Volume 22, Issue 6 - November/December 2008

All About Fire (Rated Glass)
Q&A with an industry expert

by Charles Cumpston

Jerry Razwick is chair of the Glass Association of North America’s (GANA) Fire-Rated Glazing Council (FRGC) as well as president of Technical Glass Products (TGP), Kirkland, Wash. Architects’ Guide to Glass and Metal recently spoke with him about the group and the fire-rated glass codes. 

Q. What is the GANA Fire-Rated Glazing Council? 

A. The Fire-Rated Glazing Council is a way for suppliers and manufacturers to work together on industry-wide issues dealing with this specialized area of architectural glass. One of our main goals is to educate architects, specifiers, code officials and other building industry professionals on the role of fire-rated glass in life and property safety, and the appropriate uses for various types of fire glazing.

It’s a very technical field with a host of code requirements and products with different performance characteristics. We want to help ensure that the right types of materials are used in given applications, and that it’s easy for inspectors and code officials to know that’s the case. It comes down to making sure that fire-rated glass and framing systems are adequately tested, that codes are clear and easy to follow, and that product labeling is clear and accurate.

Q. What is FRGC currently working on? 

A. One of the key things we’re working on is developing consistent educational tools. With many different players in the fire-rated glazing field, there’s a tendency for conflicting information to arise. Architects and other building professionals are then left trying to cut through the smoke to figure it all out. By bringing the key people in the industry together, we want to work out clear messages that better serve design professionals–whether entry level or seasoned practitioners. These tools could include Web-based courses, standard presentation materials for different speakers to use, and informational bulletins and brochures.

We’ve also been very tied into labeling for fire-rated glazing. Given the life and property safety issues involved, it’s critical that product labels be easy to understand and consistent across the industry. Code officials should be able to tell at a glance what protection–or limitations–are inherent with the product. We’re working to build awareness and a better understanding of the current labeling system, which I believe has a simple set of label codes that provide all the information needed at a glance. Applying this system uniformly is key. 

Q. What does it hope to achieve in the future? 

A key action for FRGC in the future is highlighting the important role that passive systems like fire-rated glass and framing play in balanced fire protection and building compartmentalization. The building industry is seeing an increasing reliance on active systems—like sprinklers—as the main line of defense against fire, but an adequate fire-protection plan requires both passive and active systems. Sprinklers have saved many lives, but to rely on them alone is not sufficient as there is a risk of failure due to mechanical, maintenance or human issues. Fire-rated glazing, on the other hand, provides reliable back-up protection, dividing buildings into compartments that can slow or stop the spread of fire. It’s a design approach that firefighters recognize and support. FRGC will continue to educate design professionals and code officials on the need for using passive systems.

We can also serve as an industry resource as glazing technology further evolves. Not too long ago, polished wired glass was the industry standard for fire-rated glazing, and now we have a range of specialty products like glass ceramics, transparent wall panels and laminates. There are materials that not only block flames and smoke, but also resist transfer of radiant heat to help protect building occupants, offer bullet resistance, and even boost energy savings. As new glazing and framing materials or product make-ups are developed, it will be necessary to help design professionals use them most effectively. Again, education, product testing and labeling are the key. 

Q. Could you update us on the latest fire-rated code developments? 

The biggest code issue related to fire-rated glazing is broader adoption of the 2006 IBC, which eliminates the use of traditional polished wired glass in hazardous locations. The code now prohibits wired glass in doors, sidelites, windows near the floor, and other areas where it is susceptible to impact from people. Fire-rated glass in these applications must now also meet impact safety ratings. More jurisdictions are adopting the code, including California, where it took effect on January 1 this year.

Fire-rated glazing also received a good deal of attention through the latest round of code reviews at the International Code Congress (ICC). There were a number of code change proposals to lessen the hose stream test requirements for fire-rated glazing. However, following review and discussion of the proposals, the ICC in February rejected them. The ICC reaffirmed the importance of the hose stream for evaluating the integrity of materials and constructions—something the majority of FRGC members believes is important to retain.

Labeling also continues to be a big focus in the codes. As I mentioned, FRGC is working to help ensure consistent application of the existing labeling system. We’ll be actively involved where appropriate to provide expertise and insights as this issue is discussed in any future code hearings. 

Jerry Razwick is founder and president of Technical Glass Products (TGP), a distributor of specialty glass and framing as well as architectural products. He has been a glass factory agent in foreign and domestic markets for over 25 years and has served on the Industry Advisory Committee for Underwriters Laboratories Inc., and is an active member of AIA, CSI and GANA. 

Architects' Guide to Glass & Metal
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