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Subject: Fire retardant on historic textiles

Fire retardant on historic textiles

From: Rick Kerschner <rkerschner>
Date: Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I have been informed that there was some confusion generated by my
recent posting to Conservation DistList Instance: 21:25 Saturday,
October 6, 2007 referring to fire safety as it relates to historic
painted theater curtains. The passage I cited that is also attached
at the end of this message is a recently proposed amendment to the
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 909: Code for the
Protection of Cultural Resources Properties - Museums, Libraries,
and Places of Worship. As such, it is not yet in effect and will not
officially be part of NFPA 909 until the revised code is approved in
2009. NFPA 909 proposed amendments are open to comments until
2-29-2008. For more information on commenting on this proposed
amendment, go to:


>From the beginning of the Vermont Painted Theater Curtain Project in
2002, guidelines for collections care and handling have been
included in our treatment reports. About a year ago, these
guidelines were expanded to include common sense precautions to
reduce the risk of fire. This past July, we were made aware of the
NFPA 101 Life Safety Code that requires fire retardant treatments
for fabrics used in theaters and places of public assembly along
with other fire safety actions. Since such treatments could harm the
historic painted theater curtains, we immediately contacted our
state fire marshal's office for guidance on complying with the code.
The proposed amendment 11-2-4 to NFPA 909 resulted from
conversations with the Vermont Assistant State Fire Marshal, the
Vermont State Division of Historic Preservation, and a private fire
safety consultant. The guidelines detailed in the proposed amendment
are presently followed by the Vermont State Fire Marshal's office.

As conservators, we have worked diligently to ensure that these
community treasures are properly conserved and cared for. We are
also quite concerned about fire safety issues pertaining to the
historic painted theater curtains. Therefore, we are working closely
with the Vermont Assistant State Fire Marshal to ensure that owners
of historic painted theater curtains comply with the appropriate
provisions of NFPA 909 Code. We are in the process of contacting all
known Vermont sites with historic painted theater curtains to inform
them of the conditions stated in the proposed amendment that Vermont
is already following. As per the state fire marshal's instructions,
we will provide owners with contact information for our state fire
marshal's office and instruct owners to contact the fire marshal
with information that they are complying with the new proposed
language for NFPA 909.  Similar guidelines will also be included in
all future historic painted theater curtain treatment proposals.

In summary, there is currently no provision for consideration of
historic textiles in the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. At this time,
owners have to follow the current rules, which includes getting a
variance. Museums and public buildings with large textile artifacts
in all states need to consider this issue. We strongly urge any
conservator who has examined or treated a historic painted theater
curtain or who works on a historic painted theater curtain in the
future to advise the owner to contact their "authority having
jurisdiction" (AHJ) over life safety matters, usually the local fire
marshal, for guidance on compliance with NFPA 101 Life Safety Code
and NFPA 909 Code for the Protection of Cultural Resources
Properties as they relate to these cultural treasures. If the owner
cannot locate the local fire marshal, they should contact their
state fire marshal's office for guidance. Even though the proposed
amendment to NFPA 909 has not yet been adopted, the fire safety
recommendations made in the proposed amendment are a good starting
point for discussions with the AHJ when seeking a variance. If you
have any further questions on this issue, please contact your state
fire marshal or fire prevention officer.

The text of the amendment to NFPA 909 as proposed by the NFPA
Technical Committee on Cultural Resources follows:

    Fire-retardant treatment of historically significant fabric
    shall not be required where such treatment will cause damage to
    the fabric.  This provision shall apply only on an
    object-by-object basis and where alternative protection measures
    are approved.

    Appendix 11-2-4:
    Where historically significant artifacts such as painted stage
    drops, tapestries and antique flags are displayed in public
    gathering places there is a need to balance fire and life safety
    requirements with the preservation needs of the artifacts.  Life
    Safety Standards including NFPA #101 Life Safety Code mandate
    fire retardant treatments for fabrics that are used in gathering
    places, with NFPA 701 Standard Method of Fire Tests for Flame
    Resistant Textiles and Films referenced as a test protocol. NFPA
    701 requires a destructive burn test of a fabric sample to
    verify compliance with the standard however this action will
    cause permanent damage to the material and is not recommended by
    accepted preservation practice.  Additionally, specific chemical
    treatments that may be applied to reduce combustibility may also
    result in irreversible harm to fabrics.   None-the-less there is
    a need to protect artifacts and the locations in which they are
    housed from fire, and safeguards must be implemented for
    situations where artifacts are displayed in assembly spaces.
    These should include but not be limited to: prohibiting open
    flames (i.e. candles, lamps, and smoking), avoiding the use of
    heat producing appliances such as food and beverage preparation
    equipment within the room, or adding a fire watch where the
    artifact is located.  The use of cool burning lamps such as a
    fluorescent or LED within the space is recommended with no
    lights, electrical devices or cables located within 1 meters (3
    feet) distance of the artifact. The placement of a combustible
    artifact within an assembly space should be approved by the
    authority having jurisdiction. The AHJ should consult with
    disciplines that have expertise in preservation and protection
    of artifacts

Richard L. Kerschner
Director of Preservation and Conservation
Shelburne Museum
PO Box 10, Route 7
Shelburne VT 05482
802-985-3348 ext 3361

                  Conservation DistList Instance 21:28
                 Distributed: Friday, October 26, 2007
                       Message Id: cdl-21-28-011
Received on Wednesday, 24 October, 2007

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