by Randy G. Clark
Since I first got my start in firestopping more than eighteen years ago, I have seen many changes take place within this very young industry. The number of manufacturers having listings for firestop systems has increased more than three-fold. The model codes have gone from unclear firestopping references to specific language within a section devoted exclusively to firestopping. With these code refinements came increased enforcement by the local building officials. Architects have become much more aware of the need to provide clear and specific details of the firestop conditions needed within their building designs. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers are now automatically incorporating proper firestopping techniques, which influence the design of their individual service runs. The types of products offered were only a few, but now they include: Sealants, putties, mortars, pillows, boards, wrap strips, devices, etc. Though there have been many changes, there seems to be one persistent questions: Whose responsibility is it to do the firestopping? Before we deal with this issue, we need to review the following: What is firestopping, why do we need to firestop, and how are firestopping materials tested?
One way to look at firestopping would be to say that it is a material or a combination of materials used to re-establish the fire integrity of a rated wall or floor assembly after its rating has been compromised by the inclusion or exclusion of a penetrant. To simplify, one must maintain the time rated integrity of an assembly after any alteration. As an example, when an insulated pipe is installed through a two hour rated gypsum wall, that pipe has destroyed the original rating of the wall. If the contractor follows a tested firestop configuration and properly installs the listed firestop materials, the original rating of the wall with its penetrant is maintained.
Why do we need to firestop? First of all, firestopping is one of the requirements of the various building codes. All major building codes have at their foundation fire codes. The integrity of a building during a fire condition must be maintained in order to have a safe evacuation of its occupants. The integrity also needs to be maintained in order to provide the firefighters their best opportunity to put out the fire. Secondly, firestopping is a matter of life safety. The lives of the firefighters as well as those of the building’s occupants could very well depend on having properly firestopped penetrations. Using a product which is part of a recognized firestop system configuration will meet the requirements of the codes.
How are firestopping materials tested and who is responsible will be covered later or see complete article.