Passive fire protection aims to prevent or slow down the spread of fire to other parts of a building, limiting building damage and providing more time to the occupiers to evacuate or seek refuge. Fire protection systems and materials are typically demonstrated in fire testing to prove the ability of the installed materials to protect an area from fire. Steve Halcrow, FPDC’s technical consultant, considers the dangers of errors and misunderstandings.

It probably goes without saying that of all the aspects of work our members contend with day to day, few could be considered as critical as fire protection, and I make no apologies to regular readers of this column for saying that, as ever, attention to detail is the key message to remember in order to get things right.

One thing I have noticed as I travel around sites attending to members’ enquiries is that there is quite an array of materials being used by them in the fire protection field, from various manufacturing sources and through a wide range of supply routes.

This led to me pondering the potential for errors or misunderstandings and the potentially catastrophic consequences should these happen.

The main areas in which members are using fire protection systems are for firestopping of services and for the fire protection of structural steel. If we discount for a moment intumescent paints then passive protection of steel beams and columns is quite a common element of the work of our members, and is a more specialised activity than perhaps it is in many cases given credit for.

We need to ensure we fully understand the installation requirements laid down by the manufacturer of the firestopping material in question, as they all tend to differ in their use and the differences can be subtle but crucial to performance. As always it is dangerous to make assumptions, however logical they appear.

In the case of firestopping of services, the thickness of material can vary for the same performance level; some require a special coating to be applied once they are in situ whilst others may not. In addition, some require prepared holes in partitions to be lined with plasterboard where others do not stipulate this. The size, number and nature of services being firestopped can have an effect on the method chosen.

With regard to fire-protecting structural steel there are numerous products available and each has its own unique installation rules. Some are board products, some dense rockwool insulation with or without foil faces, some require framing and some self-fix. Interfaces between different types and between any one type and the adjacent structure are critical details and should be regarded with the utmost importance.

There is no simple solution to all this that I can include in this short piece but it is absolutely vital that such details are carefully checked before commencing any operations.

The most common scenario is that installers assume that because they have fixed one type of product in a certain way they can use the same method for another, or that materials can be interchanged on a thickness-for-thickness basis. This is often not the case and each application should be checked before anything is constructed.

Even materials and systems change, so the assumption that, having done it a certain way once it can be done that way forever, is a dangerous one.

There is little doubt that the best advice is to obtain training from the supplier of the material or system you intend to use. Training from an independent body is ultimately the way to go, to get your workforce certified to be able to inspect, install and advise on fire protection matters. There are several certification schemes offering this option.

Perhaps the best starting place though is an independent body representing those who specialise in this field, so try one of the following if you need information: The Association for Specialist Fire Protection – Passive Fire Protection Federation –

The Fire Protection Association – Assume nothing, check first always and get informed through training. Then you never need get caught cold in this potentially hot area of our work.