Billions of dollars in annual property damages and thousands of injuries and fatalities occur annually due to structure fires. However, those catastrophes can be significantly reduced with improved firestop systems specification and installation awareness among architects, engineers, contractors, code inspectors, and building owners, according to a new public service video co-produced by the International Firestop Council (IFC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
Available for viewing on IFC's website, the six-minute video, "Close Enough, Is Not Good Enough: A Demonstration of Proper Vs. Improper Firestopping," outlines the proper systems, materials, and methods for sealing wall, ceiling, and floor penetrations and joints for optimum passive containment of smoke and flame during building fires.
A National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report reveals U.S. structure fires in 2010 accounted for only 37% of fires but resulted in 2,755 deaths and $9.7 billion in property damage. Consequently, every year many fire-related deaths are attributed to poor flame and smoke containment as could occur with inadequately sealed joints and penetrations for plumbing, HVAC, electrical, communications and other building trades, as demonstrated in the video.
"A significant number of commercial buildings today either don't have the proper firestop systems installed at the penetrations and fire-rated joints, or they were improperly installed," says Patrick Tesche, VP of compartmentalization services for fire/life safety engineering and third-party inspection firm, Telgian Corp., Tempe, Ariz., and the task group chair for firestop inspectors qualifications standards on the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM-International) E06 technical committee.
The video, which depicts a full-scale room fire at UL's Northbrook, Ill.-based test facility, visually compares non-compliant firestop systems performance to compliant firestop penetration and joint systems in accordance with ASTM E814 (UL-1479) and ASTM E1966 (UL-2079), respectively. While the test's compliant firestop systems weren't breached, the failing non-compliant systems allowed smoke and flame migration to adjacent spaces, of which smoke is the cause of three-fourths of fire-related deaths, according to NFPA statistics.
"The intent of the IFC and UL is to educate every person associated with building construction on the dangers of using ineffective firestop sealing materials and improper installation techniques in wall, ceiling and floor penetrations and joints," says John Valiulis, a Tulsa, Okla.-based fire protection engineer, who assisted in the UL-IFC demonstration test project and video. "If this video helps save just one life, and we believe it will save many, we've reached our goal."
There are several reasons code-compliant firestopping materials and methods aren't used in building projects, such as a lack of construction industry awareness or education, according to the IFC, which is a not-for-profit trade association of manufacturers, distributors, inspectors, and installers of passive fire protection materials and systems in North America. Also, many times the temptation and convenience of using easily accessible materials already available onsite, such as fiberglass insulation, foam and other non-compliant sealants, are substituted for listed firestopping materials.
"This video suggests all property managers should inspect existing buildings for non-compliant penetration and joint firestopping materials in their fire-rated walls and floors," said Valiulis. "Likewise, we want all architects, consulting engineers, contractors and building inspectors to view this video in hope of saving lives."