Out of Sight, Out of Mind

We say “out of sight, out of mind” when referring to fire and smoke dampers because although they are an important piece to your overall Fire Life Safety Program like sprinklers and fire extinguishers, which you can see when walking through a building, dampers you cannot see because they are located within your ductwork in your ceilings, floors and walls.

Dampers are designed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke inside your ductwork system through fire-resistant rated walls and floors. Dampers work in unison with your sprinkler system and strategically located fire extinguishers to allow visitors and workers of a building to be able to exit the building properly in the case of a fire situation and for safety forces to be able to enter in the case of a rescue situation.

Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors National Association Cleveland Chapter (SMACNA Cleveland) and Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 know how important it is to regularly inspect your dampers and over the past six years have added a major emphasis on inspections in tier training curriculum to make sure all of their contractors and member are experts in the inspection of dampers per the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines.

The training involves 16 hours of class time and a written exam to be able to earn the certification necessary to inspect and repair dampers. SMACNA Cleveland and Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 believe that it was critically important to have the training in this field for contractors and members to be able to say they are “experts” so they made the decision to follow the very strict guidelines set forth by the International Certification Board (ICB) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and are proud of the time and resources they have put into their Fire Life Safety Program.

“It struck a chord with me because it made sense,” says Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 33 Business Manager Michael Coleman. “Fire and smoke dampers are in the system for the same reason sprinklers are.  It’s an integral part of saving lives and property.  If the fire and smoke dampers aren’t working properly, it’s like the whole fire life safety system in not working properly.”

A crucial piece in the success of this program was being able to work with firefighter organizations all over the area to educate them on this issue as well as to receive their assistance in speaking with property owners about the program.

“The firefighters have been great to work with and see the importance of this program,” says John Sickle, co-owner and president of Duct Fabricators as well as past president of SMACNA Cleveland- along with Tom Martin Jr., president of T.H. Martin, Inc. and current president of SMACNA Cleveland.

“Their support has been very important. There is a sense of fulfillment in knowing we are making these building safer after the inspections are completed and we are proud that our organization is 100% all in with this program.”

Not only is this an important piece for safety but by inspecting your dampers you could be saving yourself from possible litigation or possible fights with your property and casualty insurance carrier. Luther Liggett, Jr., a prominent Columbus-based attorney, wrote in an article titled “Fire Code Maintenance Failure Creates Insurance Exclusion” that “nationwide fire and building codes mandate that building owners inspect, maintain and document the work of all fire and smoke dampers.  An owner’s failure to meet these mandatory codes provides cause to exclude coverage under the owner’s fire insurance policy.

“The four-year fire and smoke damper inspection requirement pervades the life safety codes of our entire nation. Building owners owe a duty to inspect and maintain their buildings to these codes. Failure to do so, in the event of a fire, can lead to insurance policy exclusion and tort liability, based on the owner’s neglect or misrepresentation, even if unintentional.”

In conclusion, having a well-rounded fire life safety program designed for your buildings not only keeps your workers and visitors safe but can protect your bottom line and avoid unnecessary legal battles.

Properties Magazine
Issue: August 2016
by Bobby Ina, Metropolis Consulting