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NFPA 701 Compliance and Longevity of Flame Retardant Treatment

Discussion in 'Safety' started by Colin, Sep 12, 2018.

  1. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
    Technical Director
    Location:
    Eastern Massachusetts
    I've been talking with my fire marshal lately about this longstanding gray area. I have natural fiber curtains that are FR treated. The most recent cleaning and re-treatment happened in September 2014. Usually, when I buy fabric I get a certificate guaranteeing the treatment for one year and saying it'll likely last longer but testing is recommended. In other cases, like the 2014 treatment, I see a cert with only a date of application and nothing about longevity. Until recently, I've been the only one bugged by this and my AHJs haven't cared one bit (even when I bring it up) as long as they have a cert on file. I suspect that's true in many or most localities.

    We have a new fire marshal now, on the job less than a year, and he has taken more of an interest in this issue. I'm glad, because I want a more firm and reliable code based ruling. I don't like being surprised with "oh, I was reading the code today and noticed I have to shut down your show".

    I recently brought a sample from the same batch of 2014 treated material to the fire station and we did the NFPA 705 field test. It went really well, so we're both unofficially satisfied that the 5 year treatment interval I've historically used is at least adequate. But NFPA 705 is explicitly not a reliable substitute for 701. I personally see the language in 705 allowing room for the AHJ to make a judgement, but that isn't something my guy is presently comfortable with, so we're both researching what others are doing with the issue.

    So, from those of you who have a direct relationship with your AHJs, how are you handling this and what's the rationale? Have you arrived at a code or other research based solution for compliance that doesn't involve re-treating annually or replacing with IFR material?
     
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  2. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    Unfortunately and in our local (NYC) the NYFD is the AHJ but takes no part in the testing, instead leaving it up to a private licensed company, who tests AND treats. Thus in our experience, our curtains NEVER pass after a year. What a surprise.
     
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  3. Tom Andrews

    Tom Andrews Member

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    Occupation:
    Flame Retardant Professional
    Location:
    Leonia, NJ
    NFPA 705 is a good 'indicator' of flammability for cottons, less so for synthetics and blends. Taking samples from different areas on a curtain may yield different results, for example top and bottom, and actual fabric vs. the selvage. In NYC the rules are somewhat different. In MA, the applicable code says the drapes etc need to "be maintained" as flame retardant. There's no time frame listed in the code. Whoever did the FR treatment for you in 2014 should have given you a certificate with a 'guaranteed by' date. I'd suggest calling that company and asking for a revised certificate showing the treatment date in 2014, and the certificate expiration/guaranteed by date.

    If our company treats soft goods and we go back a year later and they all fail the open flame test, I'm really embarrassed. I'm happier when everything passes after we treat them. If curtains get cleaned or they're exposed to a lot of fog/haze effects, those things will affect the FR treatment.
     
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  4. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
    Theatre Consultant
    Location:
    Oak Park, IL (708)983-5792
    In Illinois the fire marshall says 5 years. School fire safety is regulated and enforced by thy "Regional Office of Education" who do annual inspections, so its the five years. Most physical plant directors in Illinois public schools ask for IFR because they are tired of the inspection notice.

    I recommend only IFR fabric, and recommend replacing with IFR rather than cleaning and re-treatment.
     
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  5. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
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    Very useful to have an applicator chime in. So are you saying that you do guarantee your treatments for more than one year? Regardless of how long the guarantee, how did you arrive at that length?

    The original certificates I have from 2002 guaranteed for five years, but lately I haven't seen more than one year (mostly from Rose Brand, but I'm sure I've seen that from other vendors too) and my belief was that perhaps companies decided since then (like, after the Station fire in 2003) that they wanted no part of the liability and abandoned the longer guarantees so end users and AHJs have to sort it out. The language in a Rose Brand cert for instance is very wink-nudge in this respect - tempts one to translate into "this'll last until you wash it out, but you didn't hear that from us. Please don't sue." So end users have to decide between big spending on annual treatments or new IFR drapes, or I fear in many cases they'll just read that language as permission to ignore a hazard.
     
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  6. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    Bill does this mean when the fire marshal says 5 years they're just repeating what some superintendents decided "seems about right" or is it just that the office of education is responsible for administering rules set by the more knowledgeable fire marshal? If the office of ed is actually making fire safety regulations, yikes! Either way, I have the same question for these authorities that I have for everyone else: why 5 years? Did someone collect samples of real in-use curtains of various ages and send them in to a NFPA 701 test lab? Or is it based on someone's anecdotal evidence from experience doing 705 field tests? Did someone just roll some dice?

    And yes, all IFR for new purchases, but got some major budgeting work to do with admin to get as far as complete replacement.
     
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  7. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
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    Here's another reason these guarantees seem arbitrary to me. Pretty slimy to privatize to that degree. Do you at least have multiple options to go to so you could (as if you'd want the hassle) have one company treat and a different one test? I'd be tempted to just once order an independent test a month after treatment to verify they saturated the material properly, and then just once do another independent test at the end of the guarantee so I could tell a dishonest company to go screw if warranted.
     
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  8. Tom Andrews

    Tom Andrews Member

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    Occupation:
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    Location:
    Leonia, NJ
    Yes, we guaranty for more than one year. Since the 'guaranty' time isn't regulated outside of NYC and California, we try to match our guarantees to regional competition. Most companies do 5 years, some do 3 years. We also take into account heavy usage and may reduce the time. For example, national Broadway tours we'll provide a one year certificate. I haven't looked at a Rose Brand certificate for a while, but like us, they have different formats and wordings for different regions. There are a number of 'exclusions' in the certificate, specifically cleaning and alterations.

    I think 5 years is random 'long time'. I don't think there have been studies of how long this is effective. A lot depends on usage. I've tested a 20 year bolt of commando cloth, and it was fine. Dirty and bit dry rotted, but it didn't burn. I've tested soft goods in a touring show we treated 12 months prior, and maybe 15% of them fail. Lots of handling, load in and load out every week, 8 shows/week. Polyesters don't hold the FR as well as cotton and other natural fibers.

    IFR fabrics should be tested 'periodically', since by code the FR needs to be 'maintained', and you need to prove that it's still intact. Accumulated dust (mostlly organic) both interferes with the FR process while burning, and throws off the ratio of FR chemical to polyester in the thread.
     
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  9. Tom Andrews

    Tom Andrews Member

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    Occupation:
    Flame Retardant Professional
    Location:
    Leonia, NJ
    I think any reputable company, regardless of their trade, would want to fix a problem with their customer. Just because in our business we both test and treat doesn't mean that we want to fail everything that we treated a year ago. I think the opposite is true. As I stated earlier, I'm much happier if everything passes for a long time after we treat it.

    If you have a water leak, do you hire one plumber to find the leak, then hire another one to fix it? If it's a big job, you might get multiple quotes, which people in theater periodically do for this work as well. And you might then hire the original plumber. Or not.
     
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  10. Colin

    Colin Well-Known Member

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    Yes you're right of course. But if a for-profit is essentially given the power to shut down my production or venue, and I sniff any stink whatsoever in their behavior, then I want to have someone else check their work. Dishonesty might be rare and also not a sustainable business practice, but nevertheless could be enabled by the scenario Steve describes. Plenty of contractors get fired mid-job for less serious things. So I hope there's competition at least.
     
  11. Tom Andrews

    Tom Andrews Member

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    Occupation:
    Flame Retardant Professional
    Location:
    Leonia, NJ
    Since the Station House Fire, fewer and fewer fire department officials will do the FR testing themselves. It's too much personal liability.

    Companies like us don't have the power to shut you down. We can do tests, we can treat, we can make recommendations, but you don't have to follow the recommendations. You are not obligated to use a specific company. Only a local government official (fire department, etc) can shut you down. And yes, if you feel someone is being dishonest, I'd suggest calling them on it and asking for clarification, and if you'd like, get a second opinion.

    There's always competition, you just need to look for it. For eastern Mass, I don't think there's anyone in the Boston area anymore. Look at scene shops in CT or other areas? Some smaller theatrical drapery shops do this work as well. Some odd cleaners do this too. In some parts of the country, COIT Cleaners does FR treatment.

    You may want to get budget estimates for FR treatment in a year or two or three. Contact a couple of companies and get estimates. Then when the time comes, send the job out for bid.
    Depending on the age and condition of your curtains, you may want to get budget comparisons for new IFR curtains as well. If your curtains are in good shape, think if you can reasonably get another 5 years out of them. If so, do the FR treatment, then reassess in another 5 years. If not, seriously look at the cost comparison of new IFR curtains.
     

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