Don't Forget About Firestopping

When most people hear the phrase "fire prevention," sprinklers, smoke detection and fire alarms spring readily to mind. While such active fire prevention measures are certainly necessary in any building—and have enjoyed a long history of success—many in the industry don't realize it's only half of the real fire-protection picture.

02/01/2003


When most people hear the phrase "fire prevention," sprinklers, smoke detection and fire alarms spring readily to mind. While such active fire prevention measures are certainly necessary in any building—and have enjoyed a long history of success—many in the industry don't realize it's only half of the real fire-protection picture.

According to Phil Zanghi, firestopping technical service manager for Grace Construction, which manufactures fireproofing and firestopping products, passive fire-protection measures get short shrift.

"Code people are very big on sprinklers, and they have basically reduced the amount of [required] firestopping and fireproofing in areas where there are sprinklers, which is kind of absurd in cases where sprinklers fail," says Zanghi.

Compartmentalizing confusion

The purpose of firestopping, of course, is to prevent flames, gases and smoke from passing through openings created for wiring, piping, joints and other gaps in walls and flooring. In other words, it's the act of containing a fire to the area in which it starts in order to provide more time for occupants to exit a building.

Part of the problem, according to Randolph Tucker, a senior vice president and product engineer with the Houston office of fire and security consulting firm Rolf Jensen and Associates, Inc., is that many designers often don't understand how to put a firestopping plan together. "Unfortunately, I'm not sure that many people who are dealing with [firestopping]—outside of the fire protection consultants and manufacturers—really understand the differences between these assemblies."

Too often, he adds, designers simply call the manufacturer they deal with most often.

For the record, firestopping products include intumescent and elastomeric products, sealants, mortar, putty, firestop bags, sleeves and caulks—materials that expand, encase and seal.

The problem, however, goes beyond the design community, according to Leon Bablouzian, Grace's Global Product Group marketing manager, Fire Protection. Installers and inspectors, he says, don't fully understand the importance of firestopping and often don't know how to properly implement it.

A big problem, specifically, he says, is that many installers and inspectors almost always misinterpret the meaning of the ASTM International—formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials—F Rating, which indicates the time it takes for flame to burn through to the unexposed side of a firestop assembly. For example, a firestopping system F Rating of two hours means that it should take two hours for a fire to burn through. The issue, Zanghi explains, is that many think of the F Rating on a product basis instead of a system basis. But all of a system's components have to work together to achieve a specific F Rating.

For example, a simple firestopping system might involve a joint stuffed with mineral wool, but also sprayed with a sealant. The wool stops the heat while the sealant prevents smoke penetration. The combination of both elements is what produces the F rating.

Customization is key

Another problem that Zanghi points out is that too many installers want to use the same firestopping products and systems for every application, a mistake that could prove both costly and deadly.

Tucker suggests that the best thing to do when exploring firestopping systems is to consult Underwriters Laboratories' directory and locate one that best meets a project's conditions and rating requirements.

"Unless you have a test specific to your condition, there's no assurance that you're doing it correctly," he says. "If I'm bidding a job and I know all of the different types of openings, I should have a UL system design prepared that I plan to use for all of the openings before I even go out there with anything in hand," says Tucker.

For more information, Grace's web site has more than 300 drawings of firestopping systems tested to UL and ASTM standards. Visit www.graceconstruction.com .



Firestopping tips:

Don't leave firestopping out of your fire protection plan.

Think "system," not "product."

Choose or develop a firestopping plan specific to your project.



Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
How to use IPD; 2017 Commissioning Giants; CFDs and harmonic mitigation; Eight steps to determine plumbing system requirements
2017 MEP Giants; Mergers and acquisitions report; ASHRAE 62.1; LEED v4 updates and tips; Understanding overcurrent protection
Integrating electrical and HVAC for energy efficiency; Mixed-use buildings; ASHRAE 90.4; Wireless fire alarms assessment and challenges
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
Transformers; Electrical system design; Selecting and sizing transformers; Grounded and ungrounded system design, Paralleling generator systems
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; VFDs in high-performance buildings
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me