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What’s Firestopping and why do we need it?

Firestopping? – Oh, that’s easy! Goop some red caulk at a joint or around that pipe and you are good to go! Right? Well, not anymore.

Building code and fire inspection officials recently began strict enforcement of code requirements for fire stopping inspections. The International Building Code (IBC) 2012, Section 1705.16 states that firestop inspections shall be included as part of the mandatory special inspections for high risk facilities. Enforcement began in earnest when the local building code was adopted as 2012 IBC or newer, and now building owners, contractors and designers are bumping into this requirement on more and more projects.

So, what is fire stopping and why is it so special?

Firestopping is a passive containment approach to resist the spread of smoke and fire in a building, it is defined by the International Firestop Council (IFC) as “a process where certain materials are used to resist or stop the spread of flames and its by-products through openings in rated walls, floors or floor/ceiling assemblies.” Fire stopping is part of a balanced approach to fire protection in buildings – Detection, Containment and Suppression.

Active suppression systems may suppress flames, but they do not stop the spread of smoke and toxic gases. Studies have shown that smoke and gases travel at speeds of 120 to 420 feet per minute. 75% of fire related deaths are caused by smoke inhalation. Furthermore, almost 60% of fire related deaths happen in rooms away from the actual fire’s origin. Firestopping complements fire rated wall and floor assemblies by filling gaps at dissimilar assemblies, and around pipes, ducts, cabling and other openings with special intumescent materials specifically designed to resist the spread of flames, smoke and gasses.

Through penetration and membrane-penetration fire stop systems, fire-resistant joint systems and perimeter fire barrier systems are critical to maintaining the integrity of fire-resistance-rated construction including fire walls, fire barriers, fire partitions, smoke barriers and horizontal assemblies.

Is my building considered high-risk?

According to the IBC, fire stopping systems in ‘high risk’ buildings shall be conducted by an qualified and approved inspection agency. In many areas, building code officials are going even further by requiring firestop inspectors to be IFC certified and qualified to the requirements of the inspection standards. High risk buildings are defined as Risk Category III and IV buildings as well as high-rise buildings, which includes the following types of buildings:

  • Risk Category III: public assembly spaces, schools, assisted living, and detention facilities.
  • Risk Category IV: hospitals, police, fire and rescue buildings, power stations and aviation control towers.
  • High-rise buildings: buildings over 75 feet in height, which often includes apartment and office buildings in addition to the risk categories defined above.

International Building Code 2012, Sections 1705.16.1 and 1705.16.2 require that fire stopping inspections follow ASTM E2174 – Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Penetration Firestop and ASTM E2393 – Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Fire-Resistive Joint Systems and Perimeter Fire Barriers.

Fire stop inspections provide quality control and quality assurance that fire stopping systems meet the required fire-resistance rating as defined by the building code and specific construction documents for new and remodeled buildings. We have a team of dedicated professionals in our Building and Structure Sciences group who have worked together to develop training, inspection and reporting procedures to meet a growing demand for firestop inspections during the construction of schools, hospitals and similar high-risk facilities.

On June 27, firestopping expert Eric Bergman will host a webinar to discuss firestopping, requirements and conditions that necessitate firestopping systems, how to implement those systems, and their importance in achieving balanced approach to fire safety.

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