Because a firestop system exemplifies teamwork among its elements, putting the pieces together properly may require technical guidance.
by PATRICK McLAUGHLIN
Designers, installers and users of firestop systems understand that this form of building protection may represent the ultimate in "teamwork" because a fire rating is achieved not by a single component, but by the entire assembled system that restores a wall or floor to its original level of fire resistance. That fact has been documented in many places, including Wikipedia, which informs: "The materials used in firestops do not have ratings on their own. Firestops achieve a fire rating by combining certain materials in an arrangement specific to the item (a pipe or cable for example) penetrating the fire rated wall or floor, and the construction arrangement of the fire rated wall or floor itself."
A thorough explanation of the ratings associated with firestop systems, and how those ratings can be achieved, was published in our August 2011 issue (see "Through-penetration firestop systems and UL 1479," August 2011).
Because achieving a certain firestop rating most often involves more than the simple application of a caulk or putty, many installers and owners of these systems can benefit from the educational resources available throughout the firestop industry. Various forms of training as well as online learning tools are available.
Specified Technologies Inc.'s (STI; www.stifirestop.com) website contains a technical library of information not just about the specification and use of the company's products, but also including more-general information about specifying a firestop system. The company also provides what it calls its Submittal Builder--an online tool that STI says "combines UL system files and product data sheets into one PDF document for easy download and printing."
As the company describes on its website, Submittal Builder enables users to create new submittals from scratch, from an archived submittal or from a list of prebuilt submittals each designed for specific purposes. The tool also allows its users to add UL systems, which they can characterize either by UL system number, by barrier, penetrant, sealing method or product, or by joint type. Users also can add product data sheets and material safety data sheets to their submittals.
STI also offers a Firestop Instructional Training (FIT) program, which includes FIT Level 1 and FIT Level 2 learning. Of the FIT Level 1 program, the company comments, "Firestop is widely recognized as a problematic issue for facilities engineering professionals. It is perhaps the most misapplied and misunderstood segment on life-safety in modern construction, especially with the constant changes made for voice and data cabling.
"This comprehensive, competency-based course is designed to educate and train participants in the fundamentals needed to become a resident firestop specialist. The goal is to equip the participant with the knowledge and tools needed to return home as an accredited trainer, and to serve as a resident inspector in confirming whether or not firestop installations are code compliant." It adds that the program is appropriate for "people who will train, inspect or otherwise supervise the firestop installations of others. These include maintenance and engineering managers, IS managers, CE managers, infectious-control managers, life-safety officers, loss-reduction specialists and other interested parties."
The FIT Level 1 competence course is a three- to four-hour in-service training including an exam. Successful participants receive a certificate good for two years.
FIT Level 2 training is a two-day course, comprising one day of classroom instruction and a half-day hands-on lab. Successful participants are eligible to receive certain continuing-education units from a number of professional associations including the American Institute of Architects and BICSI.
Documents and documentation
Other firestop providers also offer training opportunities. 3M (www.3m.com), for example, offers three levels of firestop training. Level 1 is online; Level 2 is on-location and jobsite-based; Level 3 takes place at a 3M facility. The company describes each of its training programs: "e-Train is 3M Fire Protection's comprehensive online education program, designed to provide users with general firestopping information and trade-specific installation details. e-Train provides information from firestopping basics and system nomenclature to detailed installation techniques. The program's high-quality videos highlight proper installation techniques in a broad range of systems."
Its Level 2 on-location and jobsite-based training program "is designed for those who are generally familiar with 3M Fire Protection Products and want to learn more about advanced application installations, what new tools and systems are available," and 3M products compared to others on the market. One- to four-hour sessions are available.
3M also says it has trained more than 5,000 code officials, architects, contractors and firestop professionals through training at its facility in St. Paul, MN over two decades. It is a two-day course that combines classroom learning and hands-on training.
Other resources also are readily available. Hilti (www.us.hilti.com) provides a collection of technical documentation on its website, which ranges from how-to articles to a glossary of common firestopping nomenclature. Also within that collection is a series of articles under the title FireWise. These multi-page articles have titles including "Understanding putty pads and box inserts," "Top of wall continuity," and "Engineering judgments," among others.
Additionally, the firestop design center portion of Hilti's website includes guides for creating submittals, with and without UL systems; a library of UL firestop systems; and the Firestop Installation Tracking System (FITS)--a documentation and reporting system designed to manage firestop installations, work permits and inspections.
While these and other providers of firestop components provide educational opportunities for the industry, an organization with firestop-provider members also wages an awareness campaign about the importance of proper firestopping. The International Firestop Council (IFC; www.firestop.org) advances its mission "to promote the technology of fire and smoke containment in modern building construction through research, education and development of safety standards and code provisions."
The three companies mentioned in this article are IFC members, as are a number of other manufacturers, along with distributors and installers of firestop systems. The IFC's website includes articles, firestop-system design information, as well as a number of PowerPoint documents that enable users to self-teach about topics such as firestop basics, system selection, construction joints and others.
The IFC has made several videos available on its website, including one demonstrative video showing the vastly different performance between properly and improperly firestopped penetrations. The IFC collaborated with UL to create the video. In it, viewers can see footage of tests, conducted within UL facilities, of firestop systems. On several occasions, footage shows properly firestopped penetrations alongside improperly firestopped penetrations, under test.
Another video available through the IFC demonstrates how to conduct proper inspection techniques on installed firestop systems. Appropriate for authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs), cabling- and firestop-system installers, as well as managers of installed cabling and firestop systems, the 18-minute video presents properly and improperly installed systems, emphasizing the differences between them.
The video begins by tackling the "red caulk" myth, which contends that as long as a penetration is filled with red caulk and there's a UL seal on the caulk tube, the penetration is properly firestopped. The video then points out that often components other than caulk are also required to properly firestop a penetration, and that some effective caulks are not red in color. It then details the appropriate inspection steps of confirming barrier type, confirming penetration type, confirming opening size, and confirming fill materials and accessories. The video provides significant detailed discussion as well as visual demonstrations of each step, describing and showing correct and incorrect installations. It also addresses the reality that destructive testing sometimes is necessary to confirm proper firestop system installation.
Newcomers and veterans alike are likely to find new information from the IFC or some of the firestop-component providers in the industry to help them in their safety-driven ambition to protect building occupants through proper firestopping means and methods. Firestopping remains a vital issue that can too easily be misunderstood by any trade, from a cabling installer to a facilities manager to an authority-having-jurisdiction (AHJ) inspector. ::
Patrick McLaughlin is chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.