Canadian Consulting Engineer

Testing for new technologies

As the world's only charitable fire research foundation, the non-profit Fire Protection Research Foundation provides practical, usable data on the dangers of fire, and on state-of-the-art fire safety ...

May 1, 1999   By Eric Peterson

As the world’s only charitable fire research foundation, the non-profit Fire Protection Research Foundation provides practical, usable data on the dangers of fire, and on state-of-the-art fire safety measures. Operating since 1982 and headquartered in Quincy, Massachussetts, the Research Foundation (formerly the National Fire Protection Research Foundation) serves code writers and fire safety professionals, the international regulatory community, and corporate and public agencies.

The Research Foundation pursues research in two primary program areas: new technologies and strategies, and fire risk assessment. Following are key program activities that address the most crucial fire problems of today.

Electrical grounding

The National Electrical Grounding Research Project seeks to evaluate how different soil environmental conditions affect grounding electrode systems over a period of time. The results will help identify ways of improving electrical safety and power quality as they relate to electrical grounding techniques.

The six-year project will develop data on the effectiveness of grounding electrode systems in rocky, sandy, wet, dry, acidic, alkaline and frozen soils at several sites in the U.S. Documentation will then be transmitted to the National Fire Protection Association’s National Electrical Code+R (NEC+R) code writers, designers, owners, manufacturers, insurers and inspectors of electrical systems.

Permanent plenum cable

The Research Foundation is initiating this firetesting project to address proposed changes in North American standards for plenum cables. If the changes are adopted, they will create permanent plenum cables as a new class of product. These cables get their name from proposed provisions of NFPA 90A, Standard for the Installation of Air Conditioning and Ventilating Systems. The provisions require that plenum cable that does not meet rigid requirements on combustibility, flame spread and smoke development be removed from plenums no longer being used to connect operating equipment. The cost of removing cable is inestimable.

A substantial North American market exists for these permanent plenum cables, but this market cannot be served until there is a harmonized third-party listing procedure. The Foundation project aims at creating such a listing procedure. Meanwhile, research into plenum fire dynamics is under way in both North America and the European Community. The Foundation documentation could have a direct effect on future international standards. Both fire safety and global competitiveness depend on the data the project will develop.

The research project will seek to address both the problems and opportunities identified by NFPA, ASTM, ISO and prospective listing authorities. It will benefit from new information from the Foundation’s NFPA 262/UL 910 round robin test project involving Steiner Tunnels (see below).

The project’s technical co-directors will be Dr. Frederic B. Clarke of Benjamin/Clarke Associates and Richard Gewain, P.E., of Hughes Associates. They will seek to coordinate their activities with those of other plenum research projects worldwide (by ASHRAE, BRE/FRS et al) in order to minimize redundancy and benefit from complementary studies.

Steiner Tunnels

The International UL 910/NFPA 262 Fire Test Harmonization Project’s purpose is to document and harmonize laboratories’ design and operation of the Steiner Tunnels used for wire and cable testing. Steiner Tunnels are the test devices used to determine flame-spread ratings and smoke-density ratings of wire and cable products before they are marketed. However, there have been inconsistent results among the Steiner Tunnels around the world which have harmed their credibility — thus the need to harmonize the design, setup, and operations of the tunnels according to the UL 910 and NFPA 262 standards.

The Steiner Tunnel at Underwriters Laboratories in Northbrook, Illinois is serving as the reference, with round-robin fire tests being run at other laboratories in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan. A cross-section of industry manufacturers and users is sponsoring the research and participating in a technical advisory committee. Thomas Chapin of Lucent Technologies is providing technical direction.

Intermediate bulk containers

This project involves fire testing intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) stored on racks. It extends tests conducted in previous phases which documented successful, cost-effective fire protection strategies for storing non-metallic intermediate-size containers holding combustible liquids in floor storage scenarios. The focus of this phase will be on protecting warehouse rack storage of IBCs using automatic fire protection systems. The testing includes large scale live fire tests in Underwriters Laboratories’ test facility and is guided by a technical advisory committee of principal sponsors. CCE

Eric Peterson is an administrator of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, Quincy, MA. For more information call 617-984-7283.

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