Ordinance creates damper inspection program aimed at saving lives

Sheet metal contractors to inspect, repair, maintain city of Columbus buildings

FAIRFAX, Va. – In every ventilation system are dampers designed to contain smoke and fire, saving the lives of occupants and first responders. Many of the dampers, however, go years without inspection, increasing the danger to building occupants.

In Columbus, city officials took steps in April by passing an ordinance to establish a fire and smoke damper inspection program for buildings owned and operated by the city of Columbus to ensure dampers are in proper working order. Inspections will call to attention when dampers need repair or have been improperly installed.

On Nov. 21, 1980, 85 people died at the 26-floor MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (now Bally’s) in Las Vegas when a fire ignited inside the wall of the deli on the first floor. The investigation determined the fire and smoke dampers, designed to stop the spread of fire and smoke throughout the building via the ventilation system, had failed. Many of those who perished died of smoke inhalation.

According to the Clark County Fire Department’s investigation report, the dampers in the main unit over the casino were “bolted in such a manner to make them inoperable” and “products of combustion were distributed through the tower by the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) equipment.”

Had the fire and smoke dampers been inspected, the improper installation would have been found, thus increasing the occupants’ chances of survival.

Demonstrating how fire and smoke dampers operate was instrumental in the passage of the ordinance, said Scott Hammond, business manager for Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24, which provides training and proctors certification exams to employees of local contractors doing the inspections. During demonstrations, smoke is released into three HVAC systems – one in working order, one that fails and one that is inoperable – to illustrate the level of severity.

“It gives them an actual visual of what can happen in case of fire, how the smoke can get into the HVAC system and how important fire damper inspection is,” Hammond said. “We are continuing to reach out to other political allies and present demonstrations to get everyone on board with the program.”

The National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) continually identifies emerging market opportunities and educates thousands of building inspectors, fire officials and decision makers across the country on the importance of fire life safety. They also work with local sheet metal training centers to get members certified for damper maintenance and inspection.

In 2015, more than 20 HVAC Fire Life Safety classes have been completed at Local No. 24’s training center and more will be scheduled for the rest of the year. From those classes, 153 new certifications have been earned by apprentices and journeymen.

“I have been very happy with the journeymen response,” said Rob Gartner, training coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24. “The future of union sheet metal workers will be better with every certification members earn and take with them to the job. These certifications are just another tool for their toolbox, like snips or a hammer.”

All training centers in Ohio house fire and smoke damper demonstration walls.

Creating awareness and training workers to complete the maintenance and inspections are the first steps. Although HVAC Fire Life Safety is common in hospitals, owners of other large buildings don’t realize what can happen when dampers fail until they do.

“When I learned about this, I realized this is something that can really save lives,” said Bernie Brill, executive director for Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) Mid-Atlantic chapter. “I was dumbfounded people conduct inspections of extinguishers and alarms but are not looking at dampers.”

Technicians and inspectors certified at sheet metal training centers have the knowledge to keep systems in working order, and HVAC contractors who want to provide the service can add HVAC Fire Life Safety to their list of services with minimal financial impact, said Chuck Holt, administrator for NEMIC.

Seven contractors in the Columbus area are currently bidding on or completing fire and smoke damper work, and due to the ordinance, it’s expected to increase.

“Most of these contractors have done fire damper inspection on a limited basis, but I think this program will create more opportunities for fire damper inspections going forward,” Hammond said. “During the inspection process, if an inspector sees a problem with a damper, it has to be repaired or replaced by a certified technician. That, too, will put our people to work.”

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.

ICB/TABB is a function of the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC), a not-for-profit organization jointly funded by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association). NEMIC identifies opportunities, seeking to create or expand employment for SMART members and programs that assist SMACNA contractors.

For more information on emerging market opportunities in the sheet metal and air conditioning industry, contact the National Energy Management Institute Committee (NEMIC) at TABBCertified.org or call 800-458-6525.

Originally posted on Eye on Sheet Metal.

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