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FT-6’s time has come

Installers and building owners would be well advised to start thinking about fire-retardant FT-6/CMP because if Marek Kapuscinski and other industry experts have their way it will soon be a necessary...


March 1, 2006  


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Installers and building owners would be well advised to start thinking about fire-retardant FT-6/CMP because if Marek Kapuscinski and other industry experts have their way it will soon be a necessary requirement in all new commercial structures across Canada.

Kapuscinski, product engineering cable director for Belden CDT’s networking division, is a member of a special committee formed by the Cable Fire Research Association (CFRA) seeking to correct a situation that is both ludicrous and potentially dangerous.

Under current National Building Code (NBC) regulations, if you reside in Ontario or the city of Vancouver, FT-6 is mandatory, but if you are anywhere else in this country be it Halifax, N.S. or Whistler, B.C., the more flammable FT-4 is acceptable even though tests reveal it will generate 40 times more smoke if a blaze erupted.

To be more specific, if you are sitting in an office building in Ottawa there are smoke controls, but across the river in Hull, Que. there are none.

Kapuscinski describes that as “crazy,” which is why the ultimate goal is to seek changes to the National Building Code that would make FT-6 mandatory across the country. “One day there is going to be a serious fire,” he says. “I don’t want to have to say at that point we were sitting on the sidelines hiding behind the NBC.”

According to the CFRA, as communication and data cabling proliferate, commercial buildings are becoming increasingly vulnerable to fires that spread via combustible cabling in plenums and concealed spaces.

One such blaze occurred seven years ago in London, England and is known as the Seven Dials Fire. A CFRA fact sheet states that a “small fire started in a video editing company office in a Covent Garden warehouse, and escaped into the plenum space above the office via combustible cabling

“Despite a quick response to the building, firefighters were unable to contain or determine the centre of the fire. A thick black smoke emanated throughout building, and an oily film covered the facemasks of the firefighters. The fire was barely contained after a lengthy and dangerous effort, which ultimately destroyed the warehouse and threatened the neighbourhood.”

Other fires have occurred at Heathrow Airport, Rockefeller Centre, Dusseldorf Tower, the Credit Lyonaisse Bank in Paris, the Bangkok President Tower in Thailand and the Garly Building in Hong Kong.

“Hopefully, Canadians can soon agree that some smoke controls are needed on plenum datacom cabling – and that FT-6 becomes adopted as a national norm without waiting for the next building code re-issue scheduled for 2010,” Kapuscinski says.

He notes that if the proposed change is made, the FT-4 cables will still be allowed in some applications such as single dwelling residential homes, or commercial buildings equipped with suitably rated conduits.

Jim Young, technical sales manager with Commscope Solutions Canada Inc., suggests that moving forward and making FT-6 mandatory makes sense for it removes all sorts of uncertainty.

Yes, it is more expensive than FT-4, which creates a sticky situation for any installer bidding for a job outside Ontario or Vancouver. After all, why would anyone suggest FT-6 when FT-4 is acceptable in say a branch office in Red Deer, Alta.?

“It would be a good idea if they (installers) offered up different alternatives and talked about liabilities with cables, but typically they don’t,” says Young.

That is a pity for the liability factor alone should be enough to start everyone thinking about switching, whether you need to or not.