The Importance of Witness Testing Programs


The management of smoke, resulting from a fire, is of vital importance to the safety and well being of building occupants and first responders. Generally, SMS are intended to reduce the probability of smoke spread beyond the fire origin, ensuring that it does not reach a degree that negatively impacts both the safe evacuation of building occupants and the response by Fire Department personnel. SMS:

  • Are typically found in high-rises, hospitals, large indoor shopping centres, and buildings with design features, such as atria, or other complex configurations.
  • Commonly comprise equipment that is part of the base building mechanical systems and fire alarm systems.
  • May employ non-mechanical elements (e.g. gravity vents) as part of their system structure.


Whatever the reason for their installation, or the nature of the system structure, the Fire Code requires that SMS be tested annually. Common challenges for owners/managers in the development and implementation of SMS testing can include, for example:

  • Separate contractors hired to inspect individual systems, or their components, without oversight regarding the proper operation of the SMS.
  • Lack of contractor or owner/manager knowledge of the SMS.
  • Loss of design documentation since the building’s construction.
  • Incomplete building information provided during asset acquisition.
  • Inappropriate vetting of modifications to SMS involved building systems.
  • Staff turnover (e.g. contractor, building owner/manager).


Implementing an effective SMS witness testing program is a means to:

  • Mitigate the risk and liability of non-compliance with Fire Code requirements.
  • Establish an appropriate written testing protocol and sequence of operation.
  • Improve the probability of proper operation of the SMS, in an emergency.
  • Provide appropriate documentation for Fire Code compliance and corporate
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