Although the average person is probably unaware of flame retardancy standards and regulations in the United States, this is an area that is of increasing concern for theatre staff, touring show personnel, special event planners, and even trade show exhibitors. Ensuring the safety of the public means that anyone utilizing drapery fabrics in a public space, such as for stage drapery, theater curtains, exhibit booth design, and special event décor, needs to be aware of the potential for fire -- and take steps to reduce that risk to the greatest extent possible.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to navigate the maze of standards, regulations and requirements regarding this issue. Surprisingly, there are no “official” federal regulations regarding flame retardancy of drapery fabrics used in public spaces. However, there is a national standard developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), titled NFPA 701: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. Under NFPA 701, drapery fabric is tested by burning a small sample and measuring the flame, char length and flaming residue. If a fabric meets the NFPA 701 standards in these three areas, the fabric is considered flame retardant.
State and Local Regulations
Though NFPA 701 is the national standard, it is not a law or regulation in itself. Authority to make and enforce laws and regulations in this area is granted to state and local governments. Many state and local governments have not developed their own standards. Instead, they require that draperies used in public spaces meet the NFPA 701 standard. The 2005 Florida Fire Prevention Code, for example, specifies in Chapter 20 that fabric used in places of assembly must meet NFPA 701 standards.
Some states and cities, however, have developed their own standards and/or procedures. In California, for example, drapery used in public spaces must be made of fabric that has been registered with the State Fire Marshal, documenting compliance with Title 19 (Division 1, Chapter 8) of the California Code of Regulations. These requirements are separate and distinct from NFPA 701 standards. While the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts both accept NFPA 701 certification, New York City requires certification that fabrics meet requirements outlined in Title 27 (Chapters 1 and 4) of the New York Administrative Code, while the City of Boston requires that end users submit an application for a use permit, in advance, for each fabric to be used in a public space.
For those specifically interested in NYC testing and processes, we
recommend taking a moment to read the article "Burning questions about fire"
by Karl Ruling. "Burning questions about fire" originally appeared in the
Spring 2008 edition of Protocol, published by the Entertainment Services and
Technology Association (ESTA) as a service to the entertainment technology
industry. Copyright 2008 Entertainment Services and Technology Association.
All Rights Reserved. Mr. Ruling is ESTA Technical Standards Manager and the
Technical Editor of Protocol. For more information on the Entertainment
Services and Technology Association or Protocol, please visit the ESTA
website at www.esta.org.
Even specific venues have developed their own requirements for drapery to be utilized within the venue. Radio City Music Hall, in addition to requiring that all fabrics be certified compliant with New York City regulations, also requires the Certificate of Flame Retardancy include not just basic information on the fabric utilized, but specific information about each sewn drapery piece, including quantity and size.
Is Your Drapery Fabric Flame Retardant?
With no overall national regulation, it can be difficult for the fabric supplier or drapery manufacturer to certify that a fabric will meet the flame retardancy standards, regulations and requirements of all states, cities, and venues. For this reason, fabric suppliers and drapery manufacturers generally designate fabrics as flame retardant when those fabrics meet NFPA 701 standards, and note that the fabrics are “FR” or “DFR/PFR/IFR.” While some of the fabrics may also be registered in California or be compliant with regulations in New York City or Boston (or other states or cities with varying regulations), the FR designation does not guarantee such compliance.
So what should you as the end user do to ensure that your drapery meets the regulations and requirements of the specific state(s), city(ies) and venue(s) in which it will be used? Here are a few tips:
Think about where the drapery will be used
Will it be utilized in a public school? If so, the local school district may have information about the flame retardancy requirements in your area.
Will it be used in an outside venue, such as a convention center or hotel ballroom? If so, venue staff may be able to advise you on the regulations in the city/state/venue. Often, they will even have a packet available outlining all the requirements!
Contact the local fire department or city or state fire marshal’s office
Ask about the flame retardancy regulations in the city and/or state in which the fabric will be used. Ask if the city and/or state accepts certification of compliance with NFPA 701 standards, or if you must provide proof of compliance with other regulations or standards specific to your city and/or state. If the city and/or state requires certification of compliance with specific regulations or standards other than NFPA 701, ask the fire department or city or state fire marshal’s office what the process is to certify compliance. Does the specific fabric have to be registered or can you submit a permit application for a specific installation?
Discuss your flame retardancy needs with your fabric supplier or drapery manufacturer
If your city or state accepts NFPA 701 standards, the fabric supplier or drapery manufacturer can recommend appropriate flame retardant fabrics that meet NFPA 701 standards. If the drapery will be used in California, the fabric supplier or drapery manufacturer can recommend fabrics that are registered in California. For cities and states with differing requirements, the vendor may be able to assist you in certifying compliance or may be able to refer you to other organizations and companies for assistance.
Consider flame retardancy before choosing your fabric! Don’t get your heart set on a particular fabric, only to discover that it is not flame retardant according to your needs. While some non-flame retardant fabrics can be chemically treated for flame retardancy upon request, such treatment will add to the cost of the fabric and/or drapery and may take up to two weeks (not including time needed to manufacture drapery or to ship the fabric or drapery to you).
Confirm that your fabric supplier or drapery manufacturer will supply a Certificate of Flame Retardancy
Some fabric suppliers will provide test results demonstrating compliance with NFPA 701 standards, but not a Certificate of Flame Retardancy. Even when a fabric supplier or drapery manufacturer does provide a Certificate of Flame Retardancy, the vendor may not automatically provide a Certificate of Flame Retardancy for all orders. Make sure that, at the time you place an order, you request a Certificate of Flame Retardancy for all flame retardant fabrics and/or draperies specified on the order. Typically, the Certificate(s) of Flame Retardancy will be provided to you with your order, not in advance.
What About Multiple Locations?
These are all tips that can help you in determining regulations when drapery will be used in a single location. In some cases, however, drapery will be used in multiple locations. Here are a few examples:
- Trade Show Circuit. Perhaps you are purchasing drapery to use in your trade show booth. You plan to exhibit at six different trade shows in the upcoming year, in six different states throughout the country.
- Touring Shows. Maybe you are the manager of an up and coming rock band that is planning a summer tour of nightclubs throughout the Mid-West. Or you are the production manager of a touring revival of “Hair,” scheduled for small theatres along the Eastern seaboard.
- Traveling Worship Services. Perhaps your church reaches out to people in more than one community, by “taking the show on the road” and offering worship services in rented or leased space (such as hotel ballrooms and conference centers) in multiple cities or states throughout the country.
- Sales & Marketing Presentations. Is your company planning to offer presentations to potential customers in various sales regions? Perhaps you will be using the drapery in one location in the Northeast, one location in the South, one in the Midwest, and one in the West.
When the drapery will be used in multiple locations, the job of ensuring that the drapery meets flame retardancy requirements becomes much bigger. Instead of researching the requirements of just one area, you are now faced with researching the requirements of multiple areas. And the more locations in which the drapery will be used, the more research you have to do. Unfortunately, there is no way to easily verify that your drapery will comply with all flame retardancy regulations, standards, and requirements throughout the country. Your best bet in this case? Allow yourself plenty of time to do your research and get the facts!
More Information on Flame Retardancy
The issue of drapery fabric flame retardancy regulations is a complex one, too much to cover in this one article, and so I encourage you to continue your research by reading the specific standards and regulations yourself. Within the article above, I have inserted hyperlinks to the websites covering the flame retardancy regulations of many of the cities and states mentioned.
We have also provided information on other aspects of the flame retardancy issue here on our website. For more information, feel free to browse the other articles in this Flame Retardancy section of our website.