It’s been nearly 20 years since FM Approvals and the Firestop Contractors International Association (FCIA) jointly developed the industry’s first program designed to improve the performance and installation of firestop systems and components by examining and qualifying firestop contractors.
Firestop systems (see figure 1) are perhaps one of the least known elements of fire protection. These loss prevention systems are used to protect the openings in walls, floors, construction joints, and at floor and wall interfaces against the spread of fire within a building or among adjacent compartments. Firestop systems should meet the requirements of Approval Standard FM 4990, Firestopping.
Introduced in 2001, Approval Standard FM 4991, Firestop Contractors, offers contractors the chance to differentiate themselves within a crowded field of competitors, and to show their commitment to quality and education. Certified contractors are listed in both the Approval Guide and on the FCIA website. For building owners, designers, architects and code authorities, FM 4991 provides a measure of reassurance and a way to select highly qualified contractors for an important construction element.
FM 4991 requires firestop contractors to submit to an audit of their quality control procedures, create a quality control manual, and pass a job-site inspection. Follow-up audits are performed annually by FM Approvals. In addition, a designated responsible individual (DRI) from the contracting firm must pass a two-part examination, which covers their knowledge of FM Approval standards, the FCIA Manual of Practice, and the DRI’s ability to understand and select firestop systems and assemblies in all three scenarios – penetrations, wall and floor joints, and perimeter fire containment.
More than 100 contractors and 150 DRIs have been certified under FM 4991. “There also has to be at least one certified DRI employed by the firm to monitor the firestopping quality management process,” notes Jeff Gould, FM Approvals senior engineering specialist. “There can be more than one, but there has to be at least one DRI in every firm.”
The DRI exam may be taken during most FCIA conferences anywhere in the world, at FM Approvals, or at the contractor’s location during the required on-site audit by FM Approvals. DRIs must pass written re-examination every three years. However, the re-exam will be waived if the DRI obtains at least nine CEUs or 72 learning units (LUs) during the three-year period. “The exam is challenging,” Gould says. “Only about a third of those taking it pass the first time. About twenty percent of all certified firestop contractors are located outside North America, primarily in the Middle East.”
Is FCIA membership a requirement to earn FM Approvals certification? “No, but we encourage it,” Gould explains. “We worked closely with the FCIA to develop the program, and firestop contractors can get the most from the certification program by working with the FCIA to refine their quality manual and satisfy other requirements of the program. The synergy that results from the certification program and membership in the FCIA organization is strong and can really help contractors differentiate themselves.”