Call for passive
firestopping, Apr 2003
Release to the Association of Licensed Architects
Bill McHugh, Executive Director
Firestop Contractors International Association
Tel: (630) 690-0682
April 18, 2003, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
LEADING CONSTRUCTION GROUP CALLS FOR BETTER FIRE AND SMOKE
Firestop Contractors International Association urges use
of 'passive' fire-stopping systems
"Together with sprinklers, they could prevent another
spate of nightclub and nursing home disasters." - Bill
McHugh, Executive Director, FCIA
Wheaton, Illinois - The Firestop Contractors International
Association, an alliance of leading contractors, manufacturers,
and regulatory officials, is calling for better design and
building practices to reduce deaths from fire and smoke. The
association believes that "passive" fire protection
- which include firewalls and specialized floor and ceiling
assemblies with firestopping systems - might have prevented
some of the 120 deaths in two recent tragedies at a nursing
home in Connecticut, and nightclubs in Chicago, Illinois,
and West Warwick, Rhode Island.
"Sprinkler systems are excellent tools for controlling
fires, but they are not a panacea," says Bill McHugh,
the association's Executive Director. That is why we strongly
recommend the use of passive fire protection systems in addition
to sprinklers. Together, these technologies can save money
Sprinklers use water-misting action to control fires. However,
even high-end "suppression" systems cannot stop
smoke from traveling throughout buildings. Smoke can make
it hard for occupants to see their way to safety; depending
on the nature of the fire, smoke can also be toxic. Moreover,
sprinkler systems require a triggering of the activation mechanism,
a continuous supply of water, with sufficient pressure to
function properly and may prove useless in a catastrophic
event, including a terrorist attack. They can also go out
of service during maintenance or construction - as with the
1992 blaze at First Meridian Bank in Philadelphia and the
1991 inferno at First Interstate Bank in Los Angeles - or
be rendered useless by fire.
While the association fully endorses the use of sprinkler
systems, fire history suggests that there is no single way
to make buildings safe when fire breaks out. Owners, architects,
and engineers can reduce the risk of property losses and human
casualties by incorporating "passive fire and life-safety
systems" into the design of commercial, institutional
and industrial buildings. These passive fire protection systems
may include assemblies rated for their ability to resist fire
and smoke; fire barriers, such as drywall, concrete walls
and floors, and concrete block walls; floors composed of wood
and lightweight concrete; and ceiling assemblies made of tile
or drywall. For these systems to be effective, it is necessary
to seal service items that penetrate fire walls and floors
with firestopping, fire and smoke dampers, or fire doors.
These passive systems with firestopping are meant to stop
fire from leaping into other parts of a building. Typically,
they create "compartments" that can protect occupants
and contain fires until sprinklers control the fire, or building
personnel, or firefighters extinguish the blaze.
"An economist might argue that these passive fire protection
steps are redundant if sprinklers are in place," says
McHugh. "But experience shows that active and passive
firestopping systems play distinct, complementary roles."
Statistics show that losses decrease when smoke and fire
are contained to the room of origin, allowing sprinkler systems
to work most effectively. A combination of active and passive
firestopping systems may have reduced the number of deaths
in the Hartford nursing home fire on February 26. According
to the Associated Press, "patients were moved to another
part of the building after the fire"
fire protection systems worked to allow use of non affected
parts of the building. One resident told her daughter on a
cell phone that "she heard the fire doors closing and
began to weep" Her words indicate that passive fire and
smoke compartments - consisting of fire doors, fire dampers,
and firewalls - made it possible for people to reach safe,
protected spaces away from the fire.
The added cost of "fire- and smoke-rated construction"
is often negligible. Most concrete floor assemblies in commercial
and industrial buildings are already rated for fire resistance,
according to Rik Master, USG Corp., Chicago, IL. Drywall assemblies
in commercial buildings, with one layer of sheetrock on each
side of the wall, are typically constructed of 5/8" thick
drywall. Manufacturers typically supply "Type X"
for 5/8" thick drywall, which becomes the major component
of a fire resistance rated assembly anyway when used on both
sides of a wall. The only difference between a fire resistance
rated and non-rated assembly is that a non-rated assembly
does not extend past the ceiling to the floor above, breaking
continuity of the fire assembly. "The metal studs may
be beefed up a bit as well, but is normally 3-5/8" anyway
in commercial, institutional construction", according
In new construction, the additional cost of creating a firewall
is even less than in renovation applications. A worker can
hang a fire-rated sheet of drywall as fast as a non-rated
sheet; the fire-rated wallboard is just a few feet longer
to reach the ceiling. The difference in cost is in the "finishing"
or firestopping of the fire and smoke resistance rated compartments
to ensure that penetrations and joints in the walls and floors
are properly sealed. Cables, pipes, wall tops, and building
perimeter joints should be sealed with tested and listed firestopping
systems, fire dampers, and fire door systems. Again, the added
cost is negligible to provide effective compartmentation in
addition to sprinkler systems.
The association recommends the use of passive firestopping
systems - in conjunction with fast-response suppression sprinkler
systems, fire and smoke alarms - as a solution for offices,
apartments, schools, hospitals, and other high-occupancy facilities.
"Coupled with sprinklers," McHugh says, "effective
compartmentation with passive firestopping systems could prevent
another spate of disasters related to fire and smoke."
# # #
The Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA)
is an alliance of specialty firestopping contractors, manufacturers,
and concerned associate members who seek to save lives and
protect property through specialized knowledge of their trade.
FCIA recently worked with Factory Mutual Approvals, a major
insurer of commercial and industrial properties, to develop
FM 4991, the "Standard for the Approval of Firestop Contractors,"
which subjects firestopping firms, their personnel and processes
to vigorous testing. For a listing of FCIA Members, and FM
4991 Approved Contractors, visit www.fcia.org.