbestos concerns since most of their work has been with ordinary cloth curtains, but it never hurts to ask; and at the least they might have some good ideas for the conservation (and conjectures on the origin) of the lovely grand drape scene. There's a neat coffee table book documenting a lot of their work entitled "Suspended Worlds."

As to #3, both I and the fire codes wholeheartedly agree with you. The fire codes ought to hold more sway than DrewE's opinion, of course, which is sometimes fickle and sometimes just plain wrong.
 

tjrobb

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Location
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
I believe the UK requires safety curtains be in when the house opens at top of show. Which, perhaps, the US did at one time. Which would explain the art. So, maybe leave it in until after your egress-related pre-show speech?
 
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SteveB

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Location
Brooklyn, NY
Some thoughts

1) You are assuming it's asbestos and it likely is, but in order to get the powers-that-be to find funding for a replacement, you want it tested by a lab/company that will write it up.

2) The NFPA - National Fire Protection Association, writes up the regulations that "most" Jurisdiction(s) Having Authority" will follow. Some use the applicable NFPA, some have their own (NYC as example). The NFPA regulation states 2 things for fire curtains that are important to your situation;
A) The curtain is supposed to stay in when the theater is not in use, out for work calls, rehearsals and performances.
B) The curtain "operation" must be demonstrated as functional every 3 months, with a log kept as to who/when, etc... Interesting thing about that "operational" clause. Our powers-that-be have interpreted "operational" as a demonstration of the ability to lower and raise the curtain only - I.E. it'll move. Other interpretations are that "operation" means that you need to demonstrate the automatic release system.

3) In my opinion (for what that is worth) having the curtain in for normal status, leaves the material exposed to damage that could release asbestos fibers into the air. This is one reason the asbestos is replaced with a non-toxic fabric material.

4) The fact that it took "2 hours" to get it in seem that it's not currently functional as a fire curtain. Typically and for this vintage there would be 2 or 3 trip systems;
A) A heat sensor link, usually on vertical rope held under tension, at deck level as well as on that same rope at grid level. The lead link would melt in a fire, which would release the line that prevents the curtain from being activated.
B) A similar release line under tension, with an adjacent knife, that can be used to cut the rope and release the curtain.
C) A manual pull line that is just that.

Our system has all three, I was never clear as to the manual, when you had the knife-cuts-the-line system.

Essentially you have a completely non-functional fire curtain. That typically means the AHJ would prevent the theater from operating until this is brought up to current code (that might require a connection to an electronic system for status and operation). Or they can determine that the least expensive code compliant fix is going to be a deluge curtain. Big can of worms.
 

BillConnerFASTC

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Location
Clayton NY 13624
I believe the Life Safety Code is the law in Indiana. The LSC requires the fire safety curtain to be operated regularly, by reference to NFPA 80.

20.7.1.1* The fire safety curtain assembly shall be closed at all
times except when there is an event, rehearsal, or similar activity.

ANSI E1.22 - a standard but not law - has similar requirements.
 
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BillConnerFASTC

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Clayton NY 13624
Just an additional note regarding Steve's simultaneous post; emergency closing shall be as follows:

20.7.3.1* The fire safety curtain assembly shall be activated by
manual emergency operation and rate-of-rise heat detection
located above the stage.

Fusible links other than at the ceiling or roof deck are not effective and no longer required. The detectors are much faster anyways. Manual detection and operation is for sure the fastest and safest. I believe in many parts of the word only manual is required.
 

Aaron Clarke

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Mar 20, 2017
Location
Richmond, IN
4) The fact that it took "2 hours" to get it in seem that it's not currently functional as a fire curtain. Typically and for this vintage there would be 2 or 3 trip systems;
A) A heat sensor link, usually on vertical rope held under tension, at deck level as well as on that same rope at grid level. The lead link would melt in a fire, which would release the line that prevents the curtain from being activated.
B) A similar release line under tension, with an adjacent knife, that can be used to cut the rope and release the curtain.
C) A manual pull line that is just that.
The 2 hours was dealing with and addressing mis-alignments in the track for the arbor, loose bolts and hardware in the smoke pocket. Once all those were addressed it runs smooth.

We have a combo of flavor B&C- weight was added in the past so it's currently "in balance", so it manually has to be pulled in and the in absence of a brake there's a cut rope keeping it from coming in accidentally.

I understand it's not up to spec, certainly wasn't before, still isn't now but the expectation was that it would be used in case of fire which proved would have been useless. It's closer now and functions. My primary concern and focus of this thread is about the health hazard of Asbestos if we work the AHJ to be okay with it use and appropriate testing.
 

Aaron Clarke

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Location
Richmond, IN
I would suspect, as the only space in our community with fire curtain, our current AHJ is not familiar with the requirement, and since it hasn't been in over a decade, I suspect they don't even know it exists. I've walked with a couple inspectors recently and there has never been mention of any testing of any of the stage specific fire/smoke devices. Maybe that a blessing.
 

SteveB

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Location
Brooklyn, NY
My primary concern and focus of this thread is about the health hazard of Asbestos if we work the AHJ to be okay with it use and appropriate testing.
Understand and agree, but note to be aware that should you move ahead to replace the material, you could find you will be required to bring the system up to code in terms of automatic operation. As example, would a company that can abate and replace do the work only to find they have a potential liability for a system that is not code compliant ?. Would those making the decision to fund the work want that liability as well ?. That might be a question to ask.

Attendant to this is the time and expense to abate and replace might be more cost effective if you bring the system up to code at the same time.
 
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egilson1

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So the "coating" you refereed to could be what is known as "Encapsulation" and helps keep the asbestos curtain "Non-Friable" meaning that the fibers are contained.

In regards to the rest of your post, if your fire alarm system didn't work. would there be the same attitude from the powers be? IF your space is required to have a FC as defined by NFPA and building code, then it needs to be operable. FULL STOP. It's a life safety issue as serious as everything else.

How far is it from the stage floor to the roof pan?
 

Aaron Clarke

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Mar 20, 2017
Location
Richmond, IN
How far is it from the stage floor to the roof pan?
Just over the 50', can't recall what I got off the top of my head but it was around 55'

I think the crux of my questions is this:

IF all else (rigging and deployment) met the requirements as required by code, and the AHJ sign off on the meeting code to their satisfaction; does the fact the curtain is asbestos over rule and make it necessary to not operate and replace? Make the assumption in that question that the curtain is in good condition, has been encapsulated and is not shedding fibers.

Edited the question to clarify AHJ.
 
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BillConnerFASTC

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Clayton NY 13624
The fact it's asbestos does not make it illegal. Whether or not it invites and exposes you to litigation down the road is uncertain.

Beware the AHJs acceptance is not a safe haven from either litigation based on asbestos and related health issues nor for it's less than 100% compliance with the requirements for fire protection.

It will take some work to determine what is required to make it compliant. Generally if it complies and maintained with the code when it was installed, you're safe, but still have to do the operational testing and closures, which may be difficult or not possible without some modifications.
 
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MNicolai

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This is probably less of a code compliance question than it is a general liability question. Your organization's liability insurance providers would probably be unhappy to know you are a candidate for a spot on the next late night mesothelioma commercial. If the matter was ever raised in court, you would want someone else's certification that the curtain was deemed safe.

Hopefully you can find the documentation from the vendor who supposedly did something 12 years ago and they will be able to tell you how long they warranty the application for. If you are unable to produce an SDS and warranty sheet on the treatment, you should have an inspection performed by an asbestos expert. For all intents and purposes I would proceed under the assumption that no treatments were applied -- because in a lawsuit if you cannot prove the conditions of the treatment, then it might as well not exist.

There is no provision of code that lifts the requirement of having to exercise the curtain regularly because it is asbestos. If you decide against exercising it regularly because of fear of safety, then you should be engaged in replacing it. Disuse will get you back where you were at the beginning of this where the system fails to deploy effectively.
 
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Aaron Clarke

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Richmond, IN
Thanks @BillConnerFASTC and @MNicolai this is the discussion I was hoping to have and had not see in the other threads.

Knowing the level of (or lack of) attention paid to the theatre specific fire codes by the local fire marshal's and inspectors, I'm making an assumption this previous "don't move except in a fire" decree was likely by someone with ties to insurance. There was a couple of connected insurance families on the board at that time and I'm sure the "A" word was enough to cause them some mild panic and make a statement of that nature without thinking through the other implications.

Looking for the documentation I know is key, something hopefully I can find, but will likely not. I do like and agree with the mention that without the paperwork it doesn't exist.


Mike, I think I'm going to borrow this quote from you as I think it sums up perfectly the argument I have to make. Thanks.

There is no provision of code that lifts the requirement of having to exercise the curtain regularly because it is asbestos. If you decide against exercising it regularly because of fear of safety, then you should be engaged in replacing it. Disuse will get you back where you were at the beginning of this where the system fails to deploy effectively.
 

SteveB

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Location
Brooklyn, NY
Note about the word “encapsulate”. As I understand it and have seen it applied, a paint applied does not prevent abrasion and damage. When our health and safety officer has mechanical equipment encapsulated, they usually box it in with wood so as to prevent physical damage. Piping and plumbing comes to mind with recent projects at our facility. I have also seen wrappings onto pipe that fully enclosed the material, but usually only applied in areas where there is no chance of physical damage and typically they no longer do this, they just pay an abatement company to remove the asbestos as they do not want a liability issue in the future. In other words, at no time in the countless issues we deal with with asbestos has anybody recommended painting as a solution.

Thus I can’t see a fire curtain meeting an encapsulated requirement when it’s been painted and would suspect that any company you get who does abatement work is going to tell you that a painted surface does not provide sufficient protection. As note, is the upstage side of the curtain painted as well ?.

And at the end of the day you’re faced with an issue if the curtain gets damaged in any manner and you've now got loose asbestos fibers in the air. This is a huge liability issue.
 
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Aaron Clarke

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Richmond, IN
Thank you all for your input.

I've sent to the appropriate people in our group the following near term suggestions-

1) Let's hunt for paperwork and try to fill in the history of work done. I doubt there is any chance it's not asbestos but hopefully we can find out for sure if there is paperwork (doubt it).
2) Contact a asbestos specialist for a consultation just to see the viability.
3) Leave the system in "balance" for the time being with provide training to lower it in the event of a fire. I'll continue testing to make sure it moves completely in the meantime since the expectation would be to use it in the event of a fire. Testing will happen when vacant. I opt for being in balance as that allows a controlled decent in the testing lessening the change of disruption of asbestos fibers.

This is a the short term as we explore a plan, we can always make adjustment and fixes should the AHJ bring this up and request changes. The one we have now is pretty understanding.

I'll say this without putting into writing the specifics for a little context. This place is so lack in life safety code compliance, practice and execution I think this issues (asbestos and all) would not even fall in the top 5-10 items on a list of things to be highly concerned for either the Insurance company or AHJ. The have been missing anyone with any attention to the topics or safety and code for over 30 years in a 1909 building. It's your typical small community group that is just about making anything they can dream of work any way they can with backyard engineering.

I much rather take things diligently and use social engineering to keep their respect slowly making improvements instead of just throwing them under the bus to be ran off and them going back to the way "they always did things".

*Edited for many typos...
 

BillConnerFASTC

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Clayton NY 13624
I researched this once and found an approved encapsulant coating. I know of at least one fire safety curtain - in Minneapolis IRRC - that it was used on. It was a heavy clear acrylic again IIRC. I don't know if I can find the data or if the product still exists.
 
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JAC

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Jan 10, 2018
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Cleveland
Nobody mentioned this, but man that's a gorgeous curtain; it would be cool if it could be saved. If it can be successfully encapsulated I don't see offhand why the rigging couldn't be brought up to snuff to include an overbalance mechanism. A counterweight doesn't care what's on the other end of the cable. Wouldn't be cheap, but cheaper than replacing everything.
 

mbrown3039

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Mar 20, 2018
Location
vegas, baby..!
Thank you all for your input.

I've sent to the appropriate people in our group the following near term suggestions-

1) Let's hunt for paperwork and try to fill in the history of work done. I doubt there is any chance it's not asbestos but hopefully we can find out for sure if there is paperwork (doubt it).
2) Contact a asbestos specialist for a consultation just to see the viability.
3) Leave the system in "balance" for the time being with provide training to lower it in the event of a fire. I'll continue testing to make sure it moves completely in the meantime since the expectation would be to use it in the event of a fire. Testing will happen when vacant. I opt for being in balance as that allows a controlled decent in the testing lessening the change of disruption of asbestos fibers.

This is a the short term as we explore a plan, we can always make adjustment and fixes should the AHJ bring this up and request changes. The one we have now is pretty understanding.
This is a reasonable plan, as it begins to address the two separate issues you have at hand: life safety (AHJ) and worker safety (OSHA). As bill and Mike pointed out, the asbestos issue is irrelevant to your AHJ (just like fire marshalls in Vegas couldn't care less about how speaker clusters/video walls are hung -- as far as they're concerned, that's a building code issue); the main issue with asbestos is going to be with OSHA and future litigation.

IIRC, you can buy a mail-in DIY asbestos testing kit for about $30 online; it might be a good place to start, allowing you to quickly (about 10 days or so) get a yes or no answer and proceed accordingly (if it were me, a "yes" would lead to more professional testing, and a "no" would lead to a second mail-in test for verification).

If it is confirmed to have asbestos, perhaps it can be sold for its artistic value to help offset the cost of a modern piece..? good luck, mike
 
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BillConnerFASTC

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Clayton NY 13624

This is product reported used on the Pantages asbestos fire safety curtain in Minneapolis. I think that was around 2003. Reported at $5.00 per square foot installed. Call them and ask if they still have a clear product and would do this (with a local dealer/contractor probably).

Somewhere around 0:45 and again around 1:41 is painted asbestos:
Paramount in Austin TX I suspect is encapsulated (or not?) asbestos:

1586962147295.png


Or, for those with more "resources"photograph it and have it printed on fibreglass: