Fire, Life Safety

Your questions answered with Jon Sajdak: Designing fire/life safety systems in health care buildings

Fire protection engineers must know which products and systems will best support the owner’s needs and authority having jurisdiction’s requirements. Read this Q&A for more details.

By Jonathan Sajdak November 3, 2021
Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Both active and passive fire protection systems are specified to ensure the safety and well-being of health care building occupants in case of a fire, as discussed in the “Designing fire/life safety systems in health care buildings” webcast on Oct. 26, 2021. As in most industries, the safety of people comes first and property protection is secondary. Protecting the occupants of the hospital or health care building from the effects of fire is the primary objective in the majority of cases; engineers should be aware of the contents and intent of the building when specifying fire detection, notification and suppression systems.

Fire detection systems are required at varying levels in health care facilities. Based on the building contents, the occupancy and the minimum requirements within the codes and standards, fire protection engineers must know which products and systems will best support the owner’s needs and authority having jurisdiction’s requirements.

Register for and watch the webcast presented by:

  • William Koffel, PE, FSFPE, president, Koffel Associates Inc., Columbia, Md.
  • Jonathan Sajdak, PE, senior associate/fire protection engineer, Page, Houston

Jon Sajdak provided additional insights, not covered during the presentation.

In MRI rooms: How do you penetrate walls, ceiling for fire alarm conduit and wiring for detection and notification? What type of detectors and notification devices are used inside MRI room in order to avoid interference with magnetic fields?

Jon Sajdak: In MRI rooms, the biggest concern is typically piping and other ferrous material. Smoke detectors can be installed in MRI rooms and are done so often with the intent to protect the expensive equipment. Typically, the rooms/ceilings are lined with a material so that anything within that volume should not be of a material to interfere with the magnetic fields. Outside of that envelope, most fire alarm/fire suppressions materials are acceptable.

What type of detection device and notification devices are specified in operating rooms?

Jon Sajdak: It is common for operating rooms to utilize private mode notification, so notification devices may not be required to be located in those rooms. Sprinklers are typically provided, which is a method of detection (heat detection). Smoke detection may also be appropriate depending on the situation.

Are there any new requirements for visual appliances in single person offices, whether in health care or other general occupancies?

Jon Sajdak: My thoughts on this are single person offices are typically not provided with visual appliances. If it is a single person exam room, however, I would plan for a visual device. Some jurisdictions provided criteria for a minimum number of persons in a room before a visual device is required. I have seen this range between two and four persons most commonly.

How does first responder communications and/or digital alert systems fit in to all this?

Jon Sajdak: Emergency respond radio coverage systems/DAS are very applicable to hospitals and health care occupancies. These buildings typically require these systems to help achieve full coverage as required by NFPA 1221: Standard for the Installation, Maintenance and Use of Emergency Services Communications Systems.

With duct-mounted smoke detectors and automatic damper closures, have you seen issues with supply ducts closing but not the exhaust/return ducts due to differences in routing, which leads to pressure imbalances?

Jon Sajdak: Duct detectors are typically required to shut down the associated air handler unit. This, in theory, should stop airflow and alleviate concerns for over- or under-pressurization.

On ERRCS, can someone intentionally jam the signal?

Jon Sajdak: I have never heard of this occurring before, but I would say it is in theory a possibility. I would just add that these systems are not designed to prevent that from occurring.

Could a case be made to make an infusion bay space a private-mode occupancy just in that area and rest of the building be public-mode?

Jon Sajdak: I think an argument could be made for it, but I would recommend that application be discussed with the authority having jurisdiction to get approval beforehand. Private mode is becoming more common and accepted and, in my opinion, I don’t think it hinders the egress.

A riser diagram. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

A riser diagram. Courtesy: Consulting-Specifying Engineer

Did you say that there are anti-ligature sprinkler heads?

Jon Sajdak: There are sprinkler heads for anti-ligature applications called “institutional sprinklers.” They are made by the major manufacturers and typically provided in areas where patients could be capable of self-harm or harm to others.

Which codes regulate fire pumps being connected to a generator? Are there any codes that prohibit supplying the fire pump for the generator in a hospital?

Jon Sajdak: A fire pump is required to be connected to a reliable power source, which is described in the annex of NFPA 20: Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection. If an electric pump is used and reliable power is not available, it is required to be connected to a secondary/backup power source (typically a generator). Diesel pumps can be used in lieu of electric fire pumps if these are not possible due to cost or infrastructure. With that being said, I have not used diesel pumps in health care facilities and try to use electric wherever possible.

Can you add emergency voice communication to an existing horn/strobe fire alarm system?

Jon Sajdak: Typically, additional equipment would be needed to achieve this. If the existing system does not have audio capability, amplifier modules and/or an autonomous control unit would be needed to generate the voice notification. Additionally, speaker circuits would need to be run to all existing horn and horn/strobe devices. More speaker only devices may also be required to achieve intelligibility in some areas.

What are some methods for smoke detection in atriums?

Jon Sajdak: Some possible smoke detection methods are beam detection, air-aspirating smoke detection (VESDA), or ultraviolet/infrared detection. The best selection will depend on atrium configuration (height and area) and design fire scenario.

For the ERRCS, is it possible to install the bidirectional amplifier, and the VHF amplifier on ground floor?

Jon Sajdak: Yes, I have seen and installed a bidirectional amplifier on the first level of a building. The donor antenna is the key piece of equipment to be located so it can clearly receive the signal. Most other equipment can be located throughout the building to help distribute and amplify the radio coverage.

Jonathan Sajdak
Author Bio: Jonathan Sajdak, PE, senior associate/fire protection engineer, Page, Houston