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Guest Judith Howard-Rees

Curtains over fire exit in community centre

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Guest Judith Howard-Rees

Can an entrance/exit with glass fire proof doors and with Fire Exit signs above it, have curtains (fire proof) drawn across them during use of the space? for example a Community Center. 

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Yes it can providing the fire exit sign is visible when the curtains are closed, they run freely, a 150mm gap between floor and the bottom of the curtain. Also in the event of an emergency a steward reports to the the door, opens the curtains and usher the patrons through the door as should happen in all theatres/cinemas.

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Guest Auriel Martin

Hi Mr Sutton

Can you give me the source of this information please?  I need to prove the acceptable use of theatre curtains in a similar situation.

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I am afraid I am not aware of source for the above information and modern guidance clearly does not recommend this however if you go into any theatre or cinema in the country you will find curtains covering the final exit doors which has been the situation for many years.

What do you do if you are conducting a FRA, tell them to remove them or fire risk the situation.

When I had to, I used the general guidance of the day, which is what I said above and considered it to be a adequate, but the final say is with the enforcing officer/RP.

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Guest Auriel Martin

Modern guidance as pointed out to me by our Fire Officer does seem to make this unacceptable.  However it was permitted in my pre-2006 Theatre licence with conditions (as you described), when I changed to a Premises licence I had all the old conditions 'Grandfathered' from the old licence onto the new.  After a refurbishment, I was about to order new curtains for the doorways (there is no door, just a hole in the wall, fire doors are a short distance away down the corridor) when the Fire Officer told me that I would have to leave the doorways as open exits - no curtains.  This is unworkable, I would have the audience walking into a dark theatre with no 'baffle' area where they could be held for a short time, discretely.  I have argued my case, and the FO has downgraded his absolute 'no' to a 'my recommendation is no curtains'  I don't want to defy him, but I also need to operate a professional theatre.  What should I do?

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Get his requirement in writing and appeal he/she must realise we now work in an area of fire risk assessment which is clearly agreed in the appropriate document. I cannot guarantee you would win but at least you would have an official response.  

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Guest RPFM

Hi Tom, in an earlier thread you mentioned a minimum distance from floor to bottom edge of curtains of 75mm, then in this thread you have stated 150mm. Which is correct? Are there official guidelines on this? Thanks.

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As far as I am aware it used to say in old guidance was clear of the floor, which was interpreted as 6 inches or there about. Ideally you should not have curtains covering exits but were curtains had been used for many years, then it continued to be accepted with conditions.

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Guest Rob Sonist

Hi Tom

I have read with interest your comments, regarding the inclusion of fire curtains on escape routes; I too am of an age, where l can remember curtains being used across the access and egress doors in cinemas and theatres; although I have never seen this officially advocated in any documented guidance.

In all modern cinemas and theatres, the doors are positioned, so not to interfere with the performance. I have not seen a new build, which includes the use of curtains except for amateur productions performed in village halls etc.

It is my understanding; the rationale behind restricting the use of curtains across escape routes, is to avoid confusion (we have all seen the humorous clips where people are trying to exit the stage and cannot find the gap between the curtains). The other reason is, they can easily be pulled, down causing a trip hazard to persons evacuating.

It may be possible to manage the risk for infrequent productions, but it is unlikely this would be acceptable in a commercial context, especially when all creditable guidance is so specific with regards to curtains across escape routes.

Guidance referenced includes:

TECHNICAL STANDARDS FOR PLACES OF ENTERTAINMENT

“Auditorium doors

Curtains across doors are not acceptable whether to avoid light spill or draughts, as they can cause obstructions”.

Theatres, cinemas and similar premises : fire safety risk assessment

“Drapes and curtains should not be provided across escape routes or exits.

BS 9999

Drapes should not be provided in front of exit doors or across escape routes”.

Fire safety risk assessment: large places of assembly

“Drapes and curtains should not be provided across escape routes or exits”.

NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code

“Means of egress doors shall not be concealed by curtains, drapes, decorations or similar materials”.

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As I have said, I agree all the guidance clearly do not accept curtains across doors/escape routes and in a new build it is the right way to go.

However its all about risk assessment and in an existing premises I would consider the possibility, and with a good fire procedure I would consider it, when colonel bogey plays on the tannoy all the staff go to their appointed locations, open the curtains/doors then prepare for the charge.

Not ideal but could be acceptable in certain situations.

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