Fire Test Plans and the 5Ps
By Mike Luna, President

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When it comes to fire safety, having a well-planned and properly executed fire assembly test plan is essential.  It can be a critical component in obtaining fire listings or engineering judgments for your assemblies.

It is important to understand your objectives and the end game when it is time to move forward with testing.  Some key questions to determine your objectives are the following:

  • What do you want to accomplish with this test?
  • Are you trying to extend existing test data to other options?
  • Do you have a new product that will need certification?
  • Are you basing your product approvals on a competitor’s certification?
  • Do you have a project-specific concern from an AHJ or Architect?
  • Are you looking to comply with a specific fire test standard or code section?

Clearly identifying these objectives will be critical in the first step to developing a test plan.  The 5Ps (Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance) is something to live by in all walks of life, but specific to fire assembly testing, it is essential.  If you plan correctly, many more options will be available to extend your results versus the alternative: don’t plan and get stuck with what you tested, bad test results, or data extension to very few options.  In the short term, planning appropriately may cost a bit more upfront, but it will pay off in the long run when fewer large-scale tests are needed and efficiencies are gained when following a well-thought-out plan.

Many times, testing that is done without consultation can be limiting to your end game.  Allowances can be made after a test, but will be determined by what was tested, how it was conducted, and the assembly components used for the testing, which may not allow for options you may desire.

Testing should be perceived as not just a compliance test but as obtaining data that can be used for design changes, engineering extension of data and judgments, and visually understanding what happens during a fire test.  A failure in a compliance test can be “okay” if the proper information is obtained.

5P Steps to consider during your venture are as follows:

  1. Identify your objectives: The first step in developing a fire assembly test plan. This will help you determine the type of test you need to conduct and the specific criteria that need to be met. What do you want to accomplish with the test?
  1. Select a well-versed consultant: Once you have identified your objectives, the next step is to select a reputable consultant with experience conducting the type of testing you need. The consultant should have many years of testing experience and can provide oversight of sample construction and testing at the lab and should be able to provide you with a test plan that will be used to extend the data to other options so that it is clear with you the “what and the why” of the specific testing.
  1. Select a testing agency: In parallel with selecting a consultant, you should select a testing agency. Look for a reputable agency with experience conducting the type of test and certification you need.  The agency should be accredited and have the necessary equipment and personnel to conduct the test and provide certification if necessary.
  1. Conduct the test: Once your consultant has developed the test plan, it’s time to plan for construction and conduct the test. Keep your consultant involved.  Consultants know that construction for testing is different than construction on site.  These minor differences can make a pass or fail.  Someone knowledgeable about test lab practices must be on-site, witnessing the project and ensuring construction and testing are moving along without issue.
  1. Analyze the results: After the test is complete, the data and observations should be analyzed to determine whether the test met the specific criteria established in the test plan.
    • If the test did not meet the criteria, adjustments to the test plan may be necessary. Engineering judgments can be made depending on the data gathered, and additional tests may need to be conducted.
    • If the test was successful, you can use the results to support your objective.

In conclusion, developing a fire assembly test plan requires the 5Ps. Remember to work with a reputable consulting agency, define clear test objectives, and carefully analyze the results to ensure the safety of the assemblies you wish to install on buildings and support your fire safety goals. By following these steps, you can develop a comprehensive and effective test plan that can help you extend your results.

About Priest & Associates Consulting, LLC: With over 135+ years combined between the four partners, PAC provides consulting services for product manufacturers, architects, builders, and any other entity needing services related to fire performance of materials.  Services include help with product design, test plan development, fire listings approval plans, engineering judgments, testing oversight, and code compliance.  PAC also guides manufacturers in navigating the North American, European, and Middle East markets.