Passive fire protection advocate responds to Dewar

Guest Commentary
Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Dennis Dewar seems to make assumptions based on his personal views rather than on any of my comments. As I was quoted saying in the article, neither passive fire protection nor automatic sprinklers alone are adequate fire protection for many buildings. The best possible fire protection is combining the two with appropriate detection systems.
Recent fires in Chicago demonstrated how, in buildings with adequate passive fire protection, fire fighters can contain and control fires even if sprinklers are not present. In August 2004, a fire was contained to one apartment in the 15-story residential occupancy at 5000 North Marine Drive with no deaths or injuries. Fire, which burned for six hours, was contained to three floors of the unsprinklered LaSalle Bank Building in December 2004 without loss of life or structural collapse. There is considerable documentation of passive fire protection satisfying the intent of building codes without the buildings being sprinklered. Would performance have been improved with properly operating sprinklers? Sure. For this reason, the Portland Cement Association strives for building codes that provide for optimal affordable life safety, property protection, welfare of the public, and safety to our emergency responders.
Significant code changes often only result after determining the performance and failure of buildings during extreme events. For example, more stringent requirements for hurricane-resistant design and construction were developed after Hurricane Andrew; California communities adopted new requirements for earthquake-resistant design and construction after the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake.
It can take extreme loadings and conditions for researchers, designers, and officials to understand completely the actual performance of buildings and this information is gathered and developed to advance building code requirements.
PCA firmly supports the recommendations from the National Institute of Standards and Technology for more robust passive fire protection and for buildings to resist collapse after total burnout, as PCA also supported the need for more robust passive protection discussed in the earlier USFA reports on high-rise fires.
We believe that building code requirements should provide adequate redundancy of passive fire protection combined with fire sprinklers and automatic fire and smoke detection systems.
The motivation for our work in the codes and standards arena is not greed, as Mr. Dewar charges. It is to ensure that concrete and other cement-based products are used properly, safely, and economically, and that structures built with them serve the needs of our communities--goals that serve the best interest of both the cement industry and society.


Stephen Szoke is Director, Codes and Standards, for the Portland Cement Association, located in Skokie, Ill.