Fired Up Blog

Fire-Rated Glass and Framing Blog from TGP

Looking for a candid resource on all things fire-rated? Interact, discuss and gain new insights on trends, codes and design solutions for the fire-rated glass and framing industry.

Fire Safety Lessons from Our Lady of the Angel School Fire

Discover the fire safety insights found from the fire in Chicago's Our Lady of the Angel school including fire detection, suppression and building compartmentation.

Shattered School Safety: Is Bullet-resistant Glass the Answer?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, glass is at the forefront of many discussions to improve school safety. In some cases, offenders have used glazed areas as an entry point, begging the question: If schools used bullet-resistant glass, would students be safer? The answer is not so simple.  Bullet-resistant glass is relatively expensive and in some products the composite layers can be highly flammable. When manufacturers layer thermoplastic and polycarbonate between sheets of glass to help absorb a bullet’s energy, the downside is the combination of glass and plastic may generate tremendous amounts of flames and smoke during a fire, potentially causing further life injury and property damage. This wouldn’t be cause for great concern if school fires were rare. However, data show there are a large number of school fires annually (an average of 6,200 school structure fires between 2005 and 2009). Building and design professionals may be solving one problem with ballistic glazing, but are they creating another by reducing fire safety in schools? As Rod Van Buskirk quotes in a recent Glass magazine blog post about improving school security levels through glass: “complex problems require complex solutions.” It will take time to develop affordable designs that can improve security levels without compromising other areas of life safety. Each step forward is important. Access doors are often a first line of defense in schools, and it is imperative we address methods for bolstering the protection they provide. To address the issue of school safety, design and industry professionals across the country are working on solutions. Schools are exploring options from removing glass altogether to retroffiting schools with security glazing products that provide dual protection.  Currently available products such as Pilkington Pyrostop® fire-resistant glass and other glass firewalls are available with up to a Level III bullet resistance rating and two-hour fire ratings, without the flammability issues that may come from security glazing products in fire conditions. They can be combined with other glazing products to achieve nearly any level of security protection.  The protective glazing committee has also formed a task group to help lead the way on what a recent USGlass magazine article calls, “glass solutions to create safer schools.” Thom Zaremba, Glazing Code Committee consultant to GANA, notes the common denominator will likely be hardening the exterior envelope while still ensuring law enforcement officers have the ability to respond quickly to emergencies. What questions do you think the glass industry should be asking as our country works to address school safety?  

Haven’t we Dodged Enough Fire Safety Bullets?

A professor of fire science said firefighters “really dodged a bullet” during the recent 1 World Trade Center work materials fire.  When the fire started, there was no water flowing through the building’s standpipe.  This forced firefighters to use a special pumper truck to supply water to fight the fire – a process that takes extra time in a situation where every minute counts.  Others debate whether there was even a bullet to dodge in the 1 World Trade Center fire.  Dry standpipes are common for under-construction buildings and, according to the Fire Department’s chief spokesperson, firefighters knew water wasn’t flowing through the system.  The on-duty team was able to follow protocol and successfully put out the fire, with only one firefighter sustaining minor injuries.  Do you hear echoes of the automatic sprinkler system versus passive materials argument in this debate? I do.  Automatic sprinkler systems, like standpipes, are effective at delivering water to a fire.  According to NFPA data, sprinklers have a performance rate of approximately 90 percent.   Now an A- in performance may sound appealing, but the flip side is that sprinklers do not perform one out of every ten times.  Since sprinkler failure largely results from human error, a good way to earn an A in fire and life safety protection is to include automatic sprinkler systems and fire-resistant materials.  Fire-resistant materials like gypsum, concrete and fire-rated glass act as a ready backup when sprinklers fail to perform or reach a fire’s area of origin.   Although it’s impossible to prevent fires from occurring, we in the building industry can do our part to implement the best fire protection plans possible.  So whether it’s effectively supplying water for high-rise construction projects, or using sprinklers in conjunction with fire-resistant materials, it’s crucial not to settle for almost good enough.  Haven’t we dodged enough fire and life safety bullets?