Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
"Firestopping should be taken seriously," says Mike Tobias, one of the principals of cabling contractor Coastal Computer Connections (Gulf Breeze, FL). An improperly firestopped installation can fail a building inspection, but even more important, noxious fumes, smoke and fire can easily penetrate unsealed firewalls, leading to injury and perhaps death in a building fire.
Tobias observes, however, that his installation crews have to spend a considerable amount of time firestopping after the cable runs had been pulled. "Most low-voltage cable installers are ill-prepared to deal with firewall penetrations," he says. "At best, they will look for the closest convenient violation and run the cable through, in hopes of not being noticed." Tobias adds that when the fire marshall or building inspector locates the building-code violation, the standard excuse that "the hole was already there" will not bode well for the contractor.
Leaving his brother, Ron, in charge of the contracting company, Mike Tobias took a leave of absence to set up It`s Unique (Mobile, AL), which manufactures innovative firestopping products. The name, according to Tobias, aptly reflects the company`s first product: a split-sleeve firestopping device. The split-sleeve system can be used to retrofit cable pulls that are already in place, plugging illegal and unsafe firewall penetrations without recabling.
The two halves of the split sleeve are first worked through the firewall opening, so that they enclose the cabling without damaging it. Square washers are then caulked to both sides of the wall to close the space around the sleeve. Threaded nuts hold the sleeve in place. The sleeve ends are then caulked to complete the seal.
When thinking about his next firestopping device, called the Penetrator, Tobias says, "I wanted to develop a way to prevent our installation crews from violating firewalls. Something simple and inexpensive was needed." The solution was a 10-inch section of EMT conduit serrated at one end to form teeth. Holding this end against dry wall, the installer delivers a sharp blow with the palm of the hand to the other end to set the teeth. Then the sleeve is rotated like a drill to penetrate the wall. The conduit is set in place with caulked washers and connectors. After the cable pull, the installer can come back to insulate and caulk the opening.
"The Penetrator is a device that should be used by construction crews who are doing installations initially," Tobias says. "You don`t want a firewall to slow down a construction crew. The device saves a crew time because you don`t have to man the cable at the firewall. Also, installing it is a one-man job; you don`t need two guys on ladders on opposite sides of the wall."
Both products have been listed by Underwriters Laboratories (Northbrook, IL).
Ron Tobias of Coastal Computer Connections (Gulf Breeze, FL) assembles a split-sleeve firestopping device manufactured by his brother Mike Tobias, who took a leave of absence to establish It`s Unique (Mobile, AL), which manufactures firestopping products.