The main function of an industrial building is protecting the people and assets inside. Some industries – including mining, oil and gas production, military and aviation – have strict flammability codes due to the nature of the work performed and equipment used inside. Buildings used for public functions, including event centers, sports arenas, casinos and public rodeo arenas, must also meet fire standards in order to protect the lives inside during a fire.
While there is no type of building completely immune to the impact of fire, using a flame-retardant fabric cladding is one way to meet code and protect the building. PVC fabrics are inherently flame retardant. Flame-retardant PE fabric includes a chemical compound that causes the fabric to self-extinguish when exposed to flame. The additive is an indelible part of the fabric and will provide protection throughout the fabric’s lifespan.
Why Choose Flame Retardant Fabric?
Flame-retardant (FR) fabric may be more expensive – expect the material cost for FR polyethylene (PE) fabric to be about 70% higher. PVC fabrics are inherently flame-retardant, regardless of cost. However, specifying FR fabric before construction is one way to ensure that protection for the life of your structure. The chemical compounds that suppress the flame cannot be added to the building later. The only way to change the flame retardancy of a fabric structure post-construction is by completely reskinning it.
But won’t getting the less-expensive non-flame retardant fabric be good enough?
Maybe. But over the course of the fabric’s lifespan (20+ years), having a building rated to the higher safety code will allow diversification and new uses for the building. For example, a private riding arena intended for personal use may not need to meet public safety standards. But use the same arena to make a few bucks off a rodeo event, riding clinic or concert, and you’ll need a permit – and that requires meeting fire safety standards. Same with a warehouse – use it to store non-flammable items and you may not need to worry about flame retardancy. But add a staff to pack, ship or sort items, and you have a public building.
Even without potential loss of life, keeping the building contents protected may justify the additional cost of FR fabric. While fires are a rare occurrence, it only takes one to destroy the inventory inside the building as well as the building itself and the surrounding area. Self-extinguishing fabric will keep the building from becoming engulfed in flame, granting additional time to put the fire out without damaging the building’s contents.
How Does Flame-Retardant Fabric Work?
As a limited combustible material, self-extinguishing fabric will melt in the presence of fire but will not sustain combustion or spread the flame. This essentially means that fabric will burn away without damaging the steel frame or building contents. In testing, the building became self-venting as the fabric burned away, allowing smoke and heat to escape the building. Self-venting buildings protect the building frame and contents, as well as those fighting the fire.
FR fabric will prevent a small fire from becoming a large fire. In many instances when a fire has started inside a flame-retardant fabric structure, the damage was repaired and the building was back to use within a few weeks.
Why Can’t I Just Use a Fire Suppression System?
Most commercial buildings are required to have a fire suppression system that uses water or chemicals to put the fire out. Fire suppression systems and sprinklers are an integral part of a fire safety plan – in the event of a fire, these systems will still be used to stop the fire and keep the building contents from burning.
Combining FR fabric with a fire suppression system fights the fire on two fronts: The fire suppression system works to stop the fire. The FR fabric keeps the fire from spreading to the surrounding area, and by preventing the spread of fire it allows extra time for people in the building to escape and for firefighters to arrive on scene and put the fire out.
Is Flame-Retardant Fabric Really Safer?
Fabric must pass two tests to bear the flame-retardant label: the NFPA 701 Vertical Flame Test and the ASTM E-84 Tunnel Test. In the vertical flame test, a strip of fabric is held vertically and exposed to flame. The time required for the fabric to self-extinguish and the char length are measured. In the tunnel test, a 25-foot strip of fabric is held horizontally and ignited at one end. The flame spread and smoke development of the fabric are measured.
Legacy’s flame-retardant fabric meets standards set by the California Fire Marshal, ASTM, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Underwriters Laboratory of Canada (CAN/ULC), Uniform Building Code (UBC), the Federal Aviation Administration FAR 25.863(a), and European standard EN 13501-1 and DIN 4102.
When exposed to fire, non-FR PE fabric will feed the fire and continue to burn. PVC and other FR fabrics are self-extinguishing. Once the building is engulfed in flame, it’s hard – and dangerous – to put it out. Flame-retardant fabric provides needed protection in case of fire.
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