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Every multi-family building is required to have their facility inspected annually to be certain all fire safety and life safety related equipment is functioning properly.  That includes not only the main dwelling buildings of a condominium, but also the clubhouse, offices, and other buildings of homeowner associations (HOA), time shares, and cooperatives.  Each municipality is required to designate someone who is certified to do this. Usually that is someone working in the fire department that services your building and local area.  It may be the fire chief, fire inspector, code compliance officer, or other designated person, depending on the size of the fire department.  There is a fee for this.  After your building is inspected, if there are any violations of the code, you will receive a report indicating what needs to be repaired.  Inspectors are charging a fee for every 30 days that the violations are not repaired.  You may have to hire contractors from various trades to get the repairs done.  So act quickly when you receive your report, as it does take time to look into the repairs: decide what to do, find the funds, get several bids if the work is significant, hire the contractor, schedule the work, and do the work.

Violations can range from signs designating service and storage, to fire sprinklers, to trash chute repairs.  Many of the things you may not think important, a fire inspector does.  Also, even though your building has been inspected each and every year, even by the same inspector, even though nothing has changed within your facility, it is not uncommon for that inspector to find new things each year to have to do.  So budgeting something each year for this purpose is a good idea.  In this article, we will focus in trash chutes.

Trash and Linen doors are required to be built to certain structural and fire-resistance standards. Most states and municipalities adopt or adhere to the Uniform Life Safety code created by an organization known as the National Fire Protection Association. A portion of these “NFPA” codes specify how chutes are constructed and the minimum fire safety requirements they must meet.

Fire Code Hazards:

  • Grease/Sludge Build-up: Chutes that are not cleaned accumulate grease and sludge on the chute surfaces. These can lead to grease fires in any part of the trash system.
  • Holes and Tears: Trash chutes can become damaged from corrosion or heavy items. This can lead to holes or tears in the chute itself. Any damage will allow smoke or flame in the chute to escape and spread to other floors of the building.
  • Broken or Missing Discharge Doors: All trash chutes are required to have a functioning “Discharge Door”. This door (also referred to as a “guillotine” door) is designed to close automatically in the event of a fire.

It is a common practice among maintenance men and cleaning services to remove the discharge link and spring, so that they can close the trash Discharge Door while they roll the dumpster out for trash pick up.  They do this so that if anyone throws their trash down the chute while the dumpster is waiting to be picked up, the trash doesn’t just crash to the floor of the dumpster room.  Heavy trash can damage the door and mechanism, and if the dumpster is out for an extended time, trash can accumulate in the chute, sometimes as high as the next chute door, and soil and damage the chute.

  • Broken or Damaged Trash and Linen Doors: All doors that act as trash or linen intake doors are required to bear a label from Underwriter’s Laboratories certifying them as fire-rated. They must also self-close and self-latch, to prevent smoke and flame from escaping through them.

What violations to look for:

  • Trash or Linen doors that do not self-latch, self-close, or do not have a U.L. certification label. These doors, especially on the beach or in corrosive environments, age quickly. Their self closing pistons need to be greased often, and the hinges and latches need to be serviced as needed to be sure they close AND LATCH all the way.  This is a very common violation on annual inspection reports.
  • Discharge doors that are missing, damaged, or do not function smoothly
  • Corroded or torn trash chute lines
  • Damaged or missing trash chute roof ventilation caps
  • Missing “fusible links” that activate your discharge doors (see paragraph above about common use by maintenance staff)
  • Accumulated trash and debris that can potentially cause grease fires

Your annual fire inspection, though unannounced, does occur basically about the same time each year. You should inspect your building regularly to be sure you are in compliance.  At the least, however, you should perform your own facility inspection prior to the fire inspector’s, so that you can repair or service the obvious fire issues.  Do this in plenty of time, so that if your issues cannot be repaired or serviced by your maintenance staff, there is enough time for a contractor to schedule and perform the repairs.

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