“Properly used, FRP can be a better solution than conventional materials, even from a code standpoint,” says Douglas Evans, fire protection engineer with the Clark County Building Division (CCBD) in Las Vegas.

Douglas Evans, fire protection engineer with the Clark County Building Division (CCBD) in Las Vegas

Douglas Evans, fire protection engineer with the Clark County Building Division (CCBD) in Las Vegas

Fabricators, contractors and designers solve challenges using fiberglass reinforced plastics (FRP). Too often, they haven’t done their homework and checked the applicable codes. They aren’t aware that certain codes don’t allow the use of that particular composite, or that using a different resin or an upgrade to a sprinkler system design might resolve a costly mistake.

Evans is responsible for coordinating the fire protection approaches for major structures. He serves as the past president of the Southern Nevada Chapter of the International Code Council (ICC) and currently serves on the National Fire Protection Association’s technical committee.

Evans conducted a presentation at ACMA’s Corrosion, Mining, Infrastructure and Architecture Conference – Digging Down and Building Up with Composites – on May 15, 2013, in Denver, titled Composites in Building Construction & the 2012 International Building Code (IBC). His goal was to explore the right and wrong way to utilize FRP.

Your presentation at the Corrosion, Mining, Infrastructure and Architecture Conference was very successful. What did you want attendees to gain from your presentation?

I wanted fabricators, contractors and designers to be able to identify the application requirements of the International Building Code as it relates to composites. One of the areas I specialize in, for more than 20 years now, is plastics in building constructions. Composites are typically a big component in that area. I was initially a strong opponent of plastics in major structures but once I learned more about the polymers that are available and the different ways they can be used inside buildings, the more of a supporter I became. Many individuals misunderstand the fire testing requirements for specific applications where composites are concerned. Applicants will frequently take the test for specific products out of context and I wanted everyone to understand the difference between allowances and requirements.

You have an extensive background in fire protection: What is it that manufacturers need to know about these codes when considering composites?

One of the analogies I use is that if you want to start a camp fire, you can use some crumbled news paper, a match and wood. Once the fire starts up, you can start adding more and more wood and down the line you can add heavy logs. However, if you start out trying to ignite the heavy log with just a match it won’t work. So the energy source – the match – is not putting off enough heat to light the log but through the series of adding more wood to the fire – starting from small and going to big – there’s enough heat to ignite the heavier logs. The same thing applies to fire testing and there are several small scale tests where many are using something like a Bunsen burner as the ignition source whereas many of the fire tests required for building components put out higher amounts of heat (energy) than a Bunsen burner. So, just because something will pass a small scale test, it in no way ensures that that same material will be able to pass a large scale test.