Fourth of July always brings a handful of incidents relating to fireworks being used improperly. Usually, the incidents are in the form of burns on hands, faces or arms, but occasionally, they involve furniture or buildings. Physical burns on your body from mishandling fireworks can be devastating, but a burning building has the potential to do more than injure a single person. In 2011 alone, fireworks caused almost 18,000 fires, 1200 of which were total structure fires, and 400 were vehicles (http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/holidays/fireworks).These fires caused 8 civilian deaths, 40 injuries and $32 million in property damage! Each year we see dozens of articles and warnings regarding the proper handling of fireworks, and while proper handling of fireworks is important, an often overlooked factor is the flammability rating of materials that are used in buildings and vehicles that sparks from either professional or home fireworks could inadvertently come in contact with.
To ensure the lives of those within them, buildings and vehicles are built with passive fire protection systems. A passive fire protection system is one that focuses on preventing or slowing the spread of a fire, which allows anyone inside a vehicle, RV or building more time to exit the structure safely. Many building materials, such as roof assemblies, carpets, furniture, cabinetry and fabrics require flammability testing before they are approved to be used in a vehicle or building to verify they meet the required fire ratings for passive fire protection systems.
Several standards exist that specify how fire testing is to be performed:
- ASTM E84
- ASTM E162
- FMVSS 302
- NFPA 259
- NFPA 268
- NFPA 285
Two of the most referenced performance indicators used in the building codes are the flame spread index and smoke developed index. The flame spread, or surface burning characteristics rating, is a ranking to describe the material’s tendency to burn rapidly and spread flames, while the smoke developed index (SDI) measures the concentration of smoke a material emits as it burns. Both flame spread and SDI can be determined with ASTM E84, and ASTM E162 (watch ademonstration of the ASTM E162 test method performed at the NTA Test Lab) can also provide flame spread as well as heat evolution of materials. The flammability of interior materials for passenger cars, trucks, recreational vehicles and buses is measured by the FMVSS 302, and the burning rate is described in in/min.
Some materials have the potential to give off high amounts of heat, which require a different type of test - the NFPA 259 to determine the potential heat of building materials. Knowing how much heat a material can give off without being in flames is an important factor in understanding how long before a material ignites, however, ignitability is not covered by NFPA 259, but is instead measured by NFPA 268.
Wall assemblies and panels are often constructed of multiple building materials, some of which may be combustible. Some wall assemblies are required to be non-combustible, and NFPA 285 measures the assemblies and panels to ensure that regardless of the materials used, the entire panel or assembly itself is “non-combustible”.