Fire compartmentation is a fundamental aspect of fire-safety provision, but when it is compromised, it will diminish the effectiveness of a building to resist the passage of fire and smoke. UK Fire recently talked with Tim Barker, UK Commercial Manager at FSi Ltd about the critical importance of fire compartmentation and how a best-practice approach in design and installation will ensure the delivery of a safe and secure project in terms of penetration seals.
UK Fire: What are the key design considerations when it comes to fire compartmentation?
Tim Barker: The main consideration is to contain the spread of fire and smoke. Depending on the fire strategy, it is essential to provide safe access and evacuation routes for building occupiers, as well as a safe route of access for fire services and rescue services. In recent years, this has become more relevant and more stringently looked at. Anything that improves fire safety, whether it is evacuation, compartmentation, passive or reactive fire protection, or improves or drives the standard is of course a good thing. Another issue is providing access to the contractors, who are installing firestopping products, as the design on occasion can make it difficult to access above and around services to install penetration seals.
UK Fire: Can you briefly outline the importance of independent third-party testing and certification?
Tim Barker: It is absolutely paramount that third-party tested and approved firestopping solutions are incorporated into the design. This ensures the firestopping solution has been independently tested by a UKAS-accredited laboratory where the declaration of performance or other performance ratings has been independently verified. In other words, there is evidence the product will do what it is intended to do, with the proof to back it up. Should the product need to work in a fire situation, there is confidence the product has been tested as per the rules, regulations and test standards. There is also an onus on construction companies to ensure firestopping installers have third-party certification. It ensures that the individual is certified and adhering to the rules and regulations and can also install to an approved standard.
UK Fire: What are the key errors you are seeing in terms of firestopping installation and why do these situations occur?
Tim Barker: A contractor might install a product how they have always installed it but not how the manufacturer recommends. We might see mineral wool batts not properly cut and installed around a penetration or an intumescent wrap not fully recessed into a substrate and protruding by 5 or 10mm. Installers need to be up to speed on the different manufacturers’ installation guidelines. It’s one of the reasons why FSi offers installer training to ensure products are installed correctly. If a product is installed incorrectly, we tell people that. Photographic evidence is good and installers will have access to a technical hotline. There are generally about 10 to 12 questions that we ask, such as a simple one: is it a wall or a floor? What fire resistance are you working to? What standard are you working to? What’s the construction element and what’s going through it? How many barriers are there? Is there insulation on it and what type of insulation is it? Early engagement on how to install is key. As a manufacturer, the more we get involved at the start, the better the outcome.
UK Fire: Why is early engagement between firestopping manufacturers and specialist installers so important?
Tim Barker: Early engagement with the main contractors, architects and design teams must become the norm. As a business, we have been pushing for early engagement with main contractors for some time and have been relatively successful with this approach. These main contractors are comfortable and confident in the FSi system as it is highly certified and accredited. We are then able to advise or recommend third-party accredited installers who work to a standard that is expected in the industry and are able to install products as per installation guidelines.
UK Fire: Can you elaborate on the importance of collaboration across the entire supply chain?
Tim Barker: From a confidence point of view, collaboration across the entire supply chain is critical. It’s also important from a cost point of view as well. If one of our products is delivered to site early in the morning, the contractor might have a team waiting to install the firestopping. If the firestopping is not done properly then the follow-on trades cannot carry out their work and it will have a knock-on effect down the line. Ultimately, all parties in the supply chain are as important as each other. It is massively important to have confidence in that communication within that supply chain and through collaboration. It will benefit everybody from groundworks to handover, all of whom have a duty and responsibility to ensure that things go the best they can.
UK Fire: What lessons can be learned from previous projects?
Tim Barker: People need to stop cutting corners and being fixated on price. Don’t try and do things cheaply because if you have to do it again, it will cost twice as much. You might as well do it right first time. Start communicating with each other and work together. Put a proper schedule in place and as best as you can, work towards it. There will always be something that comes up that stops a contractor from doing their particular trade, whether it’s adverse weather or of course the current pandemic, which has thrown up some massive challenges for us as an industry.
Best practice guide
A new Best Practice Design and Installation Guide, Firestopping of Service Penetrations, produced by five leading not-for-profit organisations representing the wider construction and fire-safety industries, will enable a project team to meet their obligations to deliver a safe and secure project in terms of penetration seals.
The number-one goal is to ensure fire safety in performance, both now and in the future. It is a conversation that should be between all parties including the manufacturer, architect, specialist installer, fire engineer and M & E consultants. Everyone involved in the provision of a fire-protection package, at any level, shares liability for its effectiveness and performance when needed in a fire. If properly designed, effective compartmentation is a major measure to protect life safety and buildings.
The Best Practice Design and Installation Guide, Firestopping of Service Penetrations is available to download on each of the associations’ websites.