Every year, thousands of injuries and fatalities are incurred as a result of structural fires. An NFPA report reveals that in 2011 the impact of structure fires is significant, resulting in 2,640 deaths, 15,635 injuries, and $9.7 billion in property damage! Wow! Many of these fire related deaths and damages can be attributed to poor smoke and flame containment in a building’s fire protection systems.
One of the main defenses against the spread of smoke and flame in a facility is the maintenance of fire-rated barriers. Remodeling often requires extensive IT and electrical upgrades. The majority of these projects require running new cable, piping and conduit, which create many open penetrations in fire/smoke rated walls. Regular maintenance throughout the building can restore the fire walls original rating. This will significantly reduce the amount of fire-related damages that occur as a result of faulty smoke containment should a fire occur. More often than not, Fire Marshals find a significant number of unsealed or improperly treated penetrations in the fire walls of commercial buildings during their regular inspections.
There are two main reasons to explain why unsealed and improperly firestopped penetrations are so common:
1. First, there is a general lack of awareness and education around the importance of code compliant firestop materials and methods. Often employees outside the facilities department and contractors performing upgrades to the building are unaware that they are penetrating a fire wall and/or that penetrations in a fire wall must be properly sealed.
Understanding that smoke can fill a 20×20 room through a pencil-sized hole in less than 3 minutes, makes proper firestop installation mandatory. Otherwise the fire wall will not be able to hold back smoke and fire, creating a significant risk for smoke inhalation and damages. Increasing awareness throughout building staff and creating a ceiling management program can help to ensure that these penetrations do not go untreated.
2. Secondly, many individuals and contractors give into the convenience of using materials found on hand and substitute them instead of using certified and tested firestop materials. Non-compliant firestop is 100% preventable. Avoiding the temptation of convenience, and having a proper understanding of fire containment standards will protect building occupants from dangerous smoke exposure and save lives. Effective, code-compliant firestop requires utilizing a precise combination of components that have been UL-tested as a firestop system.
To address these issues and generate awareness the International Firestop Council (IFC) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) released a video on the importance of firestop systems in new and remodeling construction projects. The video “Close Enough, Is Not Good Enough” found here, simplifies the proper methods, materials, and systems used to seal penetrations in walls, ceilings and joints for the ideal containment of smoke and flame during building fires.
It is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture and the reason firestop codes were put in place. When your fire barriers are non-compliant, whether it is a lack of firestop, or improperly installed firestop you are jeopardizing the lives of your building occupants.
Using a professional, specialty firestop contractor can potentially save lives and help to ensure fire barrier compliance in your building. For more information on our firestopping services, visit our website.