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Meeting fire codes starts with fabric suppliers

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End product manufacturers (EPMs) need to be attentive to fire safety codes, but it’s more of an issue for fabric suppliers who must provide certification documents proving that their products comply with codes.

Benji Bagwell, director of research and development at Glen Raven Inc. in Burlington, N.C., says a reputable fabric supplier will have third-party verification that its product meets all building and fire-retardant (FR) codes. The biggest issue centers on the different interpretation by local municipalities of which codes apply, and fire safety code officials, some EPMs say, can be some of the most strident, partly because they may not understand the codes.

“Many times the [code] committees don’t have IFAI members serving on the board when the codes are being scripted, and they implement codes that may not be scientifically proven or serve the purpose for which they were intended. Members of IFAI need to be more active in these committees to protect their vested interest,” says Bagwell. He serves on the California State Fire Marshal (CSFM) advisory committee and is a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The CSFM is now updating its Title 19, Chapter 8 California Code of Regulation dealing with textile flammability. Bagwell and Glen Raven’s regulatory affairs manager John Gant have been on the committee and say the changes should have little effect on their Sunbrella® Firesist® fabric. This is the case for most fabric suppliers, Bagwell says.

James Parsegian, who is with the CSFM, says that if a fabric is already certified by the office, the new regulations are not retroactive and will not require retesting unless there is a change in the formulation of chemicals used to make the product.

“The new standards are not more stringent, but just a little bit different,” says Parsegian.

Salvatore Messina, CEO of The Govmark Organization Inc., an independent fire testing laboratory in Farmingdale, N.Y., says the market has settled into a situation where the codes make sense, but there’s always going to be a local code official who pulls a test standard that he or she is familiar with, but that might not be appropriate. A fire testing lab is probably your best source to find out what rules apply to a particular product in a particular state. Govmark is publishing a reference book of codes which will be available in July 2012.

“Unless you’re in the business, you can’t be aware of all the documents floating around,” says Messina. “If a fabric manufacturer or foam supplier has its own testing lab, I would trust its report, but occasionally it’s good to spot check things yourself and take it to an independent fire testing lab. That’s normal, sound, business control.”

Barb Ernster is a freelance writer based in Fridley, Minn.

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