Testimony to City
Written Testimony by Bill McHugh, Executive Director Firestop
Contractors International Association Chicago City Council Buildings
Friday, February 6, 2004
"Give Chicago High-Rise Buildings Owners an Opportunity
to Create Fire Safe Buildings using Compartmentation."
I am Bill McHugh, Executive Director of FCIA, the Firestop Contractors
International Association. FCIA is a non-profit trade association
of Specialty Firestopping Contractors, based in the Chicago area,
with members from Chicago, the United States, Canada and the United
Kingdom. Furthermore, our members are installing fire protection
in Chicago high-rise buildings each and every workday. We are five
years young, and not huge by any means.
Firestopping is the process of sealing the many openings and penetrations
made in a building's floors, walls, ceilings and doors for wiring,
plumbing, HVAC and other utilities. Whenever you cut a hole in any
fire rated structure, you violate the integrity of that firesafe
box, and thus create an opening for the spread of fire and smoke.
Our critical job is to seal those openings to prevent the potential
spread of fire or smoke. As a result, our members have a passion
for protecting the life and safety of the people who live or work
in these buildings.
As a Firestopping Contractor first, and then an association executive,
I have been involved in firestopping for 14 years with most of my
time spent working in Chicago and the suburbs. Over the years, I
have helped educate architects, engineers, labor organizations,
code officials, fire marshals, and others about the importance of
firestopping and a "balanced approach" to fire and life
safety. I've spoken to and written articles for organizations such
as the Construction Specifications Institute, American Institute
of Architects, Electrical, Sheet Metal and Mechanical Contractors
Associations of Chicago, the Illinois Regional Insulation Contractors
Association, Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractors Association,
and others who wanted to learn more about Firestopping. I am also
the primary provider of training for the Local 17 Heat and Frost
Insulators Union, in Chicago.
FCIA and I appreciate the opportunity given me here today to speak
about an alternative method to fire protection in high-rise buildings.
The FCIA believes strongly that there are fire safety alternatives
to sprinklers that should be given the opportunity to keep our buildings
safe, yet meet the economic goals of our city. Like Dr. Gene Corley,
who you heard from last week, FCIA believes in the balanced approach
to fire safety through the "Triad" of Fire Protection:
- Detection - Alarms
- Suppression - Sprinklers
- Compartmentation - Fireproof Compartments
Whenever there is a fire tragedy, we hear loud cries for "a
single prevention solution" ranging from new sprinkler systems
to suppress the fire in the area where it started ("room of
origin"), to building occupants wearing masks during escape
from fire and smoke. Although radio advertisements, TV commercials
and press releases promote "a single solution" for fire
safety, the reality is
there is no "single solution".
Instead, FCIA believes that the Fire Protection "Triad",
of Detection, Suppression, and Compartmentation, should be
your standard to protect people. You already know about Sprinklers
and Alarm Systems. We are here to inform you about Compartmentation.
Compartmentation is fire resistance rated (1, 2 or 3 hours) assemblies,
with smoke treatments, that contain the fire to the room of origin,
and let the sprinklers and alarms do their work, until the firemen
The great Chicago fire taught the city, designers and the rest
of the country to prevent fire by building fireproof structures.
As a result, compartmentation was perfected here in Chicago, the
birthplace of the high-rise building. In Chicago, most new and older
high rise buildings were built with compartmented fire resistant
construction to prevent fire spread both outside and inside buildings.
Concrete floors, plaster, drywall and block walls, sealed with Firestopping
Systems around pipes, cables, walltops and perimeters, form compartments
that protect us when fire starts below or beside our apartment,
office or store.
Over the years, holes may have been made in the fire resistance
rated floors and walls for new tenant services like computer or
phone wires and fiber optic cabling, cable TV, or other plumbing
and mechanical services. Until the early 1980's, there were no standards
that qualified products for sealing these holes in fire resistance
rated construction assemblies. Underwriters Laboratories, Northbrook,
IL developed the standard for testing firestopping products for
suitability for use as firestop systems
Our industry's fundamental
During testimony last week, Alderman Murphy asked for an alternative
to limit the spread of smoke and fire from the room and floor of
origin. FCIA's answer to Alderman Murphy and the Committee, is that
the "Triad" of Fire Protection; Detection, Suppression
and Compartmentation, offers the alternatives you seek.
Compartmentation is the least expensive fire protection feature,
as it already exists in many structures. If these "compartments"
are sealed against fire/smoke spread with fire/smoke dampers (which
restrict air movement in ducts), firestopping penetrations, fire
doors and other safety features, the low cost component of the triangle
becomes the first option of the "Triad" to implement.
Compartmentation is a part of the solution and building owners should
be given a chance to make compartmentation work before mandating
FCIA urges the Committee to remember the "Triad" when
deciding to vote on this High Rise Building Safety Ordinance. All
three parts of the "Triad" should be implemented for fire
and life safety in Chicago. The Compartmentation piece of the "Triad",
if implemented first, takes advantage of the economics of "fireproof
compartments" already in place, while expensive add-ons can
be budgeted for over time economically. The benefits of Compartmentation
are clear; limit fire and smoke spread to the room of origin, contain
the fire, and save lives. "With fireproof compartments already
existing in buildings, why not take advantage of this safety feature?"
The FCIA, its Chicago and local membership, will continue to offer
our education assistance to the City of Chicago and its building
community about this Compartmentation and firestopping as to help
promote economically viable fire and life safety systems in Chicago's
buildings. FCIA, like you, wants to help protect those who live
and work in the City of Chicago.
Thank you for your time and we look forward to being of service.
Bill McHugh, FCIA Executive Director
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