Volume 42, Issue 3 - March 2007
|Power in Numbers
Understanding Fire-Rated Organizations and their Roles
by Ellen Giard
Building codes are the life of any building. Adherence to the codes helps to ensure not only a long existence for a structure, but also the safety and security of occupants. Like anything living, codes are dynamic, not static; they continually evolve, often led by different groups, organizations or individuals dedicated to a certain area of the construction, from structural support to plumbing, heating and cooling, and certainly, glass.
In recent years fire-rated glazing has been a topic of much discussion and debate. The issue could be traced back to the question of whether wired glass, an original fire-rated product, should be classified and used in safety glazing applications. Recent changes to the International Building Code (IBC) limited the use of traditional wired glass or banned it completely in hazardous locations. The 2003 IBC revoked the safety glazing exemption for wired glass in newly-constructed schools and athletic facilities. The 2004 IBC supplement and 2006 IBC extended that ban to include all building types.
In light of these changes, several groups have come to the forefront to address the issue of fire-rated glazing.
Fire-Rated Glazing Council
“Over the past several years the use and development of fire-rated glazing products and systems in North America has expanded rapidly,” Razwick says. “Accordingly, a need arose for those most involved with and/or interested in fire-rated glazing systems to have a forum to discuss those issues.”
Though the FRGC is still in its infancy, Razwick says the committee is working
There are also certain characteristics of the new committee that Razwick says set it apart from other fire-rated groups and organizations.
“First, and very important, the FRGC falls under the GANA umbrella and is therefore national in scope,” he says. “Other groups’ interests and coverage are primarily regional or even local.”
A second difference, according to Razwick, is that the FRGC is specifically focused on fire-glazing and related issues.
“Some other groups address multiple, unrelated issues, with fire-rated glazing being only one.”
A third difference is that the membership is primarily comprised of manufacturers and distributors of fire-rated glazing materials.
“These people work with fire-rated glazing materials every day, and are able to address the needs of the fire, code, building and design communities.”
Since fire-rated glazing materials are required to meet certain test standards and building codes for use in commercial and residential applications, the group is gearing its efforts to those who are most affected by the use of such products, such as architects and designers, fire and building code officials and members of the glazing industry.
Codes and legislation are a major issue for the FRGC. Razwick says the committee will be working to address these areas and will also prepare positions and supporting data, when the group sees it as appropriate.
Fire & Safety Glazing Council
Len Brunette, president of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, a fire-rated glazing products manufacturer, is a member of the AGA’s FSGC. He says building code issues are its prime concern.
“There are so many products available that it can be overwhelming to those who are doing the building inspections,” Brunette says. “There’s also the potential for product miss-use.”
One of the AGA’s goals, through its FSGC division, is to provide seminars for glaziers, architects and building officials. “More knowledge is needed on how to properly design, install and inspect fire-rated glazing products,” says Harter. “Fire glazing must also meet requirements for human impact and energy requirements,” he says.
Another area that differentiates FSGC is its voting composition, according to Harter. There are numerous steering committee member categories, which ensures all groups are equally represented and one group will not dominate voting. “The creation of the FSGC is based on a membership and the steering committee is made up of contract glaziers, fire and safety glazing manufacturers/distributors, building officials, fire code officials, architects, testing labs, government officials and fire glass and door manufacturers,” Harter says. “The manufacturer’s input is absolutely vital, but at the same time, they cannot use FSGC as a marketing tool.”
Contract glaziers are an important audience for the FSGC, too, because it is they who must abide by the given building codes and design specifications. With this in mind, the FSGC is working to develop a fire glazing installer certification program. “We intend to certify glaziers to properly field install fire-rated glazing in accordance with the manufacturer’s tested methods,” says Harter. In addition, the group’s tri-annual publication, the Source, their interpretation of the IBC, will soon be complete and should be available for distribution next month.
Legislative activities are also keeping the FSGC busy. “At this time, our legislative agenda seeks to have states adopt the most current model code in a timely fashion,” says Harter. “This would bring the entire country into safer conformity.”
Fire-Rated Glass Coalition
“Currently, the coalition is broadly interested in securing further life and property safety in buildings through a balance of redundant active and passive fire and smoke protection technologies, including fire-rated glazing,” says Zaremba.
The ICC is the amalgamation of three model code groups: the Building Officials and Code Administrators International Inc., International Conference of Building Officials and Southern Building Code Congress International Inc. The groups joined together in 1994 as a non-profit organization, with the goal of creating one single set of codes.
Specific chapters of the IBC that include fire-resistance glazing are chapter 7 on fire-resistance rated construction; and chapter 9 on fire-protective systems.
The NFPA was established in 1896 to focus on fire safety and prevention measures. Today it publishes 300 codes and standards. Those relating to glazing are: NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives; NFPA 251, Standard Methods of Tests of Fire Resistance of Building Construction and Materials; NFPA 252, Standard Methods of Fire Tests of Door Assemblies; and NFPA 257, Standard on Fire Test for Window and Glass Block Assemblies.
Are So Many Needed?
“The greatest problematic issue [in having multiple groups] is the building code people will say, ‘can’t the industry have a unified voice?’ The FSGC was formed to avoid vested interest dominance and to give the building code and contract glazing industries a voice in code development,” says Harter.
Razwick says a few years ago there were a number of very small groups formed to address single issues related to fire-rated glazing systems, such as impact resistance of wired glass or changes in building codes.
“These groups were made up of a limited number of fire-rated glazing manufacturers and/or distributors of such products, or special interest individuals; none of the groups had a true ‘national’ presence and recognition,” says Razwick. He stresses that GANA’s group will be able to reach the glass, glazing and building code industries though a national presence.
Harter adds that the FSGC, too, is also a national group. “It’s beginning was started with many California experts due to the overwhelming influence it has on fire and safety glazing codes,” says Harter.
Bill O’Keeffe, president of SAFTI First™, a San Francisco-based manufacturer of fire-rated products says the most effective organization will ultimately be one that covers all aspects of the fire-rated glass industry.
“Right now, it appears that separate industry factions are in control of each of the groups. The only way a workable fire-rated glazing organization will come to pass will be when it has full and balanced participation,” says O’Keeffe. “Otherwise, they will be nothing more than a marketing and code watch group for the groups they represent.”
Advocates for Safe Glass Puts Safety First
AFSG is heavily focused on documenting injuries, educating market users, architects and building officials, soliciting support from national public interest and children’s safety organizations. AFSG representatives attend and testify at code proceedings and meetings, working with federal, state and local lawmakers to obtain regulatory changes. In fact, the group worked closely with Oregon Sen. Vicki Walker, and was instrumental in seeing Oregon become the first state to ban the use of wired glass in hazardous locations. AFSG and Sen. Walker also worked together, testifying at the 2004 ICC code change hearings where the council voted to approve an IBC code change that eliminated the use of wired glass in all hazardous locations.
GANA Gets All Fired Up
The group discussed the role of fire-rated glazing products within the larger scheme of fire protection. In particular, the push toward including sprinklers in all buildings, including residential ones.
Razwick said he has heard more firefighters promote the importance of compartmentalization and passive methods of keeping fires contained in case active systems—such as sprinklers—don’t work at a time of crisis. He stressed the usefulness of having multiple systems to suppress fires. The council agreed that fire-rated glazing could be part of a balanced fire protection system. Now comes the tough job of increasing awareness.