Combustible Materials in School Hallways

B.C. Fire Code Article 2.3.1.3 requires that decorative materials on walls and ceilings shall have a flame spread rating not greater than that required for the interior finish of the space in which they are located. This is a change from previous fire code editions which allowed combustible material to be attached to the walls and ceilings in school corridors.

In response to concerns raised that all student artwork may have to be removed from school corridor walls in order to comply with the flame spread rating, the Fire Commissioner formed a task force of educators, parents, trustees, and fire service representatives. The task force reviewed the intent of this code provision and suggested ways that the code requirements can be satisfied while allowing for the expression of creativity.

Flame Spread Rating

The B.C. Building Code requires the interior wall finish of corridors serving classrooms to have a flame spread rating not more than 75. A flame spread rating of 150 is allowed if the building is protected by an automatic sprinkler system. For example, gypsum wall board has a flame spread rating of 25 while unfinished fir plywood has a rating of 150.

Apart from the interior furnishings, the interior finish is the component that most enhances the spread of fire, particularly if it has a high flame spread rating. Controlling the characteristics of the finish materials can reduce the rate at which fire could spread, particularly on walls and ceilings.

Alternatives to the Codes

The fire code applies to all existing buildings whether they are new or a 100 year-old heritage building. Although the fire code references the most recent building code, not all buildings were constructed to that standard. Therefore provisions must be made in the fire code to accept existing features and arrangements while still maintaining an acceptable level of safety.

Alternative solutions to the requirements in the fire code are permitted if the alternative provides a level of fire and life safety that is equivalent to the level of performance required by the codes. Alternative solutions will require the approval of the authority having jurisdiction.

This requirement is intended as a means for the authority having jurisdiction to accept an arrangement, such as an existing building or fire protection system that is not exactly identical to that required by the fire code, but that is considered to provide an equivalent level of fire and life safety due to its specific qualities. It is the intent of the fire code that an equivalent level of safety be achieved rather than necessarily achieving strict conformance to the referenced provisions in the building code.

The fire code states that the owner, or the owner’s authorized agent is responsible for carrying out the provisions of the code. However, the owner is expected to communicate with the authority having jurisdiction that is in a position to assess alternatives to the code requirements.

Fire Emergency Planning

Section 2.8 of the BC Fire Code requires that schools develop fire emergency procedures. The development of a fire safety plan, prepared in cooperation with the fire department. The control of fire hazards in the building should be included in the fire safety plan.

What is Acceptable in School Corridors?

A safe environment which also allows for creativity can be maintained if certain conditions are met to minimize the fire hazard and if the schools comply with the fire code requirement for fire emergency planning which includes the preparation of a fire safety plan and the holding of fire drills.

The intent of the building code in restricting the flame spread in corridors is to prevent the unimpeded spread of fire along a corridor surface, to enable safe exiting from the building, and to restrict the ability of fire to progress from a classroom into a corridor, as well as from a corridor into the classroom. The purpose of the fire code is to ensure that the building is used and maintained as that originally intended by the building code.

To maintain safe passage in corridors during a fire emergency, it is permissible to attach small quantities of combustible material such as teaching aids, notices, and student artwork within designated display areas in school corridors under the following arrangements.

General Provisions

  • Combustible material may only be displayed in areas designated for that purpose.
  • The location for the placement of combustible material in school corridors shall be established through cooperation between the school district or school and local fire officials.
  • Combustible material may not exceed 20% of the total wall area for each wall.
  • When possible, decorative material is to be attached at each corner of the paper to enable it to lie flat against the wall
  • Combustible material may not be attached to the ceilings in corridors.
  • Stairwells and exits must be kept clear of obstructions at all times. Combustible material may not be displayed in stairwells and exits.

Areas Designated for Displaying Combustible Material

The locations for the displaying of combustible material shall be:

  • Minimum 1 m from classroom and exit doors
  • Minimum 0.5 m below ceiling level and 0.5 m above floor level, and
  • Minimum 0.5 m from safety equipment, such as fire alarm pull stations, fire extinguisher or fire hose cabinets, fire detectors, automatic sprinklers, emergency lighting, and exit signs
  • Display areas may not exceed 5 m in length.
  • Display areas are to be separated from each other by a minimum of 1 m clearance.

Corridor Width

  • Combustible material may not be displayed in corridors less than 1.8 m in width.
  • Corridors 1.8 m and 2.1 m in width may have combustible material displayed on one wall only.
  • Corridors greater than 2.1 m in width may have combustible material displayed on both walls.

Classroom Doors

  • Combustible material may not to be attached to the corridor side of the classroom door.
  • For classrooms with one door, combustible material may not to be attached on the classroom side of the door.
  • For classrooms with two doors, combustible material may be attached to the classroom side of one door only.

Exemptions

Enclosed trophy and display cases, and glass-faced framed pictures / posters / notice boards are exempt from these requirements.

There is no restriction on the amount and location of fire retardant paper / material on corridor walls, other than the clearance from safety equipment.

Determining the Wall Area

To determine the maximum permitted combustible material for that wall, the boundaries for each wall surface must be identified. However, because of unusual corridor configurations it is not always possible or practical to use corners as the demarcations for each wall surface. In such cases, natural or prominent breaks in the wall surfaces could be used to define individual wall surfaces would be exit doors, stairs, or function areas such as foyers or open areas in the corridor system.

For example, the area of the walls surrounding a function area could be considered when determining the amount of combustible material to be displayed in that area.

Each corridor wall surface must be considered individually, they are not cumulative. For example, the surface areas of opposing corridor walls cannot be combined to determine the permissible amount of combustible material for a single wall.

It is suggested that school authorities in consultation with fire officials, include within their Fire Safety Plan the locations of the display areas for combustible material.

For more information about this guideline, contact the Office of the Fire Commissioner.