Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
Firestopping has been the neglected stepchild of the cabling installation industry. This fact was brought home to me recently when I talked to Ed Phillips of Tel-Comm Contracting Inc. (Manchester, ME).
"Firestopping is the most ignored thing by installers that I`ve ever seen in my life," said Phillips, who also chairs BICSI`s standards committee.
When I asked Phillips why this area was so neglected, he replied, "Most installers don`t have any idea what a firewall is--or a firestop--or a fire rating. All they do is take a screwdriver and poke a hole, shove a cable through and leave it. Every day, everywhere I go, I see total violations of firewalls, firestops, fire floors and fire code."
There are a number of ways this situation can be addressed. Among them:
Some industry body, such as the National Fire Protection Association (Quincy, MA), must assume the role of standards-setter in this area. Currently, firestopping requirements outlined in the National Electrical Code are vague; they need to reference a concrete set of firestopping standards.
In lieu of such standards, installers now depend on safety tests developed by testing laboratories such as Underwriters Laboratories (Northbrook, IL). These tests can help contractors construct a firestop with a 2-, 3- or 4-hour rating, but they cannot tell them how long the firestop should operate under given fire conditions. The process should be to set fire standards first, and then develop the tests that implement them.
The cabling industry must convey to contractors and installers information about construction and cabling methods that conform to fire codes and encompass proper firestopping techniques. Much of this information is already available, but it is provided by vendors and is usually specific to their products; an unbiased, generic information source is needed, and it must be standards-based.
Once objective information is available, vendors, professional trainers and organizations such as BICSI will be able to develop comprehensive training programs that are not vendor-specific. At this point, firestopping training is manufacturer`s training.
The products and technologies needed for effective firestopping are already available. All that`s needed now is an infrastructure of standards, testing, literature and training to bring these technologies and products to installers. We should, as an industry, undertake to develop such an infrastructure before a large and tragic fire that spreads because of improper firestopping forces us to face the consequences of our current neglect.