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Office of Research Services

Serving the NIH Community


Laboratory Fire Safety Features

Almost daily at the NIH, one can walk through any of the laboratory buildings and find a research laboratory under renovation. Cosmetic features such as new cabinets, counter tops, lighting and paint are easy to spot.

What often goes unnoticed, however, are the fire safety features which are provided as a part of the same renovation project. The following describes some of the common fire safety features which may be present in your laboratory and how they afford protection to you and your research should a fire emergency occur.

Fire Doors

The corridor door used to enter the laboratory is a "fire door." It is equipped with a closing mechanism and hardware that latches. Fire doors are designed to remain in the closed position at all times. Should a fire occur in a laboratory, a closed corridor fire door will help contain the fire and smoke to the laboratory and still allow you and your co-workers to exit the area safely.

Flammable Liquid Storage Cabinets

In all laboratory renovations, at least one flammable liquid storage cabinet is provided in each laboratory work area. Additional cabinets can be added to accommodate larger quantities of flammables that may be used.
These cabinets are typically constructed of heavy gauge steel, labeled or identified as flammable liquid storage cabinets, designed with a raised sill to contain any spills within the cabinet and have a three-point latch to keep the doors to the cabinet closed.

Automatic Sprinklers 

In new NIH buildings, all laboratories are provided with automatic sprinklers.
Older laboratory buildings are being retrofitted with sprinklers as renovations occur. Sprinkler system piping is either painted red or has red bands. If a fire emergency occurs in the laboratory, only the individual sprinkler heads, which reach their activation temperature (typically between 135° and 165° Fahrenheit), will deliver water to the fire. When a sprinkler head activates, the NIH Fire Department is notified through the building fire alarm system that a "sprinkler water flow" is occurring. In the past, laboratory fires have occurred in NIH buildings with complete sprinkler systems and were controlled by only one or two sprinkler heads. Property damage was minimal and research activities resumed the following day. To make sure the sprinklers are able to operate effectively in a fire emergency, it is important to keep all items at least 18 inches below them to allow proper water distribution.

Heat Detectors

Heat detectors are small, round, ceiling-mounted devices that detect either rapid temperature increases or sustained high temperatures in the laboratory.
Should one of these two conditions occur, the NIH Fire Department will be notified through the building fire alarm system that a potential fire emergency is in progress. Only laboratories which do not have automatic sprinkler protection are provided with heat detectors. Through renovations, all heat detectors will eventually be replaced with automatic sprinklers, which act as heat detectors and deliver water to control or extinguish a fire before it has a chance to grow and cause more damage.

If you have questions regarding Laboratory Fire Safety features, please contact the Division of the Fire Marshal, Office of Research Services at (301) 496-0487.