5 Tips for Smoke Management in Assisted Living Facilities

A fire is a devastating event under any circumstance, but especially when they occur within healthcare spaces or assisted living facilities.

In these worst-case scenarios, more often than not injuries are due to smoke inhalation, rather than thermal exposure. Uncontrolled smoke spreads surprisingly quickly and is often the most harmful factors to human health in the event of a fire.

Designing for safety in assisted living spaces means choosing the right strategies and products. Here are a few methods to consider when incorporating smoke management into an assisted living facility.

Smoke Alarms as First Defense

Smoke alarms are one of the most basic, but effective tools in smoke detection and control.

Smoke alarms are required in most buildings, both in private living quarters and in public spaces. Although it’s recommended for any type of facility, interconnected smoke alarms can be installed throughout assisted living facilities. In contrast to singular alarms, interconnected devices ensure that when one alarm sounds off, other alarms will also be triggered to activate.

Smoke alarms need to be tested once a month to ensure they are working, and batteries need to be replaced once a year. Installers should also test the volume of the alarm: the tone emitted by the smoke alarm should be loud enough for all of the residents to hear clearly.

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Smoke alarms with built-in strobe lights are also available for spaces where there might be hearing-impaired occupants.

Utilize HVAC Systems

In the event of a fire, the HVAC system's fans and dampers can be used to control the spread of smoke in the building through outdoor ventilation.

Smoke containment systems are defined as dedicated, non-dedicated or a hybrid system.

A dedicated smoke control system is installed for the sole purpose of providing smoke control. A non-dedicated system shares components with other building systems (like the HVAC), and changes its mode of operation to control smoke when activated.

Smoke alarms can also be connected to smoke control systems for immediate performance. These are highly effective as they don’t rely on staff having to trigger emergency protocols.

Additionally, consider a design that connects the HVAC system’s internal fan system to a smoke control trigger. This will immediately stop any internal air circulation by shutting dampers, preventing additional smoke from spreading. 

Sprinkler Systems in Kitchens

One of the most common areas in an assisted living space for a fire to start is the kitchen, or more specifically the kitchen range or cooktop. Because of the many combustible materials commonly found in kitchens, fires in these spaces can quickly ignite producing thick clouds of smoke.

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In addition to smoke alarms, kitchens should also be outfitted with both water sprinklers and wet chemical sprinklers, particularly over the range. Water sprinklers are useful for extinguishing flames, while wet chemical sprinklers help extinguish fires caused by oil.

Install Smoke or Fire Curtains

Smoke curtains are important for two reasons. First, they block off smoke flow which reduces the chance of smoke inhalation. Second, by dividing a facility with potentially large, open rooms into smaller areas, it allows for emergency officials to enter the building and extinguish the fire more quickly.

Smoke and fire curtains can be installed over elevator doors and in ceilings above large openings, atriums, and staircases. When automatically or manually released, these curtains deploy and effectively block smoke from moving freely through the building.

Solutions for Safer Communities

When designing a fire safety program in an assisted living facility, smoke management is a critical component. And a well-designed smoke control system doesn't need to be complicated to be effective.

Consult with a fire safety expert to determine other areas in your own facility that can be redesigned to better protect staff and occupants from smoke.  

Want more ideas on creating safer buildings and spaces? Learn more about designing for human behavior in emergencies here