Ben Bradford

Managing Director, BB7 Fire Limited

Author Bio ▼

Holding duel professional status as both a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Surveyor, Ben Bradford is the founder and Managing Director of the renowned, BB7 Fire Risk & Resilience consultants. He has chaired the FIA Fire Risk Assessment Council's Professional Standards Working Group for almost six years and was a founding member of the Fire Engineering Council. As the Principle author of PAS 7: Fire Risk Management Systems Specification from the British Standards Institution, Ben is particularly interested in organizational fire risk management strategy and operational challenges.
January 29, 2013

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Defective Passive Fire Protection Can Result in Multi-Fatality Fires

In recent years, a number of new building and refurbishment projects have been completed and occupied, only to be decanted (and the occupants provided with alternative accommodation) while the project is reconstructed due to inadequate passive fire protection.

Unfortunately, the correct installation of drylining fire-rated elements requires more specialist knowledge than that of a masonry or blockwork construction.

Generally, very skilled construction professionals do not have the level of specialist knowledge required to identify fire-related defects before they are covered up. Many buildings with defective systems have been approved, inspected, and issued completion certificates and warranties, but they may not satisfy the functional requirements of the building regulations when put to the test.

Passive fire protection is the primary measure integrated within the constructional fabric of a building to provide inherent resilience against flame, heat, and smoke to maintain the fundamental requirements for building compartmentation, structural stability, fire separation, and means of escape.

Stay-put strategy

Evacuation strategies adopted for residential flats/apartments are a typical example. The stay-put evacuation strategy, which has been commonplace since postwar building studies, relies on fire being contained to the compartment where it originated.

Passive fire protection measures achieve their intended purpose by raising the structure’s fire resistance, protecting it against the effects of fire, reducing fire spread through secondary ignition, limiting the movement of flame and smoke, and minimizing the danger of fire-induced collapse or structural distortion.

Unfortunately, in some instances, there are clear breaches in compartmentation. There may be large holes in compartment elements or gaps where services pass through an element, which would provide an easy route for fire to migrate. This sort of issue should be relatively easy for both the builder and the enforcer to spot. A more subtle issue is the installation of modern fire-resistant walls and ceilings, which requires specialist knowledge by the designer, installer, and reviewer.

To guarantee their performance, fire-resisting elements must be installed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, taking heed of the manner in which they were tested. The potential issues are wide ranging and include:

  • Allowing for heat-related expansion in the design
  • Using correct fixing spacing
  • Using the correct materials/fixings

It is all too common on construction sites to find evidence of pick-and-mix drylining systems using components from different manufacturers because they were available from the contractor’s yard. Though it is commendable to minimize construction waste and use material that was surplus to requirements, it must also be acknowledged that passive fire protection systems are intended to perform in a particular way.

An incorrectly installed element may provide the nominal required time rating of 30, 60, or 120 minutes when exposed to the standard cellulosic time-temperature curve under test conditions. But a relatively small alteration in the installation might make the element fall far short of that rating. Unless it is installed in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, the element’s rating is unknown. Therefore, there is no guarantee the system will keep fire from spreading from one dwelling to another.

Hospital fire protection

Healthcare environments, where evacuation of the building’s occupants is an absolute last resort, rely heavily on the performance of passive fire protection systems. Properly installed passive systems protect lives, safeguard a building’s structure, protect assets, maintain building serviceability after a fire, minimize rebuilding costs, and facilitate quick business recovery and continuity.

More needs to be done to raise awareness among contractors who design and inspect works onsite. An inadequate installation results in significant costs in both legal advice and remedial work, but the potential for defective systems to remain hidden and unidentified for many years — until a fire breaks out — presents a far more worrying prospect.

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February 4, 2013 8:52 am

A title that elicits agreement amongst the fire community but poor installtion still goes on. Why? Perhaps identifying why these defects arise would have been even more helpful. Working with the construction industry for many years in this area I have seen that all levels of the process are responsible for this: -Lack of detailing and specification, particularly at interfaces and connnections, leaving it up to the site installer to ‘solve’ -Firestopping being divided into the various building packages with no thought to the coming together of the individual installations that make up the whole -service installers paying no heed… Read more »