For organizations that want to make a greater effort in ensuring compliance in their existing buildings with fire
safety systems, retro-commissioning (RCx) is a process that
provides building owners with a representative referred to as
the fire commissioning agent (FCxA) who organizes the inspec-
tion, testing and maintenance of fire safety systems.
NFPA 3 defines commissioning as “a systematic process that
provides documented confirmation that building systems function according to the intended design criteria set forth in the
project documents and satisfy the owner’s operational needs,
including compliance with applicable laws, regulations, codes
and standards.” RCx includes analysis of current systems and
the development of improvements and inspection, testing and
Much of the responsibility for RCx is coordinated through
the building owner and FCxA, but FMs play an important role as
well. FMs and operations personnel are then expected to do the
■ Attend systems training sessions
■ Review and comment on the Owner’s Project Requirements
■ Review and comment on the systems manuals
■ Organize, coordinate and implement system inspection,
testing and maintenance as required by the systems manuals
because they tend to be out of sight.
“Today, buildings are mainly using
a stairwell pressurized only smoke
control system, and the other main
form would be used for malls or atriums, where you generally have three
stories or more open to each other
through a common communicating
space,” says Chris Leaver, Senior Fire
Protection Engineer at Summit Fire
Consulting in St. Paul, MN.
Buildings with open spaces – like
atriums, for example – need the most
sophisticated smoke control systems.
For the most part, they will already
have a system in place, but these types
of facilities need to make sure that
they fulfill building requirements as
codes and standards change because
updates to codes now require proof
that they operate properly.
“When you have an atrium or big,
open, vertical spaces, they usually
need to have a smoke control system
designed to handle it,” says Leaver.
“For smoke control inspections, we’ll
usually go in at the end of a new con-
struction or retrofit involving remod-
eling. At the end of the project, we are
tasked with commissioning to make
sure it is tested so the city can spot
check and go through everything.”
For buildings with open, vertical
spaces that need to make greater use
out of an atrium-like area, it might
require more thorough examination.
If a remodel puts more people on the
floor of an atrium throughout the day,
a city might require a different smoke
control system because of increased
activity, Leaver explains.
FMs have an obligation to look
at the individual systems that protect buildings against fires, but it is
important to remember that they
are nevertheless part of the entire
facility ecosystem, and actions meant
for one part of a building can impact
that of others. This is especially the
case with some commonly overlooked
components of fire safety.
“Because an office space might
undergo a lot of changes, you have
to make sure that when you change
something you are updating where
the exits go or that you aren’t blocking exits,” says Leaver.
Stair and exit access is an often
overlooked part of fire safety in build-
ings. Small changes in an office area’s
layout can affect occupants’ ability to
find and use at least two exits in the
event of an emergency.
“People relocate walls or change
the space, and they are often smart
enough to update the sprinklers for
the walls and move them if needed,
but they may not remember to change
out exit signs the right way or create
a corridor,” Leaver explains.
Moreover, older buildings that
have used fire protective building
materials can be susceptible as FMs
make changes to the space. Over time,
altering walls and other structural
elements to a building that have some
level of fireproofing can undo some of
its protective abilities.
“You start to lose the integrity of
potential fire-rated construction,
and over time, if you had structural
fireproofing and people have patched
things up or hit it, it can become
weakened because you might have
moved up work and didn’t put dampers
in or didn’t seal up penetrations for a
new pipe,” says Leaver. B
Justin Feit firstname.lastname@example.org
is Associate Editor of BUILDINGS.