Firestopping is a simple, yet essential, part of any construction project. Driven by requirements established by national code organizations such as Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA), the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a firestop system produces a “compartmented space,” from which fire, smoke and gases cannot spread.

“Firestopping can be defined as the methods and material applied to penetrations, joints, gaps, or other unprotected openings, to limit the spread of heat, fire, gases and smoke, thereby allowing time for people to escape and time to extinguish the fire before serious damage can be done,” said Regi Gilchrist, president of American Firestop Solutions, Inc., Waukee, Iowa.

According to an article by Bill McHugh, Jr., a firestop industry expert consultant, firestop systems are “combinations of products assembled in the field or pre-manufactured that, once installed correctly to a United Laboratories (UL) rated design, prevent the passage of fire, air and temperature between compartments. All fire-stop systems are tested under the same [American Society of Testing Materials] ASTM standard to ensure…suitability for use in the specific applications.”

Firestopping not only helps saves lives by containing fire and smoke from spreading, it also addresses property issues by assuring owners that vital operating systems and computer networks will be saved from fire damage. “Fire-stopping minimizes loss, so insurance companies may, in some instances, lower deductible levels if a building is equipped with a properly tested and installed firestopping system,” said Tom Vumback, vice president of Fire-Stop Systems, Inc., Meridan, Conn.

Since firestopping system use is driven by codes, any building––residence, plant or facility––is a potential application and is subject to firestopping requirements. “The most common firestop configurations are joints between fire-rated construction components, such as between walls or between floors and walls,” said Gilchrist.

Firestopping requirements are therefore applied to any electrical, plumbing, communications, HVAC, top of masonry or gypsum walls or any other situation that may leave an unprotected opening. Other codes that drive firestopping systems include the National Building Code (NBC), the Uniform Building Code (UBC) and the Standard Building Code (SBC).

A firestop system must be tested to a national standard at independent laboratories, such as UL or Factory Mutual.

Some products used in producing a firestopping system include indothermic caulks, which are water-based products that cool themselves by emitting water when exposed to heat; intumescent wraps, which is a type of material that expands to close off space when exposed to heat; other sealants; plastic pipe collar devices; moldable putties; mortars and composite sheets.

Electrical contractors must have a general understanding of firestopping systems and their installation so that they are able to either learn how to install these systems themselves, or be able to choose the most qualified firestop subcontractor for the job. “Although electrical contractors are skilled at what they do, it may not always be feasible for them to invest the time and money needed for the intensive training required to properly install a firestop system,” Gilchrist observed.

Contractors also need to become fluent in UL nomenclature and understand the system selection process for each individual situation or application. In addition, according to Gilchrist, serious consideration is being given to requiring firestop installers to become accredited through the Factory Mutual 4992 Standard. This standard’s purpose is to improve the installation and performance of firestop systems and their components by examining and qualifying contractors involved in their installations.

Vumback agreed that certification is becoming a major trend. “Architectural and engineering specifications are more frequently requiring that firestop installers be certified by the manufacturer,” he said. He also sees a trend in installer certification being required by jurisdictions, safety and fire inspectors and quality assurance companies. “This trend is being driven by code officials as they become more aware of firestopping and its life-saving qualities.”

Firestopping is a rapidly growing and changing field, and has essentially become a trade of its own. Electrical contractors that improperly install a firestopping system, or that do not hire qualified installers, will spend a great deal of money on failed inspections and increased liability costs. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at dbremer@erols.com.