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Essay - Scary Fire Laboratories - Even Scarier Listings

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Firestop Slide Show 1 of 10 Basics

Firestop Slide Show 2 of 10 Code

Firestop Slide Show 3 of 10 No Seal

Firestop Slide Show 4 of 10 Deemed-to-comply

Firestop Slide Show 5 of 10 Misinstalled

Firestop Slide Show 6 of 10 Re-entered

Firestop Slide Show 7 of 10 Faulty Spec.

Firestop Slide Show 8 of 10 Proper Firestops

Firestop Slide Show 9 of 10 Test

Firestop Slide Show 10 of 10 Smoke and Trays

Sample Firestop Listing

Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning; Boiling-Hot Pressure Washing

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In Canada, we have an institution called the Standards Council of Canada (SCC).

This is what they say about themselves on their website:

The Standards Council of Canada is a federal Crown corporation with the mandate to promote efficient and effective standardisation. Located in Ottawa, the Standards Council has a 15-member governing Council and a staff of approximately 70. The organisation reports to Parliament through the Minister of Industry.

I believe that this is one of the better ways to spend taxpayer's money. The SCC, in my humble opinion, is a great idea and I want it to continue.

But I wonder at times, particularly about the focus given to accrediting certification organisations for items related to fire protection.

Apart from the general statement given above, we depend on SCC to approve national standards (which are developed by volunteer committees at SCC accredited standards writing organisations such as ULC and CSA). They are also supposed to monitor the conduct of accredited testing and certification laboratories.

This is where I have my doubts, based on longstanding personal experience. Testing is important but perhaps not as critical as certification, or testing for certification purposes. If you want to test your tap water to see if it's drinkable without serious side effects, you can submit a sample to a laboratory. You are then interested in accurate results - for yourself. From that, you decide whether or not you will join the many Canadians who use bottled water. Testing for certification is different. You are now making a toaster - to sell to others and make a profit. No store will buy it from you if you don't have a certification label on the side or the bottom of it. Meaning that you had the lab witness the manufacture. The lab also has a copy of your complete process standard. They know precisely how you put your toaster together and where you bought all your components and how you test for quality. Then, the lab's inspector put a seal on the toaster and saw to it that is was sent directly from the plant to the laboratory. At the lab, the seal is broken and the toaster is then tested for public safety in accordance with an approved National Standard of Canada, bearing the SCC logo. Let's say the toaster passed the test. You can now make it, and sell it along with a certification label from the laboratory on the side or on the bottom of it, on the box, in the literature, on your website. Four times per year they send an inspector, at unannounced intervals. The inspector has access to your facility, will not be hindered and he or she will check to make sure that the toaster is identical to that which you tested. If you got greedy and substituted your 10 dollar toaster for a 5 dollar toaster, pretending it's the same, you are in for legal trouble and can expect to have all the labels removed from all stock in your factory and at your distributor's locations. It is similar to business suicide. That is the law of the land. The concept of mandatory certification is enshrined in our National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) as well as the Provincial Building Codes and the fire codes too for that matter.

So, theoretically, we should all feel fairly secure with this regimen in place, particularly if we ignore the fact that our nuclear industry is exempt from the requirement. But let's stick to ordinary construction for the moment.

Now, while I have not infinite but reasonable trust and amicable relations with our fire certifiers in Scarborough, ON and in Northbrook, IL, there is one outfit that manages to maintain its SCC accreditation, through means entirely beyond my comprehension. One of their laboratories is in Coquitlam, BC.

I had the misfortune to run a project through this location as well as to witness a variety of others, all of which resulted in the laboratory's certification sticker on the products being tested. You judge for yourself:

A number of years ago, I built an assembly consisting of a small concrete slab, with a large hole and various penetrating mechanical and electrical services. The hole was sealed, or firestopped, by myself, with a proprietary firestop material. Firestops are routinely used in construction to maintain wall and floor fire-resistance ratings, where either pierced by M & E services or where there are joints to accommodate building movement.

As I was working away in the wooden, cluttered and unsprinklered building, hanging penetrants, sealing the opening, I watched in amazement, as a garbage chute door was being fire tested in a 1m x 1m concrete block wall furnace, perhaps 15 metres away from me. I was amazed because the test was not being witnessed. I was the only one in the room for most of the test. Once the furnace was lit, the technician simply left. When asked, he responded that such tests are boring and predictable. After all, the manufacturer had submitted the product, he (the lab tech.) had installed it and the result was a foregone conclusion.

Figuring that they knew what they were doing, although this still puzzled me, I continued my work. Sometime during the fire exposure, I heard a very loud "BANG". An explosion! Then, I saw that a red-hot projectile had come from the garbage shoot door and was headed my way. Luckily, it missed me by a metre or so and instead landed on someone else's pile of cables that had been thrown on the ground there some time ago. A few minutes later, the laboratory manager, another technician, came down to look at the test and see what the big noise had been about.

I called over to him, intending that he do something about the red-hot projectile, which was beginning to burn my then competitor's cables. "I'm running a test over here!" was the slightly annoyed response I got.

Later on, I asked whether or not this garbage chute door was eligible for listing as a closure with a fire protection rating. "Yes." &ldots;was the somewhat reluctant answer. "Why?" I asked. "Well, because it passed the test. The standard says nothing about hydraulic cylinder explosions and projectiles flying from the door."

I then stated that such closures are usually found in high-rise residential buildings, where the garbage chute door is directly opposite a fire door in a little garbage disposal room on each floor. Had his WH labelled doors, which are now sitting opposite presumably countless of these garbage chute doors, since the 1992 test date, been evaluated against red hot flying projectile impacts? Apparently not. But this too is not part of the fire door test standard and, therefore, irrelevant - to this organisation.

My reactions to this pearl of wisdom did not endear me to the laboratory in the slightest. 

On a related matter, I also took issue with certain firestop listings, which did not contain the thickness measurement of the firestop material. Little things. After a lot of verbal and written bellyaching, this was resolved - but not easily so.

During the fire test for my assembly, so many things were missed that serious delays ensued. The originally planned for 4 hour fire endurance was shortened to two hours because the fire laboratory manager (technician) informed me about 1 hour into the test that he had never run a test beyond 2 hours on this furnace and that there was a 33% chance of furnace collapse.

At the end of the now reduced 2 hour fire test, I could see why there was a chance of furnace collapse. The building's exterior walls consisted of tilt-up concrete panels. Affixed to one of those concrete panels, was a chain pulley mechanism intended to lift fire-test slabs up and down, on or off the furnace. I could find no confirmation as to the load-bearing capabilities of this adventurous assembly.

In any event, it was obviously incapable of lifting this 4 inch thick slab. So, it was used to tilt the test slab up on one side, at about a 45° angle. See below:

1992 S115 fire Test at WH Coquitlam; slab being tilted after burn

The most amazing part followed. After 2 hours and about 1000° Celsius, this hose-stream was directed at the assembly and then straight into the hot furnace:

1992 S115 Test @ WH in Coquitlam, BC, Canada - Unbelievably, hose-stream is being directed at the hot assembly and then into the hot furnace, accounting for the manager's assessment of 33% chance of furnace collapse if he went beyond 2 hours!

This, of course does not exactly make for long-lasting fibrous refractory insulation. Although the white ceramic fibre furnace insulation was drooping down, exposing the steel sides of the furnace on the inside, apparently this was common practice at the Coquitlam, BC laboratory. No wonder, there was a chance of furnace collapse if the test went too long. In fact, no refitting had been planned after this particular test, to the best of anyone's knowledge.

This is just a small indication of the nature of the systemic and intrinsic problem. There were many more burning issues on this project and the test report had to be re-issued as well as the resulting listing because of discrepancies between what really happened and the way the laboratory reported it.

More scary surprises came to light during the follow-up or certification procedures. The local plant that manufactures the product, which came about as a result of this test, is always praised for its QC procedures by the laboratory's certification personnel. During one of the first production runs, the lab rep. was particularly impressed with the digital scales the plant relied on. "How much of XYZ ingredient is in there?" the WH man asked. "Two thousand four hundred and twenty-three point eight two grams was the reply. "Wow", the inspector exclaimed, and went on to share that an unnamed competitor from this area was not similarly equipped. Apparently, the inspector had to help verify the correct mix design in the mixer by helping to count bags of assorted ingredients.

I suppose these too are all grey areas, not specifically mentioned in standards, which may presume a certain level of proficiency and integrity to begin with.

This test was run in 1992. Since then, I have heard many more such stories from colleagues in the fire protection field - about the peculiar practices in this laboratory - resulting in some extremely scary listings, resulting in field installation          resulting in?          Lower costs?

In my most recent scary encounter with this organisation, my then employer asked me to obtain an assessment to use two British fire door tests and combine them into a proposed field application outside of Canada. Such evaluations are not out of the ordinary. For approximately $500.00 I received not only the WH blessing to proceed with our proposed design, but the PhD clad reviewer even threw in, free of charge, a blessing that made the door design acceptable against North American standards (i.e. ASTM and ULC). The British door designs in question were never hose-stream tested. Plus, there are other significant test standard differences, such as how the furnace is instrumented and whether the furnace interior pressure is positive or negative. Many doors, which are qualified to one set of rules, have failed testing to the other test regime. Since WH is SCC accredited for certification, such an acceptance letter can have wide uses.

It makes one wonder about the practices of the SCC, out in BC, which has yet to excommunicate a single accredited certification organisation in our country.

I have never seen such practices at rival laboratories in Scarborough or Northbrook IL. And yet, when asked, these laboratories confirm that their SCC audits have been thorough and professional. What is it that makes it possible for third world practices to continue to exist in this country, while maintaining SCC accreditation?

In response to several requests to investigate the matter, I received the following reply from SCC:

Re-typed letter from SCC, inclusive of diction errors:

2002-01-11

Mr. Achim Hering

P.O. Box 818

Capreol, ON

P0M 1H0

Dear Mr. Hering

Re: Scary Fire Laboratories - Even Scarier Thngs

I am writing in response to the concerns that you raised in the above article, posted on the internet, about Intertek Testing Services Laboratory in Vancouver.

Our assessment teams have looked into this matter, both in November 1999 and again this past November 2001. During our 1999 reassessment visit to the ITS Vancouver Laboratory, our team gave particular attention to procedures and practices in the Fire Exposure area of the Laboratory operations. In general their findings were positive and they could not find evidence that would support the concerns that you expressed. Operating procedures were found to be in compliance with the respective Fire Test Standards and the Laboratory staff took particular care to ensure safety precautions were taken during testing. The laboratory Manager and the Technicians working in this area were found to be knowledgeable, conscientious, and well aware of the potential safety issues associated with this type of testing.

ITS staff were frank that an incident did occur some seven or eight years ago while you were preparing a test sample in the Fire Exposure Laboratory while a fire test was being conducted on a garbage chute door.

However, based on the results of both our 1999 and 2001 reviews, regardless of what conditions may have existed at the time of your presence in the facility, we found the ITS Vancouver Laboratory to be capable and responsible in conducting the Fire Testing and Certification activities for which they currently are accredited.

Yours truly,

Stephen Cross

Manager, Conformity Assessment

Cc - Mr. Lawrence Gibson, ITS Vancouver

To the novice, this letter almost makes everything sound good. 'There were problems, we corrected them, now everything is ticketyboo, so go away. We even checked twice!' But that is bologna. The letter only addresses workplace safety in one of the WH labs. Workplace safety is addressed by the Provincial government, through the Workers' Compensation Board. My beef has nothing whatsoever to do with that. What of, for instance, their HQ-PhD signing off on a British door for ASTM compliance, without having run a hose-stream test - all for the sake of $500.00?

What it's about is not sticking to standards and sound engineering practice, resulting in certification listings, which don't meet code intent and represent an unacceptable and unlawful fire risk in thousands of Canadian buildings. Who cares if building occupants in one of the labs are in jeopardy (other than perhaps the occupants themselves and their families)? That has nothing to do with this issue and with the evidence indicated above. Presuming that I was simply being told to go away so the issue could be killed, I requested a disclosure of facts from the investigation mentioned in the SCC letter, which related to my specific disclosures. SCC indicated that their client confidentiality overruled the Access to Information Act and turned me down. Apart from the contents of this site, and prior to the issuance of the above letter, very specific information was provided to SCC concerning certain test reports and their resulting certification listings, containing obvious, in-your-face violations of protocol, leading to unsafe conditions in Canadian buildings. I will not copy those specific details and names on any website at this point.

And yet, the response side-steps the real issue concerning Canadian building safety, which is pulled into question through the myriad of WH certifications based on doubtful engineering practice, and instead seeks to assure me that no further laboratory occupants will be blown up or subjected to projectiles. If they did investigate the discrepancies between test procedures and reports and listings pointed out in very specific cases and found no problem, they are either blind or lying. For instance, in one firestop test, they certify metal conduit as one of the penetrants, without having it included in the test. It was simply never there. I have the report and the photographs and the listing. They don't match, erring on the side of reduced safety. There are more such examples.

In response, I asked the author of the SCC letter to respond as to why he side-stepped the real issue as well as to respond to the real issue. I further requested an indication of, presuming that WH cleaned up it's act some time ago, what SCC intends to do about all the questionable certifications from the past. Think about it. Millions of WH certified widgets in buildings all over the country, based upon engineering practices documented herein. Scary stuff.

That, is where the matter rests at the moment.

I would appreciate any comments and thoughts on the topic from readers.

Firestop Site

Main Site

Glossary

Comments

Main Site

Firestop Site

Code Evaluations AVAILABLE!

Glossary of Fire Protection Terms

3M Fire Barriers

Vectorising Drawings and Maps; Paper to CAD

Circuit Integrity Fireproofing

Bounding

Code Req's for Firestops

Essay on Performance Based Codes

Master Spec. Section 07840 Firestopping

Related Sections to 07840

Penetration Seal Drawings

Building Joint Drawings 1

Building Joint Drawings 2

Building Joint Drawings 3

History of Firestops in North America

Warnock Hersey Experience

Firestop Trade Jurisdiction

Achim Hering Bio

Man Made Mineral Fibres

Fire Protection Industry Links

Firestop Products and Equipment

Firestop Mortar

Firestop Silicone Foam

Intumescent Products

Endothermic Products

Insulation Products

Caulking & Paint Firestops

Firestop Pillows

Firestop Devices

Firestop Slide Show 1 of 10 Basics

Firestop Slide Show 2 of 10 Code

Firestop Slide Show 3 of 10 No Seal

Firestop Slide Show 4 of 10 Deemed-to-comply

Firestop Slide Show 5 of 10 Misinstalled

Firestop Slide Show 6 of 10 Re-entered

Firestop Slide Show 7 of 10 Faulty Spec.

Firestop Slide Show 8 of 10 Proper Firestops

Firestop Slide Show 9 of 10 Test

Firestop Slide Show 10 of 10 Smoke and Trays

Sample Firestop Listing

Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning; Boiling-Hot Pressure Washing

ULC           UL

T O S

(Theory of Survival)

DIBt

TU Braunschweig iBMB

CONTACT

1