RS Technologies’ RS composite utility pole, protected with an RS Fire Shield™ made from fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP), survived forest fire conditions in Canada’s Northwest Territories with no damage to the pole and minimal damage to the RS Fire Shield.

RS Technologies (RS) prides itself on building composite utility poles that are safer, more reliable and longer-lasting than wood, steel, and concrete poles. For poles built of composites, the performance tests historically included the UL 94 Standard for Tests for Flammability of Plastic Materials for Parts in Devices and Appliances and the ASTM D635-14 Standard Test Method for Rate of Burning and/or Extent and Time of Burning Plastics in a Horizontal Position. The RS team was not satisfied with these standard fire performance tests.

Wanting a better way to test utility pole performance, RS was determined to design a reliable quantitative test method to simulate an actual, severe full-scale fire. The initial test design began in 2011 by working with forest fire expert Mark Ackerman from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada to design a test method using a steel sheath placed around the base of an embedded pole. Flames were then introduced to the annular space between the pole and the sheath by the controlled ignition of propane. The heat flux, flame temperature, and exposure duration were designed to represent a “severe” (two-minute exposure) or “extreme” (three-minute exposure) wildfire event.

The most recent test was of the new RS Fire Shield™ product. An RS pole protected with an RS Fire Shield was embedded in a forest in northern Canada for a controlled burn exercise. The area was ignited to start the controlled forest fire and the fire, with temperatures reaching nearly 1,000 degrees Celsius, engulfed the pole for approximately 30 seconds and spread past it. The RS pole, made of fiberglass and resin, self-extinguished after the fire passed, and the RS Fire Shield, although slightly charred, retained its structural strength and stiffness.

“This real-world wildfire test reinforces that RS poles and Fire Shields™ are a proven solution for utilities dealing with high fire risk environments,” stated Howard Elliott, president and CEO of RS. “The temperature and speed of this forest fire have demonstrated that the fire testing protocols used by RS— including the duration times for both severe and extreme fire conditions—are scientifically representative. RS looks forward to continuing to lead the industry with this type of applied research and product deployment.”