Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains

Written by nancy williams
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Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
NFPA 701 is a way to rate fire retardant properties of stage curtains. (Southern Stock/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

There is no official federal regulation governing the fire retardant capabilities of draperies and curtains used in public spaces, such as theatres, school auditoriums, churches, casinos and venues for special events or trade shows. The National Fire Prevention Association developed a standard, NFPA 701: Standard Method of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. Drapery fabric is tested and, if it meets NFPA standards, it is given a flame retardant rating. Some states have adopted this standard while others have developed their own regulations. Specific venues, like Radio City Music Hall in New York, have even established fire retardant specifications for its stage curtains.

NFPA 701 Test

This test measures the flammability of fabric when it's exposed to specific ignition. Fabric is exposed to flame for 12 seconds and the flame, char length and flaming residue are recorded. The fabric passes the test if all samples meet the following criteria: An after flame of less than 2.0 seconds. A char length of less than 6.5 inches. The specimen does not continue to flame after it falls to the floor of the test chamber. Fabric that passes the test is certified as flame retardant by the NFPA 701 test.

Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
NFPA 701 is a voluntary industry specification for the flammability of materials. (flame image by Marek Kosmal from Fotolia.com)

FR - Flame Retardant

Flame retardant materials have been treated with a flame-proofing compound to make them fire retardant. This compound adheres to the outside of the cloth fibres but it is water soluble. Washing, dry cleaning or painting the fabric can remove the compound and void its fire retardant properties. Excessive humidity over time can have the same effect. Different fabrics like Fabricuk cotton twill, canvas, voile have been treated and are fire retardant. Annual testing is recommended and fabric can be re-flame-proofed.

Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
Some theatre curtains are completely flame retardant. (theatre image by Luisafer from Fotolia.com)

IFR -- Inherently Flame Resistant

IFR fabrics, like Newtex Extreme, Z-Flex, Z-Shield and Nomex, are manufactured from polyester yarns to meet NFPA701 testing standards with no additional treatment. These fabrics are expected to retain this property but yearly testing is recommended.

Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
Theatres in Florida must meet NFPA 701 standards. (Auditorium interior in red colours image by Victor Borilov from Fotolia.com)

DFR - Durably Flame Resistant or PFR -Permanently Fire Retardant

Fabrics like Steel Guard, which is woven of textured fibreglass strands, remain non-combustible for their useful life. They can withstand laundering or dry-cleaning for an extensive period of time. Steel Guard material can take temperatures up to 649 degrees Celsius.

Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
Draperies used in churches are rated for their fire retardant properties. (cinema seats 2 image by Mikhail Malyshev from Fotolia.com)

NFR- Non-flame Resistant

These fabrics are woven with threads that are not fire retardant and they have not been treated. Through the use of chemical applications, they can become fire resistant.

Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
Manufacturers designate fire retardant properties of drapery and curtain materials. (soft cloth image by Dazz from Fotolia.com)

CNFR - Can Not Be Made Fire Retardant

Certain synthetics or metallic fabrics should not be used in public venues as they can't be made flame retardant. They can't be successfully treated.

Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
Some synthetic fabrics can not be made fire retardant. (Christmas Cloth image by Julie F from Fotolia.com)

States Establish Standards

Some states, like Florida, require compliance with the NFPA standard. Others, like New York and Massachusetts, have accepted NFPA 701 certification but some cities have additional requirements. New York City requires fabrics to be certified according to standards outlined in the New York Administrative Code. Boston requires users to submit applications for use permits in advance for every fabric installed in a public place. California requires all fabric used in public places to be registered with the State Fire Marshall and comply with Title 19 requirements of the California Code of Regulations. Documentation of testing is required in California but not by NFPA 701. The state's CSFM designation is often accepted by other states.

Specifications for Fire Retardant Stage Curtains
Radio City Music Hall has strict regulations for fire retardant materials. (stage set up image by Mosista Pambudi from Fotolia.com)

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