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Global Firestop Interview with Hilti (GB) Ltd

You’re responsible for Fire Protection at Hilti. I thought Hilti only made tools?

Tools are where we started over 75 years ago. But in the meantime, about half of Hilti’s turnover comes from outside our tool business – with anchors, installation systems and fire protection.

How often do fires really happen in Data Centres?

More often than you’d think. Even assuming that many DC fires don’t get reported because their operators don’t want the negative press, we estimate that globally there’s at least one DC fire every month.

More importantly, fires are one of the most significant causes of downtime. When there is a fire in a data centre, it takes an average of 25 hours to get it back up – excluding catastrophic failures.

So, what’s the bottom line in fire protection?

A balanced approach. Most people think of the fire alarms and sprinklers. We specialize in containment – keeping the fire and smoke in the room where it starts to mitigate the effects and reduce downtime.

In Data Centres, the biggest risk comes from cabling because changes are so frequent, and the firestop maintenance process often breaks down. Whoever runs the cable may just punch a hole through traditional systems like coated batts and not repair the firestop or report their change to facility maintenance. The resulting holes are a major risk – both for smoke damage to server equipment, but also to airflow integrity.

What does firestop have to do with airflow?

Airflow is obviously a major topic in data centre design, but most CFD simulations and designs just assume an airtight envelope. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case. As soon as building services like pipes and cables penetrate the whitespace walls, there’s a potential for leakage. Correctly specifying firestop solutions can mitigate this risk.

Our cable pathway device offers industry leading airflow control, backed by independent air leakage testing.

What other risks should designers consider when dealing with firestop?

The two biggest topics we’ve explored with our hyperscale operators are particulate contamination and data hall security. And in Europe specifically, sandwich panel fire testing has become a major topic.

What is particulate contamination?

Particulate contamination is a risk wherever traditional coated batt solutions have been used in areas which should be “clean” but will likely require maintenance – like for cabling. Whenever the batt gets repenetrated to accommodate new cabling, substantial fibres are released into the environment and threaten sensitive equipment. That’s why we recommend our fibre-free products for use in the whitespace walls.

How can firestop mitigate security risks?

Where cable pathway devices and other preformed solutions are used, there’s no need to allow additional firestop maintenance personnel into secure areas – the cabling contractor can restore the fire seal without the need for any specialist. And for our most security-conscious clients, we’ve developed specialized locked versions of our speed sleeves.

And why is sandwich panel testing such an issue in Europe?

Because sandwich panels react differently in fire situations, the metal conducts heat where drywall and other standard wall materials insulate. Unfortunately, there isn’t a standardized norm to test sandwich panels in Europe yet. In these situations, our on-site data centre engineering team works with our team of Fire Engineers to provide our customers with Engineering Judgements.

How do you recommend designers address firestop in their specifications?

We recommend mandating cable pathway devices in all low-voltage cabling applications, and fibre-free solutions in all whitespace cable penetrations. In our experience, this works best when it’s included in both the master spec and on the construction drawings. We’re happy to assist in the design phase. The earlier we can advise about our typical data centre solutions, the more problems we can prevent on site, and the less risk there is that Engineering Judgements and discussions with fire consultants endanger project timelines.