Fire Safety: Intumescents Help Reduce the Rapid Spread of Fire

May 2, 2016

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How Commercial Building Painters Can Reduce The Devastation of a Fire

The devastation of an uncontrolled fire is overwhelming. It is impossible to describe what it is like to experience the heat, smoke and extreme temperatures that can roar through a facility. Once a fire is out of control it can consume everything in its path. That’s why scientists and researchers work so hard to find new ways and products to help prevent fires from going out of control. Intumescent coatings are one relatively new tool in the battle against fire related losses and deaths.

The Boston Fire Department conducted a test of intumescent coatings which confirmed how effective these coatings can be. They constructed two identical college dormitory rooms, with the only difference being in one the walls were painted with standard latex paint; the other with fire retardant intumescent paint. The dorms were outfitted as any of them would be. Posters, computers, curtains, etc. They then set each room on fire near the foot of the beds.

The fire in the latex room starts near the bed, but almost immediately it travels up the walls and involves other parts of the room such as curtains and clothing. The latex room becomes fully enveloped in flames and experiences “flash over” within minutes. Flash over is that point when a fire in a room generates enough heat that the entire room erupts in flames. It is the point of no return for anyone in the room – they will die. It is also the point of no return for fighting the fire at the point of combustion with fire extinguishers – it means fire hoses will have to be brought to bear in the battle. It means that the temperature in the room is 1400 degrees Fahrenheit and the structure itself is now involved in the fire.

Now contrast that with the room in which the walls were painted with intumescent coatings. The fire is still at work in the area near the bed, but the walls have not become involved. The flames haven’t spread out of control, and the fire is still manageable with hand held fire equipment. The occupants would still have time to escape and warn the surrounding units. The coating buys valuable time for survival and extinguishing the fire.

Sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Intumescent coatings are extremely effective as fire protective coatings and fire resistant agents. They can be used in almost any facility, on nearly any substrate including steel. They respond to heat and fire by charring and “swelling,” thus providing a layer of protection from the heat. That means they help slow the spread of a fire, which might buy enough time to save the rest of your building.

When it comes time to paint or repaint your facility it might be a good idea to discuss with your commercial painting contractor whether or not it makes sense for you to utilize intumescent coatings in your application. Doing so might just save lives.

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