Limited-combustible squabble threatens to stain industry

Last month, columnist Donna Ballast filled you in on the potential for requiring limited-combustible cable in certain building spaces ...

Last month, columnist Donna Ballast filled you in on the potential for requiring limited-combustible cable in certain building spaces (see “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas … [well, not this time],” July 2005, page 8). The column was a fact-based, first-hand account, as Donna was present during the National Fire Protection Association World Safety Conference & Exposition.

Those of you who have met Donna, or have read her column regularly over the past 12 years, probably know that it’s rarely unclear where she stands on an issue. So, her fact-based column also included some of her own opinions; by reading it and previous columns on the limited-combustible topic, one probably will conclude that Donna comes down squarely on one side of this issue.

I, too, have an opinion on the debate over limited-combustible cable. I like to think that the topic has been presented to you evenly, with commentary from both sides, and that this publication has not tried to sway anybody’s thinking. Our various contributors at times may make a persuasive argument. But the magazine itself has maintained a position of being an information provider rather than a lobbyist.

But like I mentioned earlier, I do have an opinion-one that I have formed slowly as this debate has carried on. My strongest belief is that the acrimonious nature of debate seriously risks putting a stain on the communications cabling industry in full view of the larger construction and building industry.

Many in the industry are familiar with how consensus-based standard development works within the Telecommunications Industry Association’s TR-42 Committee. Cynics view the process as one in which the group constructs a standard so that the products made by each representative’s company will comply. When a pre-standard product is introduced and the manufacturer declares confidence that the product will meet the impending standard’s specifications, some people believe the statement is backwards-it’s the standard that will meet the product’s specifications.

If anybody tried to carry the TIA consensus-building model into the NFPA consideration of limited-combustible cable, they quickly found it did not hold. The concept of meeting all parties’ needs was checked at the door, but self-interests remained. The result has been a drawn-out dogfight that hasn’t brought the two sides any closer to a consensus.

Self-interests prevail in the formation of all kinds of standards, codes, laws, etc. But while it’s true that the individuals who participate in the code-making process represent and advance the interests of the organizations that sent them to the meeting, let me stress to these individuals that, collectively, you represent the cabling industry to the rest of the group and the rest of the world. You represent an industry that very recently gained “a place at the table” in the building-construction process, by way of its expanded presence in the Construction Specifications Institute’s MasterFormat-a move that many in the industry regard as a measure of respect heretofore unattained by the cabling trade.

Now that cabling is more visible to the rest of the construction industry, it will be a shame if the first impression others have of us is that of an industry that can’t or won’t get out of its own way. It will be even more of a shame if that impression is accurate.

For all the misgivings I have about taking what could be seen as a cheap shot at some of the people involved in the issue-some of whom have helped me numerous times in my job, and for whom I hold a significant level of respect-I feel an equally strong sense of obligation to the industry as a whole.

Now that the issue has been sent back to committee for consensus building, I urge all those involved to select the path that will lead to the quickest resolution. I don’t expect anybody to change their stance, and I don’t see either party meeting the other halfway. Accepting that fact, the best I can hope for, and what I’d like to see, is for the matter to be closed as soon as possible.

You are in a position to achieve a resolution relatively quickly, or to drag it out for many more months. The decision must be made, once and for all, for our industry to move forward.

PATRICK McLAUGHLIN
Chief Editor
patrick@pennwell.com

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