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handbook of building materials for fire protection

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The fire hazards associated with materials, products, and assemblies used in buildings and other structures have long been a subject of concern and regulation. The hazards of flammable gases and flammable and combustible liquids are widely recognized and regulated with respect to their production, transportation,  and  utilization.  Historically,  combustible  materials  used  as  part  of  a  building’s  construction have been regulated more so than the furnishings and contents brought into buildings, but in recent  years  the  fire  hazards  and  risks  associated  with  furnishings  and  contents  have  come  under increased scrutiny as the contribution of these products to fires becomes more widely recognized. 

During the past century, a large number of fire test methods were developed and adopted for regulatory purposes. Many of these fire test methods evaluate only one or a few of the relevant fire hazard characteristics of a product or of a component in a product. The results of these fire test methods are often cast in the form of derived indices that are convenient for regulatory purposes but may bear only a tenuous relationship with the actual fire hazards represented by products in end use.

 Consequently, some products have been approved for use despite having objectionable fire hazard characteristics. Over the past decade, there has been an international movement toward the development of performance-based building fire safety analysis methods and the adoption of performance-based building fire safety regulations.

 At the heart of this movement is the specification of fire scenarios based on expected fires and analysis of the expected conditions resulting from these fires. Consequently, the movement toward performance-based fire safety analysis, design, and regulation demands a better understanding of the fire hazards of materials and the dynamics of building fires than traditional prescriptive approaches to fire safety have required. Evaluation of the fire hazards of materials is complicated, because so many variables can influence the process.

 These variables include material properties and configurations, environmental conditions,  and  enclosure  effects.  Consequently,  the  fire  hazards  associated  with  different  materials depend not only on their chemical and physical properties, but also on their applications.

 For example, textile materials applied to walls and ceilings pose fire hazards and risks different from the same materials used as floor coverings; a stack of folded newspapers will burn much differently than the same quantity of loosely packed shredded newsprint; a Christmas tree fire will cause more severe conditions in a family room than in a hotel ballroom.

 Methods are needed to evaluate the fire hazards of materials, products, and assemblies under a full range of anticipated use conditions.