Grenfell - fire stopping systems

Having previously looked at the fire risks associated with the poor cleaning of ventilation systems, this week we turn to look at fire stopping systems.

Passive fire protection, which includes compartmentalization of the entirety of buildings through fire-resistance rated walls and floors, prevents or slows the spread of fire from the room of origin to other building spaces. This of course limits building damage and provides crucial additional time for the fire services to contain and extinguish the fire and for the occupants to evacuate in case of fire.

The Passive Fire Protection Federation (PFPF) states that ‘Passive fire protection is the primary measure integrated within the constructional fabric of a building to provide inherent fire safety and protection by responding against flame, heat and smoke to maintain the fundamental requirements of building compartmentalization, structural stability, fire separation and safe means of escape.’

Fire stopping systems maintain compartmentalization at any points of mechanical, electrical or any other penetrations passing through walls and floors.

Penetration sealing not only prevents the spread of fire, but also the passage of smoke and toxic gasses through gaps around services in walls, partitions and floors. We have been rudely awoken recently, however, to the revelation that overlooking fire safety standards and best practice, coupled with a diminished sense of duty and responsibility, cannot be ignored in the built environment sector any longer.

The Errors

My recent article, highlighting fire risks associated with the poor cleaning of ventilation systems and extraction systems from kitchens, pointed out the unfortunate development that a number of systems which are out of sight are also, unfortunately, out of mind. This in no different when it comes to reviewing the importance of fire stopping systems.

Construction errors can often be overlooked or missed due to them simply being inaccessible or hidden. Penetration sealing, ablative coated fire batts, mineral fibre boards, intumescent paints and reactive coatings are not building features that your average builders might understand, with other trades rarely having any concept of the systems, issues, or need for fire protection. This places the responsibility firmly with the contractor that installs fire stoppers to ensure effective work is done to the highest standards.

However, despite the important duty placed therein, fire stopping systems are too often inadequately installed, fire rated wall partitions are often incomplete above communal area ceilings and expanded polyurethane foam is commonly used as an ad hoc remedial solution. To compound these issues, there are no records or traceability of installation of the products used.

Pacific Wharf, a luxury apartment complex overlooking the Thames in London, was constructed in 2001. When it was discovered that fire collars were missing around service penetrations between risers and flats and incorrect materials were used to seal around services through penetrations, remedial works became the NHBC‘s largest single remediation project with repairs costing over £5.5m and work taking 24 months to complete.

Solutions

While protecting structures against the effects of fire, fire stops also protect assets, maintain building serviceability after fires, lower potential rebuild costs and facilitate quick business recovery and continuity. The safety and business case is undeniable, and it is hard to justify a case for the lack of any supervisory or regulatory control.

BESA Technical Experts remain on hand to offer practical advice on best practice when it comes to installing a range of pipework services, structured as a set of stand-alone specifications dealing with Low, Medium and High Temperature Hot Water Heating, Hot, Cold and Chilled Water Service, Condenser and Cooling Water, Steam and Condensate, Natural Gas and Oil and can provide guidance on fire compartment penetrations to ensure full code compliance.

Pipework passing through any fire compartment must maintain the integrity of the fire compartment by utilising either fire stopping, proprietary fire seals or a pipe sleeve dependant on the pipe material and nominal internal diameter. Further details can be found within the attached:

Where ventilation ductwork passes through any fire rated compartment, the penetration must contain a fire damper to prevent the spread of fire and smoke internally within the ductwork. BESA DW145 Guide to Good Practice covers the installation of smoke and fire rated dampers and BESA has published a technical bulletin containing guidance on fire and smoke damper maintenance which is critical to the ongoing fire safety of a building

The Matthew Taylor Report, an Independent Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy, was published on Tuesday and discussed in the House of Commons. The report notes that technological change will impact work and types of employment, and that we need to be able to adapt. Sound words indeed. The report goes on to mention how ‘technology can also offer new opportunities for smarter regulation.’ Never has this been truer for our sector than now. If systems could be enacted that offer contractors a smart, efficient, digital solution, rather than a slow and expensive physical inspection, this would undoubtedly improve the installation, maintenance and cost of fire stopping systems.

For years BESA have been making the point that when it comes to fire safety: accountability, regulations and standards must be enforced. As we ask how many other Pacific Wharfs there may be out there, more must be done to ensure there will be no more Grenfells. Industry, government and regulatory structures need to respond to current findings and not ignore other potential areas of fire safety that need review and reform.

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