Blog / August 31, 2014

To Firestop ….or not? Who pays the ultimate price?

When we sit down at our desks and log onto our networks every morning, or when we pick up the phone to make a call, or even just turn on the TV in a hotel, we take it for granted that we’ll get connected.  How often do we consider that the very cabling systems that we install, use, and take for granted could be contributing to significantly increased fire risks in the buildings in which we live, work and play?


In todays rapidly changing world, telecom, data, network and control cables are installed, upgraded, and replaced more frequently than ever before ….even with the rapid growth of wireless technology, and this creates the ongoing problem of maintaining the performance of fire rated walls and floors.  It’s not uncommon for old cables to be left in place despite not being used because it’s deemed too expensive and time consuming to remove them.  The risk of increased combustible material or “fuel” (old cable sheathing) remaining in situ, and the associated unnecessary increase in fire load is too often overlooked.  Building codes and regulations demand that all cables penetrating through rated wall and floors MUST be adequately firestopped so as to reinstate the wall or floor to it’s original fire resistance rating.  There is also a Duty of Care imposed on building owners and operators to maintain minimum standards of fire safety in their buildings so as to provide a safe environment for the people who work and live in them.


It’s an unfortunate fact that one of the most commonly violated aspects of the Building Regulations in commercial buildings is failure to fire stop telecom and data cables. How often do we see cable trays, that are already grossly overloaded, accommodating even more cables by just breaking out more of the wall or floor to make the opening bigger!  How often do we put off the reinstatement of firestops when we alter cable networks? How often do we survey our buildings to review the condition of our cable routes and the integrity of our fire wall and floors?  How often do we even think about it?


If this sounds familiar, then you’re not alone. It’s a widespread problem that must be addressed before we have our own “Towering Inferno”.


Because there are so many different types of services installed in modern buildings, the approach to this problem has historically been very fragmented with different trades and specialist disciplines adopting very different levels of commitment (or not) to carrying out their own firestopping. In new build situations, firestopping was sometimes even left until the Building Control Inspector made comments, and a mindset developed throughout the industry that said “…’s someone else’s problem”.   Things have improved during the construction stage of a building, with Architects and Services Engineers more knowledgeable about availability and performance of firestopping products and systems, but there is still a long way to go.


There remains a serious lack of understanding of how to choose the correct type of firestop product for a specific situation or clients requirements, and there is sometimes a “built in” conflict between getting the construction completed for the lowest possible price without any thought to downstream “running costs”. In other words we’re regularly being “penny wise but pound foolish”, and this ongoing situation will only be addressed by embracing a basic education process. The Fire Protection product manufacturers need to invest in new designs and methods of firestopping which can accommodate the real world demands and needs of building occupants while maintaining and improving overall fire safety. Better education, product design, building design and better end value for the client can be achieved with little additional cost by understanding some of the fundamentals……we can reduce the fire risk for everyone and that’s got to be good!


So, who does pay the price if we don’t ensure that the integrity of our fire rated compartments is maintained. The simple answer is “everyone”……..but often some people pay a much higher price than others!


Gary Metcalfe

2M Trading Ltd

(Suppliers of 2MT HEATSHIELD products)