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The Limitations of the Field Flame Test

Fire safety has come a long way over the years, and the degree to which we can protect ourselves should a fire occur has grown in leaps and bounds. One element of fire safety, especially for public gathering places, is flameproofing.  However, while this treatment is extremely effective in preventing the spread of fire, there are certain limitations - both to the flameproofing process as well as the field flame test that follows.

There is no treatment out there that can be 100% guaranteed to completely flameproof a particular item.  When items are soaked or coated with flame repellents, they will burn more slowly and will not contribute to the spread of fire.  This allows ample time for those inside the building to safely evacuate and gives the firefighters time to arrive to extinguish the fire. However, once your materials are flameproofed, they will need to undergo a flame test. 

The field flame test has certain limitations that are inherent. First, the tester (a C-15 Certificate of Fitness holder) must be (and should be) aware of the requirements for flameproofing treatments. If the materials were handled through dry-cleaning, washing, etc. the outcome of the test will be affected and the items will need to be retreated. Also, it is important that an FDNY-approved chemical is used for all treatments. Lastly, treatments have an expiration date, and the flame tester should be aware of this date also when testing.

As for the field flame test itself, it's up to the tester regarding the size of the fabric tested, but there are some best practices. Ideally, the sample should be 1.5" x 4" - the bigger the material, the more accurate your results will be. Also, the more samples tested, the more accurate the results as well.  However, if an item is expensive, large or numerous samples might be difficult to obtain.

While it might not seem obvious at first, the tool used to cut the materials can impact the results. If a razor or a knife is used to cut the sample, strings or fibers from the inside might be exposed, and there's a chance that the flameproofing treatments did not soak through to those interior materials. If those materials are part of the test, the results could be inaccurate. It's recommended that a sharp scissor is used when cutting a piece of fabric to be used as a sample.

It should also be noted that not every fabric reacts the same to the flame test. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) states that there are just 2 kinds of materials that should be considered completely accurate - the ones that made from inorganic, noncombustible materials or ones that are inherently fire resistant - or, ones that will ignite and burn easily. For every other material, there is a range of accuracy in regard to the flame test. The results that are least reliable are the tests that are performed on synthetic fabrics or flexible films and laminates, since these items may curl, shrink, elongate, etc. when they come in contact with flames.

A last limitation to the field flame test that needs to be recognized is that organic materials may often be on the surface of the materials - things like dust and oil, which also happen to be highly combustible. This could also impact results. A clean space can help the reduce the accumulation of these substances which will help provide the maximum fireproofing protection. However, if these items are washed or dry-cleaned, then they will need to receive the flameproofing treatments again.

While not perfect, flameproofing a business environment is still the best way to keep the public and your property safe should a fire take place.  Being aware of the challenges associated with fireproofing and the field flame test can help you fill in any gaps in order to provide maximum protection. Manhattan Flameproofing is an industry expert in the field of flameproofing, and for over 60 years, we have been flameproofing and field-testing decorative materials in public gathering places, in order to keep NYC safe from fire. If you need fireproofing or flame testing performed at your business location, please call us today, and we will be happy to provide you with a free, no-obligation estimate: 1-800-268-7993.



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