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Why Fireproofing Is Not the Right Term to Use

Jul 03, 2019

A lot of people use the term fireproofing to describe the application of chemicals to something. Overuse has made it seem like the correct term, but when customers start asking us for fireproofing products or services, we almost immediately know that they are actually referring to fire-resistance products and services.
So why do people need to stop using this term? Ultimately, the truth is there are really no fireproofing techniques that exist. There are passive fire protection products that can resist fire for a specified period of time (referred to as the Fire rating level or FRL) and delay melting and burning of a material for a specific amount of time. But a product that actually makes an object or structure solidly resistant to flames? Sadly, to date, nothing in the world exists which fits that bill, or at least nothing that can be used to protect a structure.
So what can we do to protect buildings and structures from flames, and what term should we use if we are trying to stop the world using the word fireproofing?

Is fireproof the same as fire resistant?

We’ve seen it everywhere. Ordinary people, marketers, and even manufacturers use the term “fireproof” interchangeably with “fire resistant” because it sounds more appealing and dare we say it, salesy.
Although both terms are used by the public in terms of fire protection, “fireproof” and “fire resistant” are defined differently, strictly speaking. The former means that a thing can never be flammable, taking account all environmental factors, while the latter means that an object can fight or delay an attack of fire but only for a specific amount of time (usually counted in minutes).
Honestly, nothing is really “fire proof”. To date, irrespective of the material, if an object or structure reaches a particular temperature (for that material), it will either melt, burn, or char and there’s nothing that you can do about it. It will succumb eventually if the flames and heat can get it to a certain temperature.
So, when people say a product is fireproof, what they actually mean is it can resist fire but only up to a certain extent as compared to the absoluteness that the term “fireproof” implies.
And whilst people may know what you mean if you use the wrong term, for accuracy, especially when it comes to matters of life and death, we feel it is important everyone stops using fireproofing and starts using the term fire resistance instead.

More on fire resistance 

So, now that we’re clear on the distinction between fireproofing and fire resistance, let’s dive a little deeper and investigate the role of time as an element of fire resistance. After all, the Building Code of Australia or BCA uses minutes as basis for grading the structural adequacy, and integrity of a structure in a typical Fire Resistance Level (FRL).
According to the BCA, structural adequacy is the ability of a structure to maintain its stability and loadbearing capacity; where integrity refers to the ability of a structure to resist the passage of flames and hot gases; and insulation, the ability of a structure to maintain a temperature below specified limits on the surface not exposed to fire.
FRLs are expressed in three numbers separated by a forward slash, an example of which is 90/60/30. To decode this, you need to go back to the three elements of an FLR: structural adequacy, integrity, and insulation. And as you may have deduced, as FRLs are measured in minutes, an object with an FRL requirement of 90/60/30 means would infer that the object must maintain structural adequacy for 90 minutes, integrity for 60 minutes, and insulation for 30 minutes.
This is where the difference between fireproofing and fire resistance becomes most readily distinguishable and important due to the resistance rating required for different areas. More specifically, structures, and even sections of a structure (such as certain rooms) will require specific FRLs based on a number of determining factors, including, but not limited to, location, structural impact and the type of steel.

Your passive fire protection system

In passive fire protection, a fire retardant is used to chemically treat materials to slow the rate of heat exchange, reduce burn, self-extinguish or stop the combustion process, and/or reduce the intensity when exposed to an open flame.
To safeguard your structure from fire, it is important to invest in the right options and not guess. The rationale is simple – the longer it takes for flames to affect materials coated with fire-resistant materials, the more chance you have of evacuating occupants, getting fire crews in and even preserving the structure.
If you need more information about fire-resistant products or if you are simply looking for something to “fireproof” your structure, it’s time we had a chat, give us a call today.

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