Testing smoke management systems

Follow these 10 steps for successful testing of smoke management systems.


Figure 1: Shown are the fire alarm control panel (FACP) and firefighter’s smoke control panel (FSCP) for the Las Vegas City Hall. The FSCP graphically shows the floor plans of the building and how the smoke management systems are designed throughout. All graphics courtesy: JBA Consulting EngineersCodes and standards are created to standardize the way buildings are designed and constructed to help ensure a safe built environment. Codes tell us where to install something, and the standards typically tell us how. But the ultimate question is: What is considered safe, and why? A great fire system design, if not properly installed, inspected, and tested—or not properly maintained—is a life safety concern that cannot be overlooked.

When considering fire systems, there are several different systems that can fall under this general umbrella. The most common are automatic sprinkler systems, which are found in most nearly all commercial buildings as well as some residential buildings as a result of recent code changes. Other systems to be considered are the fire alarm and detection systems, including initiation devices (e.g., smoke and heat detectors) and notification appliances (e.g., horns, strobes, speakers). Also included are smoke management systems, which are typically composed of stairwell pressurization systems and smoke removal systems within high-rise buildings, atria smoke exhaust, and large open areas provided with smoke management.

Over the course of the past 30 years, smoke management systems have been an integral part of high-rise building design, particularly in Clark County, Nev., where Las Vegas is located. This is due in large part to the MGM fire that took place in 1980 and the designers and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) who have been working together to protect the millions of visitors that have been visiting Las Vegas ever since.

Codes and standards

The International Building Code (IBC) is the predominant building construction code in the United States and is spreading throughout the world. This document has been developed over multiple decades as a design guide for building construction. Chapter 9 of the IBC is dedicated to fire protection systems and provides the criteria for where these systems must be installed and minimum requirements for system design and installation.

Section 909 of this chapter outlines the requirements for smoke control systems. This section provides design, installation, and acceptance testing requirements in addition to outlining specific NFPA standards to which the smoke control systems are required to be designed. Specifically, NFPA 92: Standard for Smoke Control Systems is referenced. Knowing the where and how of these systems is critical; so is understanding their interconnection and how they must be tested and maintained.

Inspections and testing

Fire alarm systems often are used to control and monitor smoke management systems. There is a common misconception that the special inspector for smoke control systems is inspecting and testing the associated fire alarm system, as required by NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. The special inspector is only confirming the proper function of the fire alarm system as it relates to its interconnection with smoke control systems. NFPA has other requirements for fire alarm system testing beyond what is required for smoke control systems. Therefore, proper system control, monitoring, and sequence output by the fire alarm system are what will be confirmed by the special inspector for smoke control systems. When performing inspections and testing of smoke management systems as the special inspector, there is a standard sequence of events that is consistent for all projects. Following is an outline of these 10 events:

  1. Approved design documentation procurement and review

  2. Test documentation preparation

  3. Duct inspections and testing

  4. Field inspections

  5. System fault testing

  6. Sequence testing

  7. Performance verification

  8. Final system fault testing

  9. Emergency/secondary power testing

  10. Special inspections activity reporting.

These activities are intended to occur once final installation is accomplished and system pretesting is completed by the responsible contractors. All inspections and testing activities are typically achieved with a standard team consisting of the special inspectors and contractor representatives responsible for the installation and pretesting of the smoke management system equipment being tested.

It is important to note that the special inspector is there to perform inspection and testing to approved design documentation and generally accepted engineering practices. It is not the responsibility of the special inspector to design, redesign, and/or dictate the design requirements of the associated systems. The special inspector is to execute his or her inspections and testing in accordance with the applicable code of record, approved design documentation, and generally accepted engineering practice.

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