The HealthSouth Medical Center in Birmingham, AL, is one of the few hospitals designed from the ground up to accommodate and integrate evolving technologies. Commonly referred to as the "digital hospital, the 219-bed, 960,000-square-foot facility features patient beds with display screens connected to the Internet, electronic medical records storage, digital imaging instead of X-ray films, and a wireless communications network permitting doctors to securely update and access patient information from anywhere in the hospital. When it was being constructed, hospital plant engineer Harold Collier said, "It will be as paperless as a hospital can be. We will have all the latest technology, not just a few of the latest things, in one hospital."
Firestopping Challenges in Healthcare Facilities
No matter how sophisticated a design may be, healthcare facilities in general face many common firestopping challenges. "Firestopping is a major issue because of the life safety codes hospitals have to abide by," says Collier. "We must adhere to numerous guidelines - one of which is rated penetrations. Every time a wire is pulled through a rated partition (fire wall) the penetration must be properly sealed. This has been a huge problem for hospital plant engineers like myself to maintain because we are forever pulling phone lines, data lines, etc. throughout the building and someone always has to make sure that all the rated penetrations are sealed. Even then, some of the techniques/products that have been used in the past would just "fall out" and you would get "dinged"on a JCAHO (Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) inspection."
Maintaining Barrier Integrity
To maintain barrier integrity from the outset, HealthSouth specified a firestopping product called EZ-Path® from Specified Technologies Inc. for its new medical center. The product is a self-contained, smoke and fire-rated cabling pathway that eliminates the problems inherent in cable MAC work (moves, adds, changes) and management. Collier expects EZ-Path® "will save the hospital huge dollars on cable management and eliminate the headaches associated with JCAHO inspections.
From a construction standpoint, the EZ-Path® product is a clean and neat installation, explains Doug Strohmeier of Brasfield & Gorrie, general contractors for the new medical center. It's a great product for the application of voice and data cabling. It gives you flexibility with installing and removing any kind of cabling. It's just a huge benefit both to the construction and the life-cycle of a building. I think you would find a lot of facility managers who would agree with that."
By far the biggest challenge for the new medical center was the 3-hour perimeter fire containment system. The medical center is a multi-story concrete frame building with an aluminum curtain wall system on it, explains Strohmeier. When Brasfield & Gorrie started construction the company needed to provide a firestopping barrier that attached to the concrete slab on one side and the aluminum curtain wall on the other side. A UL-classified assembly did not exist for that specific 3-hour condition. "We started off working with another manufacturer to try and get an assembly created and tested by Underwriters Laboratory," says Strohmeier. "They tried for 6 months and couldn't get it done. Then we got in touch with STI and in 6 weeks they created an assembly, had it tested and approved by UL. Had we not been able to get that UL assembly, we would have had to make drastic changes to the building from an architectural point of view. I can't emphasize enough how big a deal it was for us to get that assembly.
STI's assembly design was unique as it took into effect the spacing limitations of the curtain wall construction as well as the 3-hour rating requirement. "By providing a UL-tested solution, STI was able to save the project tens of thousands of dollars and keep it on its fast-paced schedule," says STI regional manager Eric Lacroix.
Single Source Manufacturer
From that point forward, STI became the single source manufacturer for Brasfield & Gorrie on the project. "STI was really great to work with," says Strohmeier. "They customized their products to the hospital, which was a big help. They are the only manufacturer that has worked with our company in this capacity." Using a single source manufacturer supported the construction schedule and enabled Brasfield & Gorrie to deliver a high level of quality in conjunction with a very aggressive construction schedule. "We did not have to mix and match manufacturers," adds Strohmeier. "STI developed all of the UL assemblies for all of the different penetrations. They did a lot of legwork to make our job easier."
STI's Lacroix, who was directly involved with the hospital, general contractor, subcontractors, specialty firestop installer, and architects on the project, described STI's approach to the healthcare industry, "Our goal is to partner with the facilities and the contracting teams to provide real management tools, superior training, innovative firestopping technology and products, and the industry's most complete UL Testing program to help facilities save money and stop the endless cycle of resealing their fire and smoke barriers. This allows facilities to manage their budgets without unnecessary spending as JCAHO inspections occur and keeps their buildings on the cutting edge of fire protection for the occupants. For the contracting teams, it eliminates costly inspection headaches and job delays while ensuring the critical firestop systems are installed correctly. The result is a win-win situation for all parties involved."