Firestop Systems Contractor Quality and Inspection: A Standardized Process

Bill McHugh

February 1, 2008

In January 1999, 40 contractors met to form the Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA). Four committees formed immediately to work on the development of a body of knowledge for firestopping, a technical committee, an accreditation program for firestop contractors, codes and standards, and liaison work with the outside world. Eight years later, there are real standards for firestop installation and inspection quality that are catching on in other compartmentation disciplines. The purpose of this article is to provide a brief update on the firestopping industry.

DIIM—Design, Install, Inspect, and Maintain Firestopping

The firestopping industry has been evolving quickly since its inception in the building industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s. FCIA has invested several years looking inward at itself… and firestop contractors as a tool to make better fire and life safety protection for building occupants everywhere through a quality process for firestopping. By looking inside the industry’s complete process to the work result, FCIA found a need to create standards not just for testing, but also for installation, inspection, and maintenance. Using this holistic view of firestopping and effective compartmentation brought new ideas to the construction industry through firestopping.

Design—Tested Systems Explosion

From a small 5- by 7-inch, 200-page book with firestop designs suitable for protecting a limited number of situations, to an 8- by 11-inch, 3-volume phone book, systems are available now to firestop many building types with all tested and listed systems straight from the published directories. There are 8000-plus classified firestop systems, with up to 30 variations of each one, meaning a wide array to cover a multitude of construction conditions.

Engineering Judgments

FCIA’s Firestop Manual of Practice, 2005 Edition, states that classified systems provide test-proven protection and should be used first, even if it means a change in manufacturer for that situation on a project. Since most specifications call for a “single manufacturer to the greatest extent possible,” it allows for more than one manufacturer’s products to be used… within reason… as is discussed in the maintenance section. Additionally, there are jurisdictions that do not allow engineering judgments. “Contractors and manufacturers need to know if a municipality won’t accept manufacturer engineering judgments,” says FCIA Standards Chair Randy Bosscawen of Columbus, Ohio. “Finding this out too late in the game means approval delays and possibly extra costs.”

Install—Contractor Quality Programs Take Off

To provide a proactive construction process installation protocol program, FCIA worked with Factory Mutuals (FM) Approvals to create a standard for the quality process in the construction subcontracting industry. That standard is FM 4991—Standard for the Approval of Firestop Contractors. FM 4991, listed in specifications through reference in master specifications, is a quality process audit program. To attain approval, the contractor firm must first have a designated responsible individual (DRI) who manages the firestopping installation process. The DRI passes an industry test based on the FCIA Firestop Manual of Practice (MOP), classified systems selection (Underwriters Laboratory and other directories) and the FM 4991 Standard. The DRI manages the firestop contracting firm’s processes, policies, and procedures to result in installed firestop systems that meet the tested and listed system published in the testing directories or engineering judgment and equivalent fire-resistance-rated assemblies.

During the FM 4991 Approval contractor audit, FM auditors visit the firm, audit to their quality manual, and then check the installed firestop system in the field to verify the office paperwork’s validity. Follow-up audits are done yearly by FM, with the same jobsite audit by FM personnel.

New Underwriters Laboratory Firestop Contractor Qualification Program

Underwriters Laboratory (UL) announced the new Firestop Contractor Qualification Program at the FCIA Firestop Industry Conference in November 2005. In 2006, UL held DRI testing with its own examination administered by UL. Testing takes place at FCIA conferences and at UL locations several times yearly. The UL program also has an audit of the contractor’s quality management system. The new UL program affirms that the subcontractor quality process is gathering momentum.

Both the FM 4991 and UL programs offer audit inspections of the firestop contractors’ quality processes, with field verification during an office and field audit. Specialty Firestop Contractors now have a way to separate themselves from others who have not embraced the quality process.

Why Seek Approval?

There are several reasons contractors choose to become FM 4991 Approved or UL Qualified Firestop Contractor firms. Aedan Gleeson, FCIA accreditation chair and first UL Qualified Firestop Contractor, says, “Specifiers have added FM 4991, UL Qualification, and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) inspection to projects, with many of the specifications actually resulting in an FM or UL Contractor awarded the work.”

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, communication to the field, then installation and inspection of the work.

“Contractor Quality Manuals are written to reflect the firms’ procedures. These are the Specialty Firestop Contractor firms’ competitive tools used to operate their companies,” notes FCIA’s Gleeson.

How the firm selects classified firestop systems, communicates them to the jobsite, and assures that firestopping is installed to the classified firestop systems and engineering judgments is their private competitive information. Each firm will have its own way of handling the quality process.

Quality Manual and Firestop Education

FCIA and UL have partnered to deliver education on the quality management system and general firestop industry knowledge important for all Firestop Specialty Contractor firms to know—a benchmark industry standard. FCIA also provides education for the FM DRI exams. For information about both the FM and UL quality programs, please visit www.fcia.org.

The ASTM E 2174—Standard for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Stops program 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, including proper design, installation, and inspection.

Firestop manufacturers test their products, manufactured to strict tolerances, and publish systems suitable for use as firestops in UL and UL Canada, Omega Point Laboratories (OPL), Warnock Hersey International (WHI), and FM Approvals directories in North America. Firestop contractors select and install systems with some inspection to verify their own work quality. Inspector firms that specialize in firestopping have emerged to give third-party verification of installed systems.

It is important to understand the link between standards for quality installation, such as FM 4991 and UL Qualification, and the inspection standards. ASTM E2174—04-Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Stops covers penetrations while ASTM E2393—04-Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Resistive Joint Systems and Perimeter Fire Barriers covers the standard for inspection of joint systems for walltops, expansion and construction joints, and perimeter fire protection.

Effective quality programs have a procedure for the production process (FM and UL), while contractor sampling exists to be sure the process works. ASTM E2174 and E2393 provide the independent check and balance that samples the production process for firestop installation consistency.

FCIA firestop consultant member Patrick Tesche, of Global Environmental Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reports a huge increase in demand for services as a third-party independent inspector of firestop systems. “Even though it is not code required, it is specified, and building owners, general contractors, and design/build firms want it so that there are no surprises during the building commissioning process,” he says.

Quality Is the Whole Process

ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393 can be used without the use of a Specialty Firestop Contractor or an FM 4991 Approved or UL Qualified Firestop Contractor on projects that use the “He or she who pokes the hole fills it” protocol.

“The inspection may cost much more when used with the multiple trade method, as it is difficult to manage anywhere from 2 to 40 subcontractor firms that touch effective compartmentation with their penetrating pipes, ducts, cables, etc.,” explains FCIA member Rob Hlady of Affinity Firestop Consulting in Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada. “Inspection costs rise dramatically due to multiple trades involved and submittal package variances to field applications.”

Maintenance

Once installed, firestop systems may need minor maintenance over the life cycle of the building. As building services change, there are new penetrations through fire resistance rated compartmentation that needs to be repaired to keep integrity of the compartment intact. To remain reliable throughout the life cycle of the building, effective compartmentation needs to be continuously inspected and maintained. Building owners and managers have adapted the use of ‘firestop permits’ in their facilities to control changes to or newly installed firestop systems documentation. “This makes for an effective compartmentation and firestopping program,” states FCIA / NIA Member, IMICO’s Alec Rexroat, a Chicago insulation and firestop contractor.

The Firestopping Work Force

Firestopping is a very technical activity. “A successful worker needs to understand why systems are installed to zero-tolerance protocol,” says FCIA Apprenticeship Chair Bob Hasting, of Specialty Firestop Systems, Inc. “When workers understand their role in fire and life safety through following the classified firestop system to every detail, they get it… and are worthy firestop and containment workers.”

Currently, a State Apprenticeship Council exists in the state of Washington, with other states looking to get up and running. Also, the U.S. Department of Labor is looking at declaring the trade. “A 2-hour training course does not create an effective firestop and containment worker,” says Hasting. “The work force needs to understand the fire-resistance-rated assemblies, penetrating items, joints, gaps, and interaction between them to be productive and accurate at the same time. There is a lot to firestopping and effective compartmentation.”

Best of the Best

Since 1999, FCIA has been working on programs to improve the firestopping industry. Firestopping and effective compartmentation should perform as expected, when needed in fires. The complete quality approach—using a Specialty Firestop Contractor and an educated work force, with inspection by qualified inspectors to verify that the process is working and maintenance by Specialty Firestop Contractors—is the best method for providing the building owner and occupants fire and life safety during the life cycle of the building.

Architects, specifiers, engineers, building code officials, and fire marshals have agreed and shown support by specifying tested and listed firestop systems made by quality manufacturers; installed by a Specialty Firestop Contractor and/or an FM 4991 Approved or UL Qualified Firestop Contractor; and inspected to ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393, to make the firestop total quality management process complete.

Trends in the firestopping industry will continue to be about educating those who design, install, inspect, and maintain the trade through several methods for better fire and life safety in buildings.

SIDEBAR 1

Firestopping Education

The Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) conducts education for all parts of the chain through books, presentations, and a website. The FCIA Firestop Manual of Practice is provided free of charge to architects, specifiers, fire marshals, and building inspectors. (Fire marshals and building inspectors are also known as Authorities Having Jurisdiction, or AHJs.) Contractors pay a fee for the document.

“FCIA’s Firestop Education Program brings designated responsible individual (DRI) candidates a prep course for the test and is used for several other key audiences, providing American Institute of Architects (AIA) continuing education credits as well,” says FCIA’s Bob Hasting. The Effective Compartmentation Symposium has been well received by specifiers at the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) show, CONSTRUCT 2008. FCIA and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) have teamed up to create the “Total Fire Protection Systems Symposium,” which combines the Effective Compartmentation Symposium with education about sprinkler systems and detection and alarm systems to educate AHJs and architects. The education is aimed at building a greater understanding for effective compartmentation while recognizing that it is a vital part of total fire protection. Additional education from FCIA will become available for 2008.

SIDEBAR 2

Specification Suggestions

Below is some suggested specification language from the Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) Specification at www.fcia.org:

Contractor Qualifications Acceptable installer firms shall be:

  • FM Approved in accordance with Factory Mutuals (FM) Standard 4991—Approval of Firestop Contractors and/or a Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Qualified Firestop Contractor;
  • licensed by the state or a local authority, where applicable;
  • shown to have successfully completed not less than 5 comparable scale projects; and
  • a FCIA contractor member in good standing.

Inspection

  • An independent inspection agency, employed and paid by the owner, will examine penetration firestopping in accordance with American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) E2174—Standard Practice for On-Site Inspection of Installed Fire Stops and ASTM E2393. The inspection agency will examine firestopping and will determine, in general, that firestopping has been installed in compliance with requirements of tested and listed firestop systems and that the installation process conforms to FCIA Manual of Practice, FM 4991—Standard for Approval of Firestop Contractors, and UL Qualified Firestop Contractor Program.
  • The firestop inspector must pass the FM 4991 or UL Designated Responsible Individual (DRI) exam, with a score of 80 percent or greater, and maintain evidence of continued education in firestopping and effective compartmentation to qualify as an inspector. According to ASTM E2174 and ASTM E2393, the firestop inspector must not to be related to the installing contractor firm in any way, including arms-length business relationships such as subsidiaries, distributors, manufacturers’ repre-sentatives, or manufacturers’ supplying products for use in firestop systems. Note: FCIA is working with ASTM to develop a qualification of inspectors standard.
  • The inspector shall advise the contractor of any deficiencies noted within 1 working day.
  • Firestopping should not be enclosed with other construction until the inspection agency has verified that the firestop installation complies with requirements.
  • Where deficiencies are found, the firestopping should be repaired or replaced so that it complies with requirements of tested and listed system designs.

References: FCIA Firestop Industry Manual of Practice