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To Southeast Newspapers

A letter to the editors of major southeast newspapers from FCIA

The Firestop Contractors International Association, (FCIA) a not for profit group of specialty firestopping contractors from the US, Canada and the United Kingdom, was saddened with the rest of the country to hear about the loss of life at the Comfort Inn, Greenville, SC fire this weekend.

FCIA is not part of the investigation and has seen no official report on the causes for the loss of life. However, we've heard and read in the media that some of the deaths occurred due to smoke inhalation while people were trying to escape the blaze and smoke. Hallways and stairwell areas are usually known as "havens of safety" in the fire protection industry. In this case, the hallways may have been death traps as they became smoke filled for reasons yet unknown.

As a response to this tragedy, like in many other fires the past few months, there has been a loud cry for "one solution" to prevent future loss of life ranging by installing sprinkler systems to suppress the fire in the area where it started, the "room of origin".

Although one "miracle cure" would be great, the reality is there is no "one thing" that may have prevented the disastrous loss of life. Here are some fire protection features the expert fire investigation panel should consider to prevent future tragedy:

If the fires "room of origin".......

...had a fire resistance rated assembly around the room with appropriate fire doors, fire and smoke dampers and firestopping systems, the fire and smoke may not have traveled from the room of origin.

...pipe, cable and other penetrating items through fire resistance rated assemblies were properly constructed and firestopped, and had air leakage ratings (L-Ratings), the smoke from the fire may not have traveled from the room of origin.

...was equipped with sprinklers, the fire might have been limited to the room of origin.....but the smoke might still have traveled unless properly protected.

As forensic analysis of this tragedy continues, we shouldn't limit the analysis and conclusion to a single solution of sprinkler suppression systems. Sprinklers, while an effective way to limit the spread of fire, are not the only solution. An active fire suppression sprinkler system may not be perfect. Also, as a sprinkler system is containing the fire to the area of origin, it creates smoke. Passive fire protection features can limit the spread of both fire and smoke to the room of origin through "compartmentation". As seat belts and air bags, crumple zones and impact bumpers, are complimentary systems that are most effective when used together, so are active and compartmentation, firestopping and passive fire protection systems.

Passive Fire, Smoke and Life Safety systems, such as fire and smoke resistance rated assemblies, sealed with firestopping systems, fire and smoke dampers, fire doors, sprinkler suppression systems, may have helped save some of those who died in the South Carolina Fire.

Dr. Gene Corley, Team Leader for the World Trade Center Building Performance Study, stated in a recent Chicago Sun Times Article, "Fire safety cannot be an "either or" proposition. Buildings for which sprinklers are appropriate should also have fire-resistant construction for better fire protection. Anything less puts occupants and emergency responders at risk".

There are many fire and smoke prevention and protection systems, in addition to egress / escape issues, linked with security systems that should be considered as a result of this and the other fires we've heard about the past year at the Chicago City and County Building, the Nursing Home fire in Connecticut, and others. Compartmentation using passive fire protection systems and an active suppression sprinkler system are those that directly defend the building from fire. These same passive compartmentation fire protection systems and active suppression sprinkler systems may have prevented the loss of life at the South Carolina Comfort Inn.

FCIA is a trade association, focused on fire and life safety. FCIA Members are a resource to the industry on Passive Fire and Life Safety Firestop Systems through offering education programs and assitance to architects, engineers, code officials, fire marshals and building owners. Visit www.fcia.org to find FCIA Member Firestopping Contractors, and education programs to learn more about how to protect people in buildings.

Maybe our call to action as a result of this tragedy should be "Why not have the complete triangle of Fire Protection - Compartmentation, Sprinkler Systems and Smoke Alarms?"

THE FIRESTOP CONTRACTORS INTERNATIONAL ASSOCATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS -

Ray Usher, President
Bob Patton, Vice President & Treasurer
Roger McKenzie, Secretary
Donald Graves, Director
Tom Hottenroth, Director
Richard Keeney, Director
Bob LeClair, Director
Don Sabrsula, Director
Scott Rankin, Past President

For information, contact Bill McHugh, FCIA Executive Director:
Firestop Contractors International Association
4415 W. Harrison St.
Hillside, IL 60162
Phone: (708) 202-1108
Fax: (708) 449-0837
info@fcia.org Email
www.fcia.org Website

Copyright - FCIA 10/27/02

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