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The burning issue of fire foam classification

In June 2012, a quiet suburban street in Oldham, Greater Manchester was torn apart by a massive gas explosion. This tumultuous and horrific event left an innocent child dead and saw a gas engineer who’d carried out work at one of the street’s houses subsequently arrested on suspicion of manslaughter.

This is a tragic example that highlights how today’s tradesman is more accountable than ever for any work they undertake. Ignorance or inexperience is no longer an excuse when it comes to specifying, installing or maintaining products in safety critical applications.

With this in mind and with lives potentially at risk, Bond It wants merchants and their customers to understand the very real dangers of current fire foam classifications. This is a major concern that Bond It, as a forward thinking and quality focused building chemicals manufacturer, has sought to highlight and address for many years.

Too many classifications. Too much confusion.

When I started out in the industry, specifying a fire foam was simpler and perhaps safer than it is today. You had the choice of either a standard foam or a fire foam in either a gun or handheld form. Fire foam had to comply with BS476 part 20, meaning it would act as a barrier to fire for 4 hours giving a building’s occupants vital time to escape.

Then, with an influx of European foams into the UK came an explosion of different standards. The most prolific was the German standard, which ranged from A1 (100% non-combustible) through to A2, B1, B2 and B3 with the latter offering the worst performance.

If that wasn’t confusing enough, the way of assessing the UK and European standards was also totally different.

The UK standard meant a fire foam had to act as a barrier to prevent fire transferring from one room to another for a period of four hours. The German standards meanwhile were based on someone trying to ignite the foam itself – not a very realistic scenario.

Savings – but at what cost?

One of the most popular classifications people now see on fire foams is B2 and to be honest, it’s not hard to understand why.

B2 standard strikes a fine balance between offering some fire resistance and a cost that won’t hurt the tradesman’s pocket – or the stockist’s margins.

Its performance though is woefully inadequate and Bond It doesn’t think it should be sold as fire foam at all. Yes, there are savings and profits to be made, but at the end of the day, what price do you put on someone’s life?

We’re not being evangelical. Like most of our competitors, Bond It saw an opportunity and did supply one order of B2 ‘fire’ foam. Very quickly though, we made an executive decision in line with our commitment to being an ethical building chemicals manufacturer to no longer offer any product with a lower than B1 classification because their performance simply wasn’t sufficient.

Better safe than sorry.

It would be remiss of Bond It to highlight a problem as grave as current fire foam classifications without also proposing a solution.

Thankfully, the answer is fairly easy to implement. Merchants and their customers need to know what to look for and what to accept as a bare minimum in terms of standards.

Forget B2. Nothing less than B1 is really acceptable. Or, even better, look for the new pan-European standards, EN1366-4 and EN13501-2, which are replacing the familiar but confusing B and BS classifications.

Do so and you can be safe in the knowledge that you’ve chosen a true fire foam that will leave people safer in their homes or other buildings.