Critique of Milstein Hall: Fire Safety

Jonathan Ochshorn

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contact | homepage | index of selected writings | Critique of Milstein Hall contents and introduction
Fire safety contents: 1. introduction | 2. floor area limit | 3. fire barrier | 4. crit room egress | 5. Sibley egress | 6. mezzanine | 7. Rand occupancy | 8. conclusions | 9. summary and appeal | 10. variance application

3. Noncompliant fire barrier

Even assuming that the issues described in the preceding section are resolved, the actual fire barrier provided between Milstein and Sibley Halls is noncompliant. Section 706.6 of the 2002 Building Code of NYS limits openings in fire barriers to a maximum aggregate width of 25 percent of the length of the wall. The opening width in the fire barrier between Milstein and Sibley Halls exceeds 25 percent and is therefore noncompliant, as shown graphically in Figure 1.

view of fire-barrier window with Tyco sprinkler

Figure 1. Second-floor plan: The fire barrier wall width, between Milstein Hall and E. Sibley Hall, is shown in red; openings are shown in blue. The aggregate opening width exceeds 25% of the fire barrier width.

Gary Wilhelm, Project Director at Cornell, suggested to me that Tyco 5.6 K-Factor Model WS Specific Application Window Sprinklers could be provided to create a compliant fire barrier.1 These sprinklers were recently installed. However, Tyco product specifications2 indicate that this system is inappropriate for this application for the following three reasons, illustrated in Figure 2:

view of fire-barrier window with Tyco sprinkler

Figure 2. Milstein Hall's sprinkler-protected fire barrier is noncompliant in three ways: A) fire-rated glazing has horizontal mullions; B) sprinkler is sandwiched between fire-rated glazing and existing window; and C) combustible material (wood window trim) is within 2 inches of fire-rated glazing. Photo by Jonathan Ochshorn, March 2012.

  1. Such window sprinklers are not listed to protect windows when intermediate horizontal mullions are present (the Tyco prohibition against horizontal mullions is reproduced in Figure 3). In this Milstein Hall application, horizontal mullions are present in the fire-rated glazing.

  2. The sprinklers cannot be sandwiched between new fire-rated glazing and existing windows, as they are in this Milstein Hall application.

  3. All combustible materials must be kept two inches from the front face of the glass. In this Milstein Hall application, wooden window frames are closer than two inches from the glass.

The history and pattern of systematic Code noncompliance with Milstein Hall can be illustrated by the way in which this fire barrier was initially specified. When a building permit was originally granted, a fire barrier was specified only for the second floor between Milstein Hall and Sibley Hall. Only later were the drawings and specifications revised to extend the fire barrier to the first floor and basement. The third floor wall remains unprotected wood-frame construction, as described above. None of these fire barriers were ever actually code-compliant, however, since the aggregate width of openings exceeds the maximum allowable width. And the latest intervention, placing special sprinklers between the fire-resistant-rated glazing and existing windows in some of the openings, appears to be noncompliant, as described above.

Five years after a building permit was inappropriately issued for Milstein Hall, a code-compliant fire barrier between Milstein and Sibley Halls is still not in place. And it is still unclear why even a code-compliant fire barrier would allow the combined floor area of Milstein-Sibley-Rand Hall to exceed the limits specified in Chapters 3 and 5 of the 2002 NYS Building Code.

Tyco literature screen shot

Figure 3. Diagram from Tyco literature TFP 620 prohibiting horizontal mullions

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Fire safety contents: 1. introduction | 2. floor area limit | 3. fire barrier | 4. crit room egress | 5. Sibley egress | 6. mezzanine | 7. Rand occupancy | 8. conclusions | 9. summary and appeal

Notes

1 For details, see my March 9, 2012 blog post here (accessed July 20, 2012).

2 Tyco document TFP620 (February 2011) for "Model WS Specific Application Window Sprinklers Horizontal and Pendent Vertical Sidewall 5.6 K-Factor" online here (PDF accessed July 20, 2012).