On December 8, 1961, a 3 alarm fire at the Hartford Hospital left 16 dead (1 doctor, 1 nurse, 2 staff, 5 visitors, 7 patients).  The investigation resulted in many healthcare occupancy code changes.  These changes effected fire doors, patient rooms/compartmentation, linen/rubbish chutes, fire drills, and staff training.

Hartford Hospital now meets and in many areas exceeds the Connecticut Fire Code, the requirements of The Joint Commission, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requirements, according to Mike Garrahy, Hartford Hospital’s current fire marshal. “It’s still fresh in our minds up here,” Garrahy adds. “We make sure to go through it with every employee. It’s part of out new employee orientation.” (from NFPA Journal Jan./Feb. 2009)



At the ICC Public Comment Hearings, in Atlantic City (Sept. 29-Oct. 10), there will be proposals brought forward that could allow and promote a decreased level of fire/life safety in healthcare facilities.  Stand with us, against these changes and proposals. For more information contact, info@patientfiresafety.org.

ICC Scorecard

May 10, 2013 — Leave a comment




In April, at the ICC Committee Action Hearings in Dallas, the Patient Fire Safety Coalition spoke out against four code change proposals brought forth by the AdHoc Healthcare Committee.

  1. F212-13 – 1103.1;1104.1, “…the existing fire resistance ratings, opening protectives, penetrations, and joints in assemblies are not required to be maintained…”  
  2. F218-13 – 1103.4.1, “…glass walls shall be considered to be equivalent to 1-hour fire-resistance rated construction…”
  3. F239-13 – 1105.3.2, “Unless required elsewhere in the code, corridor 
  4. walls are not required to have a fire-resistance rating.”
  5. F241-13 – 1105.5.2, “Existing smoke barriers with a minimum of 1/2-hour fire-resistance rating are permitted to remain.”

Two of these changes were successfully disapproved and two were not (view all the results here)

  1. F212-13: Disapproved, 11-1
  2. F218-13: Disapproved, 13-1
  3. F239-13: Approved as Submitted, 12-0
  4. F241-13: Approved as Modified, 12-0

In October, at the ICC Annual Conference and Public Comment Hearing, the Healthcare industry will attempt to finalize and make permanent code changes F239-13 and F241-13.  Once again, we will be speaking in opposition to these changes as they currently stand, and will be seeking code officials and AHJ’s to stand with us in opposition to these changes.

In Dallas, we were able to make contact with several members of the AdHoc Healthcare Committee. We look forward to the potential of initiating  conversation regarding these proposed code changes.  Hopefully, together, we can accomplish our common goal of patient fire safety and create code language that accurately portrays that intent.


Watch the ICC Live!

April 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

View the hearings on your desktop computer or your Blackberry, iPhone, iPad or Android pad via webcast from the ICC.




The code change proposals that the Patient Fire Safety Coalition will be opposing will, most likely, be heard on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning (April 24-25).



Speak out for Healthcare Fire Safety!

Are you attending the ICC Committee Action hearings in Dallas?

Download important information about proposed changes to the International Fire Code that seek to reduce safety in hospitals.


The International Firestop Council has published a brochure, Move America’s Healthcare Fire Safety Forward, to bring attention to the potentially harmful code change proposals to be presented by the healthcare industry.  At the International Code Council Fire Code Action Hearings, the hospital industry, through the ICC AHC, will introduce code change proposals to the IFC designed to simplify and streamline the constraints under which healthcare facilities operate.  We believe that most of them are very good and will assist code enforcement in healthcare facilities. Unfortunately, among those other worthwhile proposals, there are a few that would be quite contrary to the goals of a fire safe hospital environment.


The International Firestop Council is confident that the various stakeholders can better work together to provide optimized solutions that balance healthcare operational considerations with patient and worker fire safety.  Code change proposals F212-13, F218-13, and F239-13 are flawed ideas which concerned individuals need to speak out against at the Committee Action hearing.

The International Firestop Council, along with the Patient Fire Safety Coalition, is calling all code officials dedicated to public safety to step up to the mic and let your voice be heard in Dallas, on April 23-25.









Call to Action

April 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

As the ICC Committee Action Hearing draws near we would like to make you aware of several critical code change proposals that the healthcare industry will attempt to get passed.  These changes negatively effect responders and patients life safety in hospitals (I-2 occupancies).

The healthcare industry proposes to:

• Discontinue maintenance of existing smoke and fire barriers (IFC 1103.1/1104.1; F212-13)

• Consider glass walls in sprinklered buildings to be 1 hour rated (IFC 1103.4.1; F218-13)

• Eliminate fire resistance rated corridors (IFC 1105.3.2; F239-13)

• Treat existing smoke barriers as ½ hour rated, not requiring any fire stopping or opening protectives (IFC 1105.5.2; F241-13)

The Patient Fire Safety Coalition is an advocacy group that serves patients and individuals who become “not capable of self-preservation”; ensuring that they will be safe in their healing environment. The Patient Fire Safety Coalition is the voice for those who cannot speak, and a watch dog to make certain that health care facilities maintain the highest standards of fire protection and life safety.

We need code officials and AHJ’s to speak against these changes in Dallas.  Please join the cause. If you would like more information contact us at info@patientfiresafety.org.

When a fire occurs that results in death, it is very rare to find that the victims died due to actual fire or flame impingement.  Much more common is death by smoke.  When items begin to burn the particles they are made up of begin to break down (this is smoke), and those particles become toxic.  There are three ways that smoke can kill a person:

  1. Particles. Tiny, burned, unburned, and partially burned substances penetrate into the respiratory system and lodge into the lungs.  Some of these particles can be toxic, they can cause respiratory functions to cease,  or they can be super-heated causing the lungs to burn and fail.
  2. Vapors. Fog-like droplets that poison the body if inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
  3. Toxic gases.  Carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and phosgene are the most common types found in fires.  These gases are all put off by common household items that we all may have; items such as plastic, foam, and vinyl. These gases displace the oxygen in your bloodstream, or bond to it leading to death.

This short video shows the importance of utilizing products and assemblies that prevent the spread of smoke:

The health care industry continues to fight for the removal and neglect of these smoke barriers. Think of the lives that could be affected if smoke from even a small fire is allowed to move freely through the corridors and rooms of a one of these facilities.  Lives that could have been saved by nothing more than a rated smoke barrier, may now be lost due to the harmful effects of smoke that was permitted to move uninhibited throughout the space.

Stand with the Patient Fire Safety Coalition on April 21-30, 2013 in Dallas to oppose these code change proposals and be a voice for those who may not have one.



From this article, “Preemptive Strike” (Fire Chief, May 2011), by Gerald Hughes we see the purpose of fire prevention and how balanced fire protection is required to maintain the highest level of fire protection and life safety.  Utilizing the well-known fire triangle, Hughes inserts three points of prevention and how they can break up that fire triangle.  Fire prevention and life safety is at its strongest when all of these components are effectively in place.  Hughes calls this the Fire Prevention Triangle, and states that “it illustrates how human actions and engineering principles combine to have a synergistic effect on the prevention and extinguishment of unwanted fires”.



1.  Engineering Principles –  By understanding fire, its patterns and behavior, structures and facilities can be engineered so that the threat of fire or loss of life is grossly minimized.  
     1.  Active suppression – on-site equipment that suppresses/extinguishes fire, this could include  fire extinguishers, fire sprinkler systems, and standpipes.

     2.  Passive resistance – structural elements created to separate human beings from fire, these are fire rated walls and smoke barriers, protected openings in these walls, fire stopping, and flame retardants.

     3.  Early detection – installed systems that provide advance warning of fire, this can be as simple as a smoke alarm or as complex as a full fire alarm system.

2.  Human Responsibility  –  support of fire prevention and firefighting
     1.  Fire inspections – to determine compliance with fire codes, and create pre-plans

     2.  Code enforcement – to enforce the correction of violations

     3.  Firefighting – to suppress fires, and investigate to determine cause and origin


3.  Fire Safety Education – center of an effective fire prevention program
     1.  Public education – disseminates fire/life safety messages to the public, creates awareness, trains building managers on the proper maintenance of engineered systems (fire walls, sprinkler systems, and fire alarms)

     2.  Training – technical training providing fire inspectors with the skills needed for effective job performance


Just as in the original fire triangle, if you take one of these items away, then it all falls apart (in the case of fire triangle, the fire is extinguished).  This illustration aptly demonstrates the necessity of balanced fire protection.  For example, if a facility was to install active suppression (i.e., a fire sprinkler systems), then eliminate its passive fire protection, then that level of protection between fuel and heat has been removed, and risk of fire and life loss is increased.  Furthermore, if the public education and training component is missing, whereas building owners or facility managers are not educated as to the necessary inspection and maintenance of the engineered systems (active suppression, passive resistance, early detection) then the whole prevention triangle is at risk of falling apart, and the three elements of fire move ever closer together, once again increasing fire and life loss risk.

Even with this knowledge, in an effort to increase profits, the health care industry is attempting to remove these components and rely primarily on active suppression (which, in itself, is not 100% successful).  Removing the fire prevention control of, passive resistance, and with no guarantee of proper systems maintenance the fire elements – fuel, heat and oxygen – are permitted to come together, virtually unhindered.

With these systems missing how safe will your local health care facility be to the members of your community?  Take action now!


If fire sprinklers are so great, why do buildings equipped with fire sprinklers still burn?   This short video clip from FM Global  gives us an answer to this question:



This video shows three possible scenarios that could negatively affect fire sprinkler performance, design deficiencies (from changed use of occupancy space), system impairment, early system shut-down.  These are all probable scenarios.  If any of these were to take place, the occupants of the facility would be in grave danger.  However, this is a primary reason to have redundancy in life safety systems, this is why fire protection features work together and are not stand alone.  If a sprinkler system should fail, a fire could be held in check by a fire barrier, and the damage compartmentalized.

In the upcoming International Fire Code Committee Action Hearings, the healthcare industry will try to institute code chagnes that eliminate fire and smoke barriers, thus removing a level of safety for patients that may be incapable of self preservation.  These proposed changes include:

  • Elimination of fire resistance rated corridors (IFC 1105.3.2)
  • Allowance of unprotected openings in corridor smoke barriers (IFC 1105.3.4)
  • Discontinuing maintenance of existing smoke and fire barriers (IFC 1103.1)
  • Treat  existing smoke barriers as ½ hour rated, not requiring any fire stopping or opening protectives (IFC 1105.5.2)
  • Consider glass walls in sprinkled buildings to be 1 hour rated (IFC 1103.4.1)

The Patient Fire Safety Coalition is committed to speaking against these code changes, and standing up for the safety of the many patients that visit our nations hospitals.  If you are interested in joining the fight you can sign up to receive updates to this site so that you can stay informed and have the most current patient fire safety information, you can attend the code hearings and let your voice be heard, and you can contact us at info@patientfiresafety.org for more information and assistance in this.


The National Fire Protection Association’s study, U.S. Experience With Sprinklers, shows that fire sprinkler systems are only effective about 90% of the time. By reviewing fire loss data, examining investigative fire reports, and researching fire and building history, the National Fire Protection Association was able to catalogue all the reasons that fire sprinklers fail.  The majority of fire sprinkler failures fall into one of these four categories:

  1. Failure to maintain operational status of the system.
  2.  Failure to assure adequacy of system and/or the complete coverage of the current hazard.
  3.  Defects affecting, but not involving, the sprinkler system.
  4.  Inadequate performance by the sprinkler system itself.

Failure to maintain operational status of the system. It goes without saying, an adequate water supply is an essential and critical part of any sprinkler system.  Yet, this is the primary cause of fire sprinkler failure.  The water supply valve could be shut-down for any variety of reasons, including routine maintenance, building construction/demolition, system impairment, or improper valve installation.  With any portion of the sprinkler system out of service (for any length of time), the smallest fire will quickly grow beyond the sprinkler systems capabilities.

Failure to assure adequacy of the system or complete and accurate coverage of the current hazard. Every sprinkler system is designed to protect a certain type of hazard based on a buildings proposed use.  Over time the use of the facility, or certain areas of, may change, or the hazard may increase due to the types of material being used or stored.  A sprinkler system designed for an ordinary hazard will quickly be overcome and disabled against a fire involving high hazard contents.

Defects affecting, but not involving, the sprinkler system. These include changes to the water distribution system, faulty building construction, and lack of compartmentation.  R. Thomas Long, Jr., P.E. in his article for Fire Protection Engineering states,

 Compartmentation of hazards through the use of fire barriers and walls is a fire protection strategy in itself, but physical separations can play a role in the effectiveness of the sprinkler system.  High hazard areas in buildings can be segregated by fire-resistance-rated construction.  The concept is to contain the fire in the compartment and prevent spread outward…Vigilance is necessary in maintaining passive fire protection compartmentation, not only to prevent the spread of fire, but to also improve the effectiveness of the sprinkler system in the area of fire involvement.

Inadequate performance by the sprinkler system itself.  This is the most rare cause of fire sprinkler system failure, a defect in the system itself, component damage, or failure to properly activate.  These incidents most commonly occur as a consequence of a fire.  Overall sprinkler system components are extremely reliable.

With a fire sprinkler success rate of only 90%, there is only one solution for protecting those that “are not capable of self preservation”, balanced fire protection. We need fire sprinkler systems, we need fire rated wall and corridor assemblies, and we must maintain smoke barriers.  It is only in this balanced approach to fire protection that makes survivability in fire emergencies possible.

Reviewing 9 of the most deadly hospital fires, reveals several recurring factors, including:cleveland_clinic

  • heavy fuel load
  • lack of compartmentation (to limit fire and smoke spread)
  • lack of fire sprinkler protection
  • no early warning system (fire alarm)
  1. Cleveland Clinic (1929) – 120 killed

More than 120 people lost their lives when flammable items (nitrocellulose x-ray film, in this case) was stored to close to a heat source. Contributing factors to these deaths included:

  • improper storage of flammables – stored too closely to other types of flammables and a heat source
  • lack of fire sprinkler protection – not required at the time, potentially could have held the fire in check
  • unprotected openings between floors – allowed the fire, heat, smoke, and toxic gases to travel up and through several levels

2.  Mercy Hospital (1950) – 41 killed

When a patient in the St. Elizabeth’s Women’s Psychopathic Building at Mercy Hospital lit her curtains on fire, 40 elderly women were killed and one attendant.  Contributing factors to these deaths included:

  • incendiary/arson fire – fire intentionally set
  • barred windows – hindered fire department rescue efforts
  • flammable wall coverings – combustible fiberboard was used for the corridor ceilings

3.  St. Anthony Hospital (1949) – 74 killed

Seventy-four lives were claimed when a fire, which started in a laundry chute, quickly spread throughout the facility.  Contributing factors to these deaths included:

  • combustible laundry chute construction
  • lack of fire alarm or fire sprinkler systems
  • open corridors and stairs
  • lack of smoke barriers

4.  Hartford Hospital (1961) – 16 killedhartford_hospital_patient

A fire starting in a trash chute spread through the facility igniting the flammable interior finishes resulting in 16 deaths.  Contributing factors to these deaths included:

  • flammable/combustible interior finishes – large amounts of plastics, linoleum, and fabrics throughout
  • dead-end corridors – occupants had to travel through fire/smoke to escape
  • partial fire sprinkler protection – fire sprinklers present on only 3 floors
  • undivided, concealed spaces – spaces above ceiling allowed the rapid and uninhibited travel of smoke
  • unprotected openings – smoke door was held open allowing smoke and fire to fill up an entire floor


5.  Missouri Facility (1974) – 8 killed

Eight lives were lost when a fire broke out in this Missouri facility, with a heavy fuel load, and staff that was not adequately trained. Contributing factors to these deaths included:

  • heavy fuel load – patient rooms contained large amounts of foam, mattresses, couches, and bedding
  • improperly functioning fire alarm system – fire alarm alerted staff in the halls, but did not alert the fire department
  • partial fire sprinkler protection – in laundry and trash rooms only
  • unprotected openings – staff left the doors to patient rooms in the open position

6.  Michigan Hospice (1985) – 8 killedhartfor_hospital

When a fire started from a patients recliner and began to spread, 8 lives were lost.  Contributin factors to these deaths included:

  • heavy fuel load – patients were allowed to bring items from home
  • unprotected openings – fire and smoke spread through the ventilation systems and stairwells, smoke doors were left open

7.  California Hospital (1985) – 5 killed

A patient smoking while trying to shut down his oxygen supply ignited a fire that quickly spread, taking 5 lives.  Contributing factors to these deaths included:

  • careless smoking
  • unprotected opening – patients door was left open, permitting spread of fire

8.  New York Hospital (1993) – 3 killed

A medical equipment malfunction contributed to the death of 3 patients.  Two of the patients were in the room of origin, and the third was two rooms down.  His door had not been properly shut, as had all the other patient rooms.  Contributing factors to low mortality rate:

  • fire alarm system was in place
  • fire sprinkler protected corridors
  • trained staff
  • auto closing doors and rated walls – limited fire and smoke spread

9.  Virginia Hospital (1994) – 6 killed

This fire started in a patients bedding, and was fed from an open oxygen line, until the oxygen zone was shut off.  Contributing factors to these deaths included:

  • unprotected openings – door to the room was left open
  • lack of fire alarm detection devices – no smoke alarms in the patient rooms
  • lack of fire sprinklers and working fire department connection
  • undivided concealed spaces – spaces above ceiling permitted smoke movement and seep down

balanced_fire_protectionAs we can see from this short history these fires spread and took lives, not due to one system operating or malfunctioning but, due to multiple systems that are inteded to work together and create redundancy not being in place.  Hospitals are supposed to be a place of safety, refuge, and healing.  It is only when the facility takes a balanced approach to life safety that your loved one remains truly safe, and real healing can take place.





For more information on the above mentioned fires download the report, “Major Hospital Fires” from the National Fire Protection Association.