Firestop Systems Contractor Quality and Inspection—a Standard Process

Bill McHugh

June 1, 2006

In March 2000, Mike Pfeiffer, vice president of codes at the International Code Council, recommended that the firestopping industry develop standards for quality. With that challenge, Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) Standards Committee Chair Don Sabrsula (2000-2005), president of FireSafe of Houston, worked with industry contractors and manufacturers to assemble and ballot the first standard for firestopping inspection.

ASTM E 2174-01 Is Born, and ASTM E2393 Evolves

ASTM E 2174, Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Stops, was founded from the Quality Process approach. It is designed to be part of the total quality protocol needed for zero-tolerance firestop systems installation. Firestop manufacturers test their products, manufactured to strict tolerances, and publish systems suitable for use as firestops in the Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL), Omega Point Laboratories, Inc. (OPL), Warnock Hersey International (WHI), and Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FM) approvals directories.

Construction process quality is a topic of increasing awareness in the construction industry. Recently, construction quality has been compared to the manufacturing industry, most notably in Engineering News Record; in the keynote presentation at the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Show and Convention in Chicago in April 2005, delivered by Patrick MacLeamy, chief executive officer of Hellmuth, Obata, and Kassabaum (HOK) Worldwide.

To provide a construction installation protocol program, FCIA created a standard for quality process in the construction subcontracting industry: FM 4991, Standard for the Approval of Firestop Contractors; with ASTM E2174-01, Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Stops. Later, ASTM E2174-01 was updated to ASTM E2174-04. The standard then became augmented with one for inspection of joint systems for walltops, expansion and construction joints, plus perimeter fire protection: ASTM E2393-04, Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Resistive Joint Systems and Perimeter Fire Barriers.

FM 4991, also listed nationally in many specifications due to reference in MasterSpec and Building Systems Design, Inc. (BSD) SpecLink, is a quality process audit program wherein the contractor has a designated responsible individual (DRI). The DRI passes an industry test based on the Firestop Industry Manual of Practice (MOP) tested systems selection and the FM 4991 standard. The DRI manages the firestop contracting firms’ processes, policies, and procedures to achieve installed firestop systems that meet the tested and listed system requirements published in testing directories.

During the FM 4991 approval process, FM visits the firm, audits to their quality manual, and then checks the installed firestop system in the field through destructive testing to verify the paperwork’s validity. Follow-up audits are done yearly by FM, with the same destructive testing employed by FM personnel.

Effective quality programs have a procedure for the production process and sampling to be sure the process works. ASTM E2174/E2393 are the check and balance that sample the production process for firestop installation—FM 4991. The FM 4991 program is quite affordable for a contractor. The initial cost is about $6,000 for the first audit, and annual follow-up audits are approximately $1,500.

UL Announces New Firestop Contractor Qualification Program

UL announced the new Firestop Contractor Qualification Program at the FCIA Firestop Industry Conference, November 2005. On April 27, 2006, UL held its first testing of DRIs who would manage newly qualified contractor firms by UL at the FCIA Education and Committee Action Conference. Another testing opportunity will be held at the Firestop Industry Conference and Trade Show, Charleston, SC, November 8-10, 2006.

The new UL program affirms that the subcontractor quality process is gathering momentum. Both the FM 4991 and UL program offer audit inspections of the firestop contractors’ quality processes, with field verification during an audit. Specialty firestop contractors now have a way to separate themselves from others who have not embraced the quality process.

Why Bother to Become Approved?

There are several reasons contractors choose to become FM 4991 approved or UL Qualified Firestop Contractor firms. Aedan Gleeson, FCIA accreditation chair, reports that specifiers in the Northeast have added FM 4991 and ASTM inspection to projects, with many of the specifications actually resulting in an FM contractor awarded the work. “We even looked at bidding a project in Dubai, United Arab Emirates that had a requirement for an FM 4991 Contractor?making this program truly international. Most importantly, contractors are paying attention to fire and life safety through this quality process,” said Gleeson.

Contractor Quality Manuals

For a contractor firm to write a quality manual, it must review its processes, procedures, and people. The firm’s organization processes are reviewed from the time the estimate takes place to project award, through communication to the field, then installation and inspection of the work.

“Going through the FM 4991 Process and building a quality manual made us look at all of our processes for efficiency and quality. We made many changes to what we do and how we performed. The result is that we are a better company for going through this FM 4991 Approval Process,” Bob Svoboda, of S&W Waterproofing, Kansas City, MO, recently stated.

Contractor quality manuals must reflect a firms’ procedures. Many policies are required by either FM or UL, but each firm is unique in how it selects systems, communicates the appropriate systems to the field, and then ensures that the firestopping is installed to tested and listed system standards. Each firm will have its own way of handling the quality process. It is the basis of the free enterprise system that each quality program would be individual because the way a firm is organized to execute a contracted firestopping project can be its competitive advantage.

Quality Is the Whole Process

ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393 inspection protocols are a package, together with FM 4991, that affects the installation protocol of firestop systems to result in better overall project quality. ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393 can be used without a specialty firestop contractor or an FM 4991-approved or UL Qualified Firestop Contractor on projects that use the “whoever pokes the hole, fills it” protocol.

However, the inspection will cost much more when used with the multiple trade method, as it is difficult to manage anywhere from two to 40 subcontractor firms that touch Effective Compartmentation with their penetrating pipes, ducts, cables, etc. Inspectors tell FCIA that inspection costs rise dramatically with multiple trades and varied field applications involved. The amount charged for inspection can be staggering.

From a contractor’s perspective, the complete approach—a specialty firestop contractor providing quality services for firestop systems installation, with inspection by qualified inspectors to verify that the process works—allows the best method, offering value to the purchaser of firestopping through efficiencies in the process. Investment in the correct contractor, with processes that result in documented systems installed in the field, means that value is received for products, systems, and services.

Architects, specifiers, engineers, building code officials, and fire marshals should consider specifying tested and listed firestop systems made by quality manufacturers, installed by a specialty firestop contractor (FCIA member and/or FM 4991-approved or UL Qualified Firestop Contractor), inspected to ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393, to make the total quality management process complete.

Below is some FCIA-suggested specification language from www.fcia.org:

Contractor Qualifications

Acceptable installer firms shall be:

  1. FM approved in accordance with FM Standard 4991, Standard for the Approval of Firestop Contractors, and/or UL Qualified Firestop Contractor;
  2. Licensed by the state or local authority, where applicable;
  3. Shown to have successfully completed not less than five projects of comparable scale; and
  4. FCIA Contractor Member in good standing.
Inspection
  1. Inspection should be by an independent inspection agency employed and paid by the owner. The inspection agency will examine penetration firestopping in accordance with ASTM E2174, Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Stops, and ASTM E2393. The inspection agency is to examine firestopping and determine, in general, that firestopping has been installed in compliance with requirements of a tested and listed firestop system, and that the installation process conforms to FM 4991.
  2. The inspector shall advise the contractor of any deficiencies noted within one working day.
  3. The contractor should not proceed to enclose firestopping with other construction until the inspection agency has verified that the firestop installation complies with the requirements.
  4. Where deficiencies are found, the contractor should repair or replace the firestopping so that it complies with the requirements of the tested and listed system design.
  5. From ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393: The firestop inspector should not to be related to the installing contractor firm in any way, including arms’-length business relationships including subsidiaries, distributors, manufacturers’ representatives, or manufacturers supplying products for use in firestop systems.

Note: FCIA is working with ASTM to develop a standard for the qualification of inspectors.