by Tony Cueto
Federal Fire Regulations
Currently, there are no federal fire regulations or guidelines in the United States pertaining to exhibitor booths. Fire retardant table linens and drapes are an increasing concern to trade show exhibitors, festival organizers, special event professionals, meeting planners, and even brides using a public facility for their reception due to local and state regulations and enforcement.
State, City, Local Municipality Fire Regulations Pertaining To Textiles At Trade Show Booths
California, New York, Massachusetts, and Florida have strictly enforced fire retardant regulations pertaining to textiles (drapery, table linens, table skirting, stage skirts, tents, etc) used at public buildings, public events such as convention centers, meeting halls, special event facilities, arena, concert halls, and theaters. More and more cities and counties have fire codes that exhibitors must comply with and these codes are enforced by the fire marshal at the local level. Fire codes, and even which of the three textile flame resistant or fire retardant tests are acceptable, vary from State to State, municipality to municipality.
Convention Center Regulations
In addition, many convention centers have their own regulations if there are not specific state or local fire regulations regarding trade show booths. In these cases, when exhibitor booths are not being monitored by the local fire marshal, the convention center management takes the proactive role of fire safety as outlined in their contract.
Terms, Definition and Testing Methods
As a former trade show promoter for seven years, I learned important lessons and information pertaining to trade show booth fire compliance. At a few venues, there were no specific exhibitor booth fire safely clauses or regulations. Most of the venues had either Flame Retardant or Fire Retardant (IFR) Regulations.
You may hear the following terms used loosely:
- flame resistant
- flame retardant
- fire resistant
- inherently fire resistant
- fire retardant
Fire Retardant, also called Flame Retardant and abbreviated as FR are textiles that are treated topically after the fabric is woven with a chemical to slow down or retard burning. After being tested, the fabric is certified FR after meeting the test standards. The downside to this fire prevention method is that applied flameproofing chemicals are water soluble and dissipate with laundering or dry cleaning.
The National Fire Protection Association (N.F.P.A.) 701 sets standard methods of fire tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. Treated fabrics are tested by burning a small sample and measuring the flame, char length, and flaming residue. If the sample passes testing, it is certified to be FR. For the reasons explained in the previous paragraph, this certification is only valid for one year. Retesting must be done yearly for compliance.
Inherently Fire Retardant AKA Inherently Flame Retardant, Inherently Flame Resistant is the highest standard of fire safety and assurance that you will be in compliance. Abbreviated and referred to as IFR these fabrics have been woven from fibers that do not support flame. For this reason, unlike FR, laundering does not wash away fire-suppression features of IFR certified fabrics and the reason IFR table skirts, stage skirting, table covers, and drapes do not need to be re-tested.
Fire Proof, Flame Proof
Any fire chief will tell you these terms are misnomers. As one fire investigator jokingly put it, “The only thing that is ‘fireproof’ is the boss’ son!”
Title 19 CA Small Scale Test
Besides the two certifications and testing discussed, states may have their own criteria. California does and because the state is considered a leader in fire prevention measures, some cities and counties outside of the state of California have adopted and use the California State Fire Marshal flammability Small Scale Test.
In 7 years organizing trade shows, I saw the vast extent of regulations and the fire marshals extent of discretionary power. At one show they would ask vendors to see the certification certificate. At another show they asked vendors for not only the certificate but FR tags on their table covers, table skirts and drapes. Some inspectors at venues that use the NFPA 701 testing are sticklers for the certificate date to be within a year of the date of the show, at others they were not. At one show whose requirement was NFPA 701 FR the fire marshal performed a field match test on the table cover to verify the chemical fire retardancy treatment had not washed out.
I am not an expert and only speak from my knowledge and experience as a trade show organizer throughout the country. I urge exhibitors, especially trade show attendees and organizers to check with venue or the local fire marshal department where you will be exhibiting. Since selling my shows, I began Premier Table Linens. Based on what I had learned, we provide trade show covers (fitted tablecloths), table toppers, table skirts, stage skirting, and drapes that are Inherently Fire Retardant and come with not only the certificate that never expires but also an IFR tag sewn into each fabric to identify it.
As you will see below from venues that I personally know enforce fire safety regulations pertaining to exhibitor booths, the rules vary drastically from one location to another. Some are ambiguous. To cover all bases possible to ensure table skirts, stage skirts, tablecloths, and drapes at public venues comply with exhibitor fire safety regulations, all of our IFR products sold pass the following test and include certificates for:
- United States NFPA 701
- CALIFORNIA TITLE 19 SMALL SCALE TEST
- CANADA NFPA 705
- ULC-S109-14, International Small-Flame and Large-Flame Tests Accreditation
Los Angeles Convention Center
All decorations, drapes, signs, banners, plastic displays, hay, straw, moss, split bamboo, and other similar materials MUST BE FLAME RETARDANT to the satisfaction of the Fire Department and the State Fire Marshal. 2. Table coverings must be flame retardant treated unless they lay flat, with an overhang no greater than 6″.
Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta Georgia
All drapes, curtains, table coverings, skirts, carpet, and any materials used in exhibits must be flame retardant.
Savannah International Trade and Convention Center
Booth table coverings, drapes, and decoration must be fire retardant and comply with regulation set forth by the fire marshal.
Dixie Convention Center St. George, Utah
Table covers, table skirts, drapes must be flame retardant to the satisfaction of the fire department.
Kansas City Convention Center
All curtains, table skirts, drapes, and decorations must be either be constructed of flameproof material, treated with an approved flame proofing material, or treated with an approved flame proofing solution. (Treatment shall be renewed as often as necessary to maintain the flame proofing effect.) All such material is subject to inspection and flame testing by the Fire Marshal. No combustible materials, merchandise, or signs shall be attached to, hung from, or draped over flameproof side and rear divider draperies of booths, or attached to table skirting facing aisles, unless flame proofed.
Mandalay Bay Convention Center – Las Vegas, NV
All drapery and table covering within exhibitors booths and those used for special events must be flame retardant. Certificate of flame retardant treatment must be submitted to the Clark County Fire Department and must maintain copy of the flame retardant certificates on premise as the CCFR can require verification at any time.
Las Vegas Convention Center
Certificate of Flame Retardancy required for all fabrics, decorations and other applicable materials.
Certificates must be made available during onsite inspection(s). Field-testing, per code specifications, may be approved in lieu of a certificate.
If you are aware of specific fire regulations for other venues, please let us know and we will go adding to the list.