Ground breaking ordinance requires fire, smoke damper inspections by certified techs
When it comes to life and death situations, a few words can make all the difference. In Garfield Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, an ordinance passed in June calls for the inspection of fire and smoke dampers in commercial buildings every four years by technicians and contractors certified by the International Certification Board (ICB). Fire and smoke dampers keep smoke and fire from traveling through a building’s ventilation system, buying occupants time to escape and first responders precious seconds to save lives and property. If the dampers aren’t properly inspected, the chance of fatalities can increase.
On Nov. 21, 1980, 85 people died at the 26-floor MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas when a fire ignited inside the wall of the deli on the first floor. The investigation determined that the fire and smoke dampers had failed. Many of those who perished died of smoke inhalation.
Garfield Heights is the first city in the United States to require technicians and contractors to be certified by ICB.
“We’ve been developing our HVAC Fire Life Safety program, and we felt it was important to start with governmental bodies. We wanted to raise public awareness,” said Mike Coleman, business manager for Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 33. “I think we’re the first in the country to earn the ANSI accreditation.”
The ordinance in Garfield Heights, as well as in other municipalities around Cleveland, have been in the works since 2011 when the training center for Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 33 developed a mock-up to show fire marshals and building inspectors the importance of fire and smoke damper inspections. The demonstrations show how smoke travels and can be stopped with properly working dampers.
“We came in offering a solution to a problem rather than creating a problem just to get work,” said John Nesta, training coordinator for Local No. 33’s training center. “We didn’t want to overload the fire inspectors. We didn’t want to add to their work. We wanted to offer a solution to a problem. These smoke and fire dampers weren’t being inspected, and we can help with that. And give them the peace of mind it would be done correctly.”
“The mock-up is essential. The firefighters needed to see it. All the public officials needed to see it in order to understand. I think these dampers are as important as a sprinkler system in regards to getting people out of a burning building,” Coleman added. “I think it was a very easy sale. It just took some time to educate the right people. This is a no-brainer. It’s not a union issue. It’s not a non-union issue. It’s a public safety issue.”
Similar ordinances in Broadview Heights and Cuyahoga County are currently pending.
ICB/TABB is the first program to gain ANSI accreditation under ISO 17024 for certification in the HVAC testing, adjusting and balancing and fire life safety industry. ICB/TABB certification is a statement that the technician, supervisor and contractor demonstrate the highest level of professional expertise.