The Best Types of Smoke Barriers in Hospitals

In the past, the International Building Code (IBC) has stated that certain fully-sprinklered occupancies may not require an enclosed elevator lobby – with a notable exception. Healthcare facilities, like hospitals, had to have these lobbies because many patients and staff are unable to quickly leave the building, and must congregate there until help arrives.

Today, architects and designers have access to solutions that prevent the spread of smoke and fire, without requiring a dedicated lobby space on every floor. Instead of trying to improve on the protected lobby model, smoke and fire protection companies look at the root of the problem and have designed unique systems that help maximize utility and day-to-day accessibility.

Smoke containment systems are more effective at preventing vertical smoke migration than traditional lobbies with swing doors, as the doors are tested with the undercut taped since they are not smoke-tight like UL1784 tested curtains.

Different Types of Smoke Barriers

Smoke barriers inhibit the spread of dangerous fumes and gases within a building. They are required to seal on all sides regardless of the shape of the opening they are protecting, and they are required to have at least a 20-minute fire rating. Smoke barriers can be customized to protect multiple types of openings within a hospital structure.

Elevator Smoke Curtains

Today, there are superior solutions to enclosed lobbies available to architects and designers that provide better protection utilizing less space.

The reason elevators are the focus of fire and smoke mitigation is because they are large shafts of open space that run up and down the entire building, making them the perfect channel for smoke and fire to move from one floor to the next very quickly. During a fire, the elevator shaft acts like a chimney, pulling both the fire and smoke through it very rapidly.

To prevent this chimney effect, a properly designed smoke curtain will deploy from above the doors, sealing the opening and preventing the movement of smoke up into the elevator shaft where it could spread to other levels of the hospital.

The curtains are contained discreetly in an enclosure directly above the elevator doors and deploy when the smoke detector at the elevator opening goes into alarm or when there is an extended loss of power. If emergency access is required, the curtain rewinds by an on-screen rewind switch. Personnel can always push through the side of the screen to exit if there is no power available.

Vertical Fire and Smoke Curtains

Preventing smoke and fire from traveling through vertical openings in walls used to require the use of heavy, hard-to-operate steel door units. It was difficult to mount these doors in a way that would not inhibit movement through the building or that didn’t require additional support structures to mount them to. In a hospital environment, these openings can be either very large or small in a hard-to-reach location, such as above a counter, an area that is not well-suited to protecting with a large door.

Vertical curtains are designed to block off openings in a straight wall by dropping down from the ceiling and sealing at the floor or the top of a counter or railing system. These smoke and fire barriers can be used for small openings such as an in-wall customer service portal or in larger openings that lead to a hospital lobby or atrium.

Convenience Stairs and Escalator Protection

Some stairwells cannot be adequately protected with a simple vertical smoke barrier, especially in the case of escalators or multi-floor staircases, without needing additional support for steel doors or the installation of additional walls to form a barrier. The best solution will require that a 3 or 4 sided curtain be designed to completely seal the opening.

The configuration for this type of protection means that no other structural elements are needed that may otherwise interfere with free access to the stairwell system for hospital staff and patients. Even though these curtains are a large installation, they can be discreetly self-contained in the ceiling.

Horizontal Atrium Curtains

Often, the best fire and smoke protection system for an atrium opening is not a full perimeter enclosure, but rather a horizontal smoke curtain to compartmentalize the opening. By compartmentalizing the space into smaller areas, you enable additional time for building occupants to safely egress the building during a fire event. This compartmentalization also assists mechanical smoke evacuation systems by reducing the amount of make-up air required to flush out smoke.

Work With the Industry Leader

Smoke Guard understands the fire and smoke safety elements that architects must include in hospital designs. We are industry experts in smoke barrier design and installation, and specialize in reclaiming usable space and giving architects and designers more options.

Starting in 1991 as a provider of elevator smoke protection, Smoke Guard has grown to be the industry leader in fire and smoke protection with over 80,000 systems installed. Our products are found in hospitals, airports, hotels, historic buildings and museums around the world.

Contact the smoke and fire containment experts at Smoke Guard today for more information on automated systems for your hospital.