Burning Issues

When it comes to fire protection, a little knowledge (and a few test reports) can save you a lot of money, time and pain

The temptation to shop for value when it comes to fire protection equipment for buildings is high—there are many products on the market that seem to do complimentary, or even the same, job. But getting it wrong can be costly. In a worst-case scenario, the result can be loss of life. But even getting it wrong pre-certification can be time consuming and financially costly for everyone involved.
“When a contractor uses a fire-rated product on a job, they’re required to provide the correct paperwork to the builder or to the building certifier to verify that that product will satisfy a four- hour fire rating in the joint configuration it was used in,” explains Steve Halpin, group product manager with Bostik.
“The problem a lot of contractors run into is if they use a cheaper product on the project. Then on completion when the building certifier requests suitable test references, they’re quite often un- able to supply it because the company hasn’t gone to the great lengths to get all the testing done for that product.”
“The market under- stands you need to use fire-rated sealants, but they don’t quite know how to select which fire-rated product for what application.” Steve Halpin, Product Manager, Bostik
Ownership of certification appears to be a problem whether you’re talking about fire-rated sealants or fire collars, says Richard Cooke, general manager of Snap Fire Systems. “The issue at the moment is that there are products that aren’t comprehensively tested,” he ex- plains. “They suggest that it is properly tested because they’ve tested it on a 100 ml pipe, but then you use a different type or size of pipe or even a fitting in the collar and there may not have been a test done. So the onus is on the contractor to ensure that any product he buys is properly tested and the only way he can do that is by getting that

“People aren’t up on the standards applying or using the products in ways that maybe don’t meet the standards.” Denis Gray, Sika test report before buying the collar.

“A test report has to be done by a NATA-approved laboratory, and it has to be written up in a special way that’s all contained in the standards AS1530.4 and AS4072.1. We’re finding people don’t realise this, or they fall victim to the trust that a big brand name has in the market. They assume that if the product is from a big company, and they say it’s okay, then it must be, but of course that’s not necessarily the case”.

The issue of correct testing and correct use of products appears to be a key sticking point in the building industry, with everyone we spoke to citing a general ignorance in the market as a real problem. “There’s not a lot of understanding about which product you can use in which application,” says Bostik’s Steve Halpin. “The market understands you need to use fire-rated sealants, but they don’t quite know how to select which fire-rated product for what application. And again, you’ll find polyurethane is used internally when they could get away with an acrylic and you’ll find the opposite—acrylics being used externally at great risk when the correct product should be the polyurethane.”

But according to Richard Cooke, the first hurdle remains the issue around test reports, especially when it comes to fire collars. “Whenever you penetrate a wall or floor with a service you have to make sure that the FRL (Fire Resistance Level) of the wall or the floor is not compromised,” he explains. “So you do that by testing an ‘identical’ proto- type of ‘the system’. This includes the fixing of the collar and the support to the service. So to ensure the fire collar has been properly tested, you need to be able to supply a test report to a certifier, and that’s the thing that people are skirting around.

Compliance with the Building Code can only be achieved, he says, through a Deemed-to-Satisfy Provision (DtS), an Alternative Solution (AS) or a combination of the two. The former is a test report, which should be available on the supplier’s website, or by some other means. The latter is expensive, site-specific and time-consuming (but sometimes unfortunately necessary).

“The bottom line is that before you use any products from anyone, get a full test report,” says Cooke. “Don’t be fobbed off with certificates. And be careful with assessments. Some assessments do not qualify as Deemed-to-satisfy solutions, and are only useful in an alternative solution application. Certificates are not acceptable to show compliance to certifiers. They’re only for general information. This is stated in the standards. You must get a test report and install the fire collars exactly like it says in the test report. Examine the a drawings, photos and descriptions in the test report and make sure that what you see there is what you do. If you do that, you will comply with the BCA.”

Cooke adds as a final point that if you are not knowledgeable on the standards the best advice is get some from someone who is. By accepting assessments you can fall into a trap. To be acceptable as deemed to satisfy, assessments have to conform to the standards, which state they are only for minor variations to a tested specimen and other listed and specific scenarios. They must be based on at least one test and they often do not include the test report.

The same is true when it comes to fire sealants, says Steve Halpin from Bostik. “The market is directed into two streams: the acrylic fire-rated products and the polyurethane fire-rated products. The predominant difference between the two is longevity and performance. The polyurethane has greater movement capability, and does not rely on having a coating put over the top to make it durable when used externally. For instance, our acrylic fire-rated Firecaulk has a plus or minus 12.5 per cent movement capability whereas the polyurethane has plus or minus 25 per cent movement capability.”

“Where problems arise”, says Denis Gray from Sika, is when “people aren’t up on the application standards or they are using the products in ways that maybe don’t meet the standards. That’s always of some concern. Generally, in construction, fire joints are engineered or designed into the building, so there should be an actual specification as to the criteria of the different sealing method or mechanism, so it should be quite easy to follow.”

However, he says, sometimes a lack of understanding at a crucial early stage of the project leads to problems later on. “Sometimes it’s to do with a lack of specification, or just maybe a lack of understanding of what is required. People see ‘fire seal’ and assume that because the normal sealant they use is fire rated it would probably be fine, but obviously they’re not necessarily correct—it depends on where and how you’re using them.”

Beyond that, he says, a perennial problem is end-users who won’t always understand why a particular product is priced as it is—which is often a reflection of the cost involved in making sure it is of the highest quality. “The credible companies that distribute those products go to great lengths and invest quite a bit of money to have their sealants tested within systems in accordance with the Australian standard, at a con- siderable cost. But that’s important,” he says, because “when a contractor uses a fire-rated product on a job, they’re re- quired to provide the correct paperwork to the builder or to the building certifier to verify that that product will satisfy a four-hour fire rating in the joint configuration it was used in”.

Fire safety responsibilities don’t end at the construction stage—and once again, market education seems to be a key issue for suppliers of fire extinguishers and blankets.

“I think the majority
of the inquiries we get back from the industry
is understanding the difference between the fire extinguishers, what fires they can fight and where they can be used,” says Derek Woods from CSS supplier Megafire.

“For example, if
you have a water fire extinguisher, you can use it on wood, paper, and plastic, but you certainly wouldn’t use it where there’s cooking tracks or oils or even electrical equipment. Other questions we get also relate to how many fire extinguishers for the size of the warehouse and what type, so we have to ensure that the information that we give is correct and the purchase that they purchase make on the fire extinguisher is the right
article for the installation.”

It is frequently a problem for smaller jobs, he adds. “When we’re talking about a large construction, there are obviously a set of plans and drawings, and the specifies or the design engineers will actually state quite clearly the type of fire extinguisher that has to be installed. Where we tend to get those calls requiring assistance is usually when people are having to fend for themselves. They may be doing a little job somewhere, a small warehouse or a little office, and they know they have to install a fire extinguisher, but they’re not too sure what type or size they should put in. So that’s generally where we provide the assistance.”

He adds that if you’re feeling lost, the Fire Protection Association of Australia has an excellent and detailed website where you can find out more information

Article Published June – August 2014.

Leave a Comment