Maintaining a fire barrier, smoke barrier or horizontal fire resistance-rated assembly is important, especially in health care. The fire barrier or smoke barrier’s purpose is to form fire and/or smoke compartments. These effective fire resistance-rated and smoke-resistant compartments provide occupants in other areas of the building time to take appropriate actions for safety. In health care, being a defend-in-place environment, it is extremely important that the occupants can carry out their emergency routine without variables such as a failing fire or smoke barrier. This is why so much attention is given to these barriers during compliance surveys. 

The fire or smoke barrier itself is a tested system that requires specific combinations of gypsum panels (drywall), studs and stud spacing, joint treatment, and screws and screw spacing. These combinations have been tested in a fire test laboratory with very specific tolerances. The criteria for the fire testing are established by ASTM E119, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials or ANSI/UL 263, the Standard for Safety of Fire Tests of Building Construction Materials.

These fire test methods are intended to evaluate the duration of time in which different building elements contain a fire, retain their structural integrity or exhibit both properties during a predetermined fire test exposure. The ASTM E119 and ANSI/UL 263 fire tests predict the performance of the assembly — without holes or scab patches — in a fire condition.   

Repairing breaches where penetrations and joints exist in gypsum panels is performed using tested and listed systems. The fire test standards for restoring the wall to the fire resistance-rated or smoke-resistant properties required can be found in several standards.

For penetrations and blank openings, look to ASTM E814, Standard Test Method for Fire Tests of Penetration Firestop Systems or UL 1479, Fire Tests of Penetration Firestops. For joints, the requirements are found in ASTM E1966, Standard Test Method for Fire-Resistive Joint Systems; UL 2079, Standard for Tests for Fire Resistance of Building Joint Systems; or ASTM E2307 Standard Test Method for Determining Fire Resistance of Perimeter Fire Barriers. Unknown variables in breach repair methods, such as scab patches, haven’t been tested in accordance with these barrier repair standards or wall standards. 

The American Society for Health Care Engineering has asked many members what standards they use for scab patches. The answer is usually “we do what it takes.” For size of the patch, “enough is used to cover the hole.” For number and spacing of screws, “enough are used so that it seems secure.” These are the variables that the testing standards don’t account for. 

The structural integrity of the fire or smoke barrier depends on the gypsum panel type (e.g., thickness and type), the type of screws used and their spacing, the type of stud used and its spacing, and what the fasteners are screwed into. Even the paper on the front and back face of the drywall lends to the structural integrity of the tested and listed wall system. The only truly approvable scab patch would have to meet all the requirements of ASTM E119 or ANSI/UL 263 and be tested as such. Documentation would have to exist showing limitations, variables allowed and fire resistance rating.  

Products are available to patch non-rated wall assemblies. However, unless the manufacturer can verify the system — in the exact size, shape and specified fastening needed — has been tested and listed by an independent fire test laboratory adhering to the appropriate standards listed within this article, health care facilities should not attempt using them in fire or smoke barriers.

Fortunately, the Gypsum Association has provided guidance on the repair of fire-rated gypsum panel product systems. GA-225, Repair of Fire-Rated Gypsum Panel Product Systems should be used for guidance in the repair of fire barriers and smoke barriers.