|Firestopping Essentials for Cablers
While fire protection isn’t a common issue for cablers, most cablers will be confronted by it when they need to route cables through a wall or floor that’s classified as a fire-containment (or fire-rated) barrier. For some cablers, this is a regular occurrence and they know exactly what to do. But for most cablers – especially those unfamiliar with the fire regulations in Australia’s National Construction Code (NCC) – it can be quite daunting when they consider the liabilities they’re taking on by potentially compromising a fire-containment barrier, thereby putting lives and property at risk. Every cabler must understand that there are major responsibilities and accountabilities whenever a penetration is made in a fire-rated barrier, no matter how small or large.
This was a major issue for the committee revising the AS/CA S009 cabling installation regulations, with the existing ‘firestopping’ clause updated for better guidance to cablers in these situations. (Note: AS/CA S009:2020 will be released late 2020 and replace the current AS/CA S009:2013 regulations)
BICSI recently wrote an article on this topic for ECD magazine, covering the rationale of the cabling and building regulations behind the S009 update. When it’s published later this year, BICSI will seek permission from the publisher to include it in the next BRCA Bytes newsletter. But it the meantime, this article will provide practical guidance that BRCA obtained from a firestopping expert on what cablers can and should do when they’re faced with having to make a penetration in a fire-rated barrier.
Hilti Australia’s Fire Protection Codes and Approvals Manager, Hani Adnan advises that the NCC stipulates safeguards against the spread of fire and smoke for all classes of buildings in Australia that can save lives and protect assets when emergencies do occur, by specifying a minimum requirement for each building class depending on expected fire loads, which are largely determined by the building’s nature of use and rise in storeys.
“The NCC lists four major elements in effective fire-safeguards – Prevention through training; Detection and Suppression; Containment of fire and smoke; and Escape Routes,” explains Adnan. “We’ll focus on the element that impacts cablers the most: containment.
“Containment is the compartmentalisation of spaces in a building using fire-resistant walls and floors to control the spread of fire and smoke. Apart from limiting damage, this is done primarily to give occupants ample time to escape. Fire-containment is determined at the very early stages of a building’s design, so that fire hazards and risks are eliminated or minimised over its lifespan.
“Perhaps the greatest risk in terms of a fire spreading are penetrations in fire barriers that may have been made by a contractor like an electrician, cabler or plumber. If these gaps aren’t secured with a passive firestop product, they can undermine the entire system. It is quite normal for services in a building to pass through fire-containment barriers, but it’s crucial that every penetration is sealed up to return that barrier to its designated fire-rating. This practice is often referred to as ‘passive firestopping’, which involves the use of specific firestop products to close service penetrations in fire-rated walls and floors.
“There are many firestopping products on the market to suit numerous applications, but typical cabling penetrations are usually best sealed with pre-formed devices (e.g. Speed sleeves, fire-blocks, collars) or sealants. Importantly, these products must be tested and compliant to appropriate fire-safety standards as a full firestopping system, not just a component. Some of the determining factors for what system to use include the penetrating item (conduit or cable, what type of cables, number of cables, etc.), the opening size, the fire-resistant structure, and the building environment.
“In simple terms, preformed-devices are quicker and easier to install and run cables through. They also provide relative ease for adding and/or subtracting cables, with little to no extra cost or time required to firestop after the change. On the other hand, sealants are lower in cost, but take more time to seal and require more skill to ensure a complete fire-seal. Either method can provide effective fire-stopping if they are fit for their intended purpose and installed correctly. You just need to make the right choice for each specific situation. Reputable fire stopping suppliers like Hilti have a broad range of both methods, to cater for the wide range of fire-stopping applications. We recommend talking to suppliers to get their advice – that’s the best way to select the right firestopping solution for each particular application, as well as getting guidance on correct installation procedures.
“I can’t stress enough that selecting the best firestopping system is meaningless if it isn’t installed properly. And even if the installation is done correctly, there can still be complications in the processes that come after – documentation, inspection, certification and maintenance.”
There was so much more important information that Hani presented to BRCA for this article, but we unfortunately couldn’t fit it all in. So BRCA Bytes is going to present a series of firestopping articles in each of the following quarterly newsletters this year to address issues like documentation, certification and maintenance in more detail.
Considering the huge risk of fire spreading room-to-room or floor-to-floor, it’s vital to reiterate the importance for cablers to understand the need for firestopping, how to correctly select firestop systems, how to correctly install them, and how to ensure appropriate inspection when needed.
We trust you will find this series of articles helpful in performing your installations professionally. If you need any assistance or guidance with firestopping issues, feel free to email the BRCA office at firstname.lastname@example.org or Hani directly on email@example.com.