Designing, retrofitting hospitals during COVID: Fire and life safety
While COVID-19 has changed many aspects in a health care facility, some things remain identical, including fire and life safety systems
- Luis Alvarez Colon, PE, Associate, Page, Austin, Texas
- Allison Graves, PE, Principal, RTM Engineering Consultants, Chicago
- Jeff Hankin, PE, LEED AP, Senior Principal, Stantec, San Diego
- Reed Paitich, PE, Associate, Wold Architects and Engineers, Saint Paul, Minn.
- Keith D. Prata, PE, LEED AP BD+C, Mechanical Department Manager, Bala Consulting Engineers, Boston
- Donald R. Stevens, CHFM, CHC, Director – Health Care Facilities, Lockwood Andrews & Newnam Inc. (LAN), Austin, Texas
What are some of the unique challenges regarding fire/life safety system design that you’ve encountered for such projects? How have you overcome these challenges?
Allison Graves: Some of the bigger challenges we have encountered involve trying to bring older facilities up to current code. Modifying smoke compartment and partition boundaries, upgrading shaft ratings and modifying ventilation systems are all challenges in renovation projects within these types of facilities. Many of the challenges have been overcome by developing a strategy that would be practical to implement in the facility and then meeting with the state and local authorities to discuss the approach. With the input of the owner, design team and authority having jurisdiction, a reasonable and practical approach can usually be agreed upon.
What fire, smoke control and security features might you incorporate in these facilities that you wouldn’t see on other projects?
Allison Graves: In our health care projects, we typically implement a number of fire and smoke control features that you would not see in a conventional building. Having the ability to pressurize spaces adjacent to an active fire zone while exhausting that zone can help with emergency patient egress and life safety. The integration and commissioning of fire barrier doors and their interlocks is also critical inpatient care areas.