Do I Need To Test My Fire Dampers?
March 10, 2019
Do I need to test my fire dampers?
The maintenance of fire, smoke and combination dampers is an essential component of a properly designed fire safety system. Fire and smoke dampers are devices installed within air conditioning and ventilation ductwork to interrupt the passage of fire and smoke. They are effective devices in preventing the migration of smoke, fire and heat during a fire. Under normal conditions they stay open but in the event of fire they close in order to compartmentalise the building. This allows valuable time to evacuate the building Thus passive fire safety protection:
- strengthens the effectives of existing systems,
- helps to protect property and minimize damage
- facilitates occupant evacuation.
The difference between a well maintained and a fire and smoke damper system which is only partially working can be the difference in life and death in the instance of a fire. Further proper maintenance is a legislative requirement and the this places a duty of care on the building owner. This means general fire precautions have to be taken in order to ensure the safety of the building and the safety of those within. However, in spite of being a key factor when considering a building's fire safety strategy, it is inherently difficult to know if the fire and smoke dampers are going to work in the event of a fire unless you have them regularly tested and maintained. A major factor is that both smoke and fire dampers by their very nature are a component of a buildings fabric that is not on view and are often difficult to access. This can lead to issues where fire and smoke dampers are not regularly tested or maintained. Testing can be a lengthy and disruptive process meaning building owners are at risk of putting this vital safety process off.
The law on fire and smoke dampers requires all fire and smoke detectors in your building to be located, serviced and tested. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places responsibility on building owners to put in place general fire precautions so as to ensure as far as is reasonably possible, the safety of both the building and its occupants. Section 17 of this order states that all systems to do with fire safety should be adequately maintained and are in good repair. After all there is little point in having a fire system that does not fulfil its purpose. British Standard 9999:2017 is a code of practice for fire safety in buildings and states that the maintenance of air conditioning and ventilation systems including dampers is of paramount importance. The Standard gives clear instructions that all fire dampers should be tested at intervals of no more than two years, whilst spring operated dampers needing to be tested every year and more frequently if placed in a dusty environment, being replaced or repaired if found to be faulty. All the dampers - both smoke and fire within your building should be located, serviced and tested in order to maintain the systems integrity. It is then worthwhile creating a schedule for regular checks to ensure their ongoing state of good repair.
Why do fire and smoke dampers fail to work properly?
There are numerous reasons why dampers could fail. Typical problems include debris either blocking or obstructing the blades, corrosion or broken springs, dirt and debris preventing a tight seal and poor installation. Or there may be inadequate access to allow servicing to be carried out regularly. Remember, it only takes one faulty damper to cause a disastrous spread of fire and smoke.
What happens during a fire and smoke damper inspection?
Generally dampers work fine when first installed but often the details of the installation is not correctly recorded, with the number and location of the dampers being an unknown quantity. When this is the case then the first inspection can take a long time. At Safeflow we keep detailed records (which clients have access to) and this allows us to complete our scheduled fire damper testing in a timely manner.
During a regular inspection the below could be expected;
- survey of the site to establish where each and every one of the dampers is situated and make an inventory
- service and report - checking each damper is working as it should This reveals the operational status of the system.
- clean channels and runners
- repair and replace dampers as necessary
- reset dampers
- review combined effectiveness by testing the site control system
- provided a comprehensive report containing such things as location, maintenance etc - invaluable for future inspections.
BS 999:2017 states that all dampers have to comply with the criteria of resistance to fire for a stated period of time and that any defects are logged with necessary action taken. Certificates to prove testing has taken place to be obtained.
Apart from legislative demands, if you fail to meet the requirements of the current legislation standards the person responsible for the testing and maintenance of dampers could potentially face a prison sentence of up to two years and a hefty fine. Unless you can provide proof that your fire and smoke dampers are properly tested you would have difficulty claiming for fire damage on your insurance. Further, fire officers have the powers to close businesses down if the correct fire safety procedures and processes are not in place.
A buildings fire integrity is of fundamental importance whilst the maintenance of fire and smoke dampers is of paramount significance in both preventing the spread of a fire and reducing its consequences. By not getting a buildings fire and smoke dampers tested, you run the risk of being fined but more importantly potentially run the risk of the lives of the people in the building. Obviously as stated maintenance is the key - proper service work that both prevents and pre-empts problems with the fire and smoke dampers, In the long run this will save time, money and lives.