Maintaining Your Firestop Investment

Bill McHugh

June 1, 2005

Fire-resistance rated walls, floors and their penetrating service items, treated to restore the wall/floor rating, are important parts of a building’s fire- and life-safety program because they resist the spread of fire and smoke from one area to another. This important fire protection feature serves building occupants, who need havens of safety during building fires and safe routes to escape.

Fire walls and floors, firestopping, fire and smoke dampers and fire doors, as well as structural steel fireproofing, all need to be maintained to retain effectiveness, much like other systems in a building. At the LaSalle Bank fire in Chicago last year, a fire raged for more than five hours before traversing to the next higher floor, and the building was still standing after the fire was extinguished by Chicago firefighters. The value of vertical effective compartmentation meant the property could be renovated, instead of torn down and rebuilt.

The Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) recommends maintenance of effective compartmentation and structural protection to ensure performance of this critical system during a fire condition.

Maintenance of effective compartmentation and fire-resistive materials, including fire walls, floors, fire and smoke dampers, fire doors, fireproofing and coatings, is now a requirement of the International Fire Code (IFC) following the International Code Council (ICC) final action hearings in May 2004.

Building Codes

There were formerly three providers of building codes in the United States. The Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA) published the BOCA National Building Code; Southern Building Code Congress International, the Standard Building Code; and the International Council of Building Officials, the Uniform Building Code. Each of these code organizations agreed to stop publishing building codes, merging to form the ICC, which publishes the International Family of Codes including building, fire and several other model codes.

There are now two model building codes in the United States: the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 5000 and the ICC’s International Building Code (IBC). The IBC has been adapted almost nationwide. Jurisdictions that adapt the IBC also typically adapt the "family of codes," including the IFC.

Below is the passage from the International Fire Code, 2003 Supplement, that is now required of building owners and managers:

703.1 Maintenance. The required fire-resistance rating of fire-resistance rated construction (including walls, firestops, shaft enclosures, partitions, smoke barriers, floors, fire-resistive coatings and sprayed fire-resistant materials applied to structural members and fire-resistive joint systems) shall be maintained. Such elements shall be properly repaired, restored or replaced when damaged, altered, breached or penetrated. Openings made therein for the passage of pipes, electrical conduit, wires, ducts, air transfer openings and holes made for any reason shall be protected with approved methods capable of resisting the passage of smoke and fire. Openings through fire-resistance rated assemblies shall be protected by self-closing or automatic-closing doors of approved construction meeting the fire protection requirements for the assembly.

So what does this maintenance requirement mean? First of all, compartments need to be viewed as a complete system, elements of which include:

  • Fire-Resistance Rated Walls and Floors-Maintenance documentation, assembled from initial and ongoing construction documents, is required to identify fire-resistance rated systems and deviations. If deviations exist, documentation that can be provided to the fire marshal or code official is required from manufacturers, engineers or others who validate the assembly rating.

  • Fire- and Smoke-Resistance Rated Dampers-Building owners and managers must understand the requirements for systems tested to UL 555 and 555-S, and other listed systems. Inspection of fire and smoke damper assemblies may require verification of operation of the damper mechanisms, and an air-flow analysis. Variations are typically not allowed by damper manufacturers, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association and other authorities. Firestopping contractors may perform this work, once qualified, or subcontract it to a testing firm with experience in the technology, if unable to provide the service themselves.

  • Fire-Resistance Rated Doors and Hardware-Building owners and managers must produce documentation that designated fire and smoke barriers have fire doors appropriate to the wall assembly’s fire rating, and that they are functional. Code language already exists for the hourly rating of the door. Pressure testing is a new requirement that simulates smoke-resistance, and may be required as well. The owner must verify compliance of door hardware to maintain compliance. Most importantly, the building owner and manager need to have education plans for building occupants and service personnel to keep doors in operable condition to maintain their effectiveness.

  • Fire-Resistance Rated Glass Assemblies-Building owners and managers must document fire-resistance rated glass assemblies in fire-resistance rated construction. Once fire-rated glass is installed in an opening area, maintenance records are needed to understand maintenance and tested system parameters.

  • Fire-Resistance Rated Penetrations-The building owner or manager must have documented firestop systems to complete the effective compartmentation system. The labeling or identification system should be derived directly from the as-built documentation for firestop systems. As with other elements of effective compartmentation, as-built documentation is essential for identification and maintenance of firestop systems. Building owners and managers should have a procedure in place to inspect and re-firestop penetrations that the cable installer, for example, or any others, may have made along the way between inspections.

  • Sprayed Fire-Resistive Materials (SFRM) and Fire-Resistance Rated Coatings-SFRM and coatings need visual inspections and maintenance as well. Building owners need verification that the fireproofing materials are in place, and not damaged by traffic, vandalism or other means.

  • Effective Compartmentation Building Operations Procedure-Effective compartmentation is a very important fire-safety building feature. Effective compartmentation, with penetrating items such as ducts, pipes, cables, beams and joint assemblies, plus perimeter fire protection, fire doors, fire and smoke dampers, and fire-resistance rated glass, performs a very important function in the built environment. It creates safe havens in buildings during fire conditions for those who are told not to evacuate. Havens of safety in buildings protect people, inventory and business operations by keeping a fire in the room or place of origin and limiting vertical and horizontal spread of fire and the resultant high-heat conditions.

Fire-resistance rated construction creates these safe havens throughout buildings, in building corridors, stairwells and elevator shafts; sleeping and patient rooms; apartment unit separations; mechanical rooms; storage areas for inventory and hazardous chemicals; business operations and manufacturing areas; prison cells, floors and walls; and other areas of safety designated by code.

Effective compartmentation has its roots in the great Chicago fire of 1871. Ever since that disastrous fire in a town built originally with wood buildings, Chicago’s leaders have insisted on fire-resistance rated construction materials and systems for both exterior fire spread from structure to structure as well as interior fire-spread protection. Wood building construction was displaced by masonry and plaster construction for greater fire protection outside buildings.

Effective compartmentation was next incorporated inside buildings to limit internal fire spread. When properly designed, installed, inspected and maintained, effective compartmentation can provide a level of safety that has now been in existence for more than 100 years.

To protect occupants, property and business operations, building owners should have procedures in place as standard everyday operation. For instance, it’s important to have procedures for eliminating the propping open of fire- and smoke-resistance rated doors. Also, a maintenance schedule for self-closing doors is good business to assure that they are operating properly, and building occupants, owners and manager personnel should be educated about the result of fire doors being left open when a fire occurs.

Procedures also must exist for managing service personnel who breach a fire-resistance rated assembly in order to run services. FCIA recommends that the procedure for firestopping and documentation should be attached to contracts of electrical, plumbing, mechanical, cable/low voltage contractors, building personnel and others who may penetrate the fire- and smoke-resistance rated assemblies of the building.

This procedure should assign responsibility for verification of firestopping systems installed after new pipes, cables, etc., are installed, to either the mechanical/electrical/plumbing contractor, or a firestop systems specialty contractor working for the building owner or manager.

Effective compartmentation must be designed using tested and listed systems, installed, inspected and maintained. Fire-resistance rated walls and floors, fire and smoke dampers, fire doors, all need to be maintained by a firm qualified to understand the complexity of this type of work. For more information about specialty firestop contractors that provide these important effective compartmentation services, contact FCIA at 630-690-0682 or visit

Download a Handy Maintenance Checklist (PDF format)