Deployable Fire- and Smoke-Protection Solutions

A closer look at the space-savvy systems delivering safe and code-compliant interiors
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Sponsored by Smoke Guard
By Jeanie Fitzgerald

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explain the fire- and smoke-related criteria that must be satisfied at elevator hoistways to create a design that is compliant with the 2018 International Building Code (IBC).
  2. Explore the similarities and differences in the fire- and smoke-protective measures that must be incorporated, per the IBC, into the vertical openings described as two-story spaces and an atriums.
  3. Identify the limitations of traditional smoke- and fire-rated solutions, such as enclosed elevator lobbies, elevator pressurization systems, compartmentalization, and smoke evacuation systems.
  4. Describe how rolling magnetic gasketing systems and fire- and smoke-rated vertical, horizontal, and perimeter curtain systems enable architects to meet fire and life-safety codes while delivering open and spacious interiors.


AAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
AAPEI 1 Structured Learning Hour
MAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA.
This course can be self-reported to the NSAA
NWTAA 1 Structured Learning Hour
OAA 1 Learning Hour
SAA 1 Hour of Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the AIBC, as per their CE Guidelines.
This course is approved as a Structured Course
This course can be self-reported to the AANB, as per their CE Guidelines
Approved for structured learning
Approved for Core Learning
This course can be self-reported to the NLAA
Course may qualify for Learning Hours with NWTAA
Course eligible for OAA Learning Hours
This course is approved as a core course
This course can be self-reported for Learning Units to the Architectural Institute of British Columbia
This test is no longer available for credit

Elevator hoistways and other multistory openings, such as atriums and open staircases, require special attention to prevent the vertical migration of smoke and fire in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately, traditional fire- and smoke-management solutions such as enclosed elevator lobbies, elevator pressurization systems, compartmentalization, and smoke evacuation systems undercut an architect’s ability to create the open floorplan desired by so many building owners and can seriously strain a project’s budget. A new solution is gaining momentum in designs around the United States that delivers both the life-saving functionality demanded during a fire event and the out-of-sight, out-of-mind, design-supporting presence dreamed of by architects and owners alike during typical day-to-day operations.

All images courtesy of Smoke Guard

New deployable solutions in fire and smoke containment enable architects to create more space-savvy, open designs while satisfying the latest life-safety codes.

A deployable smoke- and fire-rated curtain strikes the delicate balance of safety and aesthetics. This system can offer the protection against vertical smoke migration required by the various codes during an emergency. When unneeded, the system is stored in a retracted position that leaves spaces clear and open.

This course will explore the advantages of using flexible fabric solutions to satisfy fire- and smoke-related code requirements at vertical openings throughout a building and describe how these systems are being employed by design firms in high-profile projects to create the safe, corporate-culture-forward, awe-inspiring interiors that their industry-leading clients demand.


The fire and life-safety codes designed to stem vertical smoke migration that architects must meet today were, in many cases, informed by hard lessons learned in the aftermath of great tragedies. For example, codes that require multiple protected means of egress in hotels were first introduced after the fire at the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta in 1946.

Built in 1912, the Winecoff had been advertised as fireproof, a claim made in reference to its revolutionary steel construction. However, in the early morning hours of December 7, 1946, a fire erupted on the third floor of the 15-story structure. The one, single stairway serving all 15 floors was compromised, trapping guests above the third floor in the burning building. Deemed the deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history, 119 people died that night. The disaster sparked a national outcry for a better, more concentrated effort dedicated to preventing fire-related losses of life and property. The National Conference on Fire Prevention was created by President Harry Truman the following year, in 1947. New life-safety requirements emerged from the conference, such as requiring multiple protected means of egress and self-closing fire-resistive doors. These two key provisions were quickly adopted across the United States.

Since then, life-safety codes have proliferated to address the importance of controlling the spread of fire and smoke throughout a building. Today, there are various building and fire codes that can be adopted, including the International Building Code (IBC), written by the International Code Council (ICC); NFPA 5000: Building Construction and Safety Code, written by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); and NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, also written by NFPA. These codes define the minimum fire-prevention performance and design elements that must be incorporated into a structure. Items within their sphere of influence include structural integrity, ventilation, means of egress, fire prevention, and smoke containment, among others.

Smoke containment is an especially important aspect of life safety because in a fire event, smoke inhalation often causes more fatalities than fire exposure. The goal of smoke containment is to prevent the movement of smoke and heat from one area to another, allowing building occupants to escape safely and making it easier for firefighters to address the fire. When a fire starts, a smoke plume made up of hot gases and smoke rises until it reaches the ceiling, where it starts to spread out horizontally. However, the smoke and hot gas want to continue to rise, and that is exactly what they do whenever they reach areas of the interior building structure that will allow it. A fire that starts on the third floor of a hotel, for instance, will reach the stairwell and climb higher and higher, breaching floors far above where the fire originated, just as it did in the fire at the Winecoff.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in June 2020