Firestopping Telecommunication Cables: Problems or Profits?

In today’s sluggish economy, there is a segment of the low voltage industry that is booming. Security has become a priority in the United States. A critical aspect of security today is the focus on building security. In addition to enhancing security around the perimeter of buildings with cameras, badge readers and alarm systems, there are changes going on inside as well.

All commercial buildings ( if properly designed ) have security features built in to the building when it was constructed. Fire Rated Barriers have saved thousands of lives in the event of a fire. Fire rated barriers are classified by the amount of time it affords the occupants to safely leave the building. A 1 hour rated firewall in perfect condition will withstand the effects of a raging fire long enough for the people inside to get out with time to spare. In some cases, the fire is contained to within two fire rated barriers and the Fire Dept. can put it out in time to save the building. If we all lived in a perfect world, just think of all the potential lives saved and property damage avoided by every building’s “built in” security. BEWARE!

Fire rated barriers have been compromised (damaged) by low voltage installers for many years. The low voltage cabling industry is directly responsible for negating the value of a building’s most important security asset. Unregulated cable installers have made this a problem on a large scale. Now is the time to repair past mistakes and make amends.

Many low voltage installation contractors are being trained and have recognized the increased awareness of workplace security. Let’s face it. If you were in a burning building, wouldn’t you be praying that the building’s fire barriers were functional? All the major firestop manufacturers have some type of training available. Now is the time to start making an issue of fire rated barriers. Contractors should seek out training on firestopping, establish a Standard Operating Procedure for dealing with violations and get to work repairing the nation’s fire rated barriers. Once you are adequately trained, go after firestopping on the jobs you are bidding as well as with potential new customers. Hospitals and schools are more sensitive to firestopping issues than most commercial entities. Go after this untapped source of revenue. Here is how to do it:

  1. Find someone in your company willing and capable of addressing firestopping issues to customers. He/she will be your expert. Adopt a S. O. P. for retrofitting violations as well as new installations. Develop a presentation that includes “before and after” pictures, as well as pictures of new cable installations that have been firestopped properly.
  2. If you are bidding a cable installation, take digital images of the barriers you will penetrate and all violations as well. After presenting your cabling bid, ask for a consideration (as an addendum) of your S. O. P. for firestopping the new cables. Show images of what the barriers will look like when you are finished. Present the images of any violations and offer (as an addendum) to repair the damaged fire rated barriers. You have, in effect, limited your liability with respect to the previous damage as well as made a good impression with your potential client. ALSO you have made it common knowledge that persons responsible for maintaining the fire rated barriers know what condition they are in. Chances are your competitor will avoid these issues altogether. Many cable installation contractors have been awarded cabling jobs after firestopping issues are presented and solutions offered. These jobs are not awarded based on the “lowest bid”. If you have expertise, get paid for it.
  3. Advertise your expertise. There are very few competent firestopping specialists in the cabling industry. Low voltage contractors have damaged more fire rated barriers than any other craft. It may be best to start up a new division or even a separate company to handle your firestopping efforts. E-mail and/or send fliers to all your local hospitals and schools. Hospitals are inspected regularly by the Joint Accreditation Committee. ( JACHO) Local issues or excuses with reference to violations in fire rated barriers do not influence these Inspectors. If you were to contact the facilities manager about firestop solutions 30 to 60 days before JACHO is scheduled to show up, it may be easier for you to make an appointment to offer solutions.
  4. Call on firestop manufacturers for support. There may be other issues pertaining to firestopping that don’t involve cable penetrations. If you are up to the task, manufacturers are a great source of information about other firestopping issues. If you are there to retrofit cable violations, it may only take a moment to seal a crack or wall seam. Proceed carefully and know your limitations. Your solution must be a tested and approved System. Don’t offer any homemade solutions.
  5. Other sources for firestopping income would be schools, government buildings, nursing homes, shopping centers as well as pre-existing customers that know the condition of their firewalls. There is no need for a big sales pitch. This is a life safety issue. Once firestop violations are brought out in the open and the person or company responsible for ensuring the safety of a building’s occupants is apprised, they will take action, or they will sweep it under the rug and hope there is never a fire and loss of life. If loss of life occurs after being notified of the potential for disaster in the event of a fire, heads will roll if it is a matter of public record that they knew. Not many managers or building owners will ignore this potential liability…….
  6. Once you have been awarded a firestop job and selected a solution, seek the approval of the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) for your project. You should find out who will be inspecting your work and get the solution pre-approved by them. Always remember that an Inspector will be looking for a tested system. Don’t deviate from the manufacturer’s assembly instructions and know your limitations.

For more information on starting a firestop division or getting Factory Firestop Training, call Mike Tobias @ Unique Fire Stop Products, Inc. 251-960-5018 or email him at mike@uniquefirestop.com.