P2 ~ Firefighting and Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems

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Case Study 3: Monte Carlo High-Rise Hotel

On the morning of January 25, 2008, in Las Vegas, Nevada, a fire occurred at the Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino, a 32-story, fire resistive construction (Type 1) building. The fire, apparently started by workers on the roof area, spread over the upper portions of the south and west tower walls, which were clad in EIFS. Wind helped to spread the fire laterally over the exterior wall surfaces for approximately 170 feet! Flaming droplets or pieces of decorative polystyrene foam insulation ignited the façade materials on the horizontal cornice between the 28th and the 29th floors. Samples of the exterior façade taken from the fire area for laboratory qualitative analysis revealed that the EIFS did not have the correct thickness of lamina (finish coat, base coat, and reinforcing mesh). Additionally, large components not covered with EIFS lamina, containing significant thicknesses of polystyrene foam, were installed on the claddings.

At the incident, fire department officials ordered media helicopters to stay clear of the hotel; they were worried that the turbulence from the blades would fan the flames and further spread the fire. Firefighters took elevators to within two and four floors of the fire and carried their folded hose lengths the last two and four floors to the roof. Not all of the fire area could be reached by hose streams from the roof. Guest room windows were deliberately broken to get a better vantage point. Firefighters on the nozzle, leaning precariously out of windows, were kept safe by fellow members and webbing. For more than an hour, the fire continued to spread both horizontally and vertically across the exterior cladding until it was finally brought under control (photo 6).

(6) The Monte Carlo Hotel fire involved EIFS installed on the exterior of the building
(6) The Monte Carlo Hotel fire involved EIFS installed on the exterior of the building. (Photo by Dave Connell.)

Chief Concerns

  • Adjust standard operating procedures for fires in buildings using EIFS. Once the fire penetrates into the foam insulation, there is a very real potential for a rapidly spreading fire generating dense, black smoke. This dictates closer supervision of firefighters and the possible need for additional alarms. Chief officers should also consider developing preplans for structures with EIFS to provide a comprehensive understanding of the safety factors involved.
  • Include the presence of EIFS in critical information databases. This will allow incoming units to use additional caution on arrival at fire incidents. The sudden increase in fire intensity when the foam insulation ignites can injure and trap firefighters operating in, on, and in the vicinity of the building. Consider stretching 2½-inch hoselines in place of smaller-diameter hose in anticipation of heavy fire conditions. Foam insulation will ignite more readily and the flames will spread faster if it is installed horizontally-e.g., as a soffit or an overhang vs. as a vertical surface on a wall.
  • A large amount of fire inside the walls of a frame structure is a serious collapse indicator. Chief officers should direct ladder companies to open up above and below the fire floor to track the travel path of the fire. Consider ordering all firefighters out of the building and off the roof when cladding containing EIFS is involved in fire.
  • EIFS can be ignited by radiant heat from a neighboring fire as well as by direct flame contact from open flames and other sources of ignition during construction and renovation work. If the fire is on a façade beyond the reach of exterior streams, chief officers may face the problem of trying to extinguish it with no feasible access point to attack it. Consider purchasing large-caliber stream appliances you can operate out of windows.
  • The potential for flashover is greater in buildings using EIFS since enhanced insulation means less heat escaping through the structure during a fire. Furnishings and materials reach their ignition temperature quickly, creating a deadly environment for all human life inside. Backdraft conditions may also develop more readily in an air-tight enclosure. In this situation, an incipient fire within the structure is denied adequate oxygen to continue burning. Flammable gases, however, even above their ignition temperature, still cannot ignite because of the lack of oxygen. When firefighters enter the building, introducing oxygen into the interior, it brings new life to the fire. The fire’s reignition results in an explosion.

As defined by the International Building Code and ASTM International, EIFS is a nonload-bearing, exterior-wall cladding system. The specification, the design, and the construction of all EIFS must comply with local building codes and standards as well as the individual manufacturer’s system requirements. The successful fire-resistive performance of EIFS cladding, however, depends in part on the proper design and construction of the adjacent materials and structure systems. The fire service must monitor the locations where EIFS is being installed and provide valuable feedback to stakeholders and building design team members regarding concerns should a fire occur.

References

1. Beitel, Jesse J., Terry S. Fay, and Arthur J. Parker. Report Concerning the Exterior Wall Claddings Involved in the Monte Carlo Hotel Fire. HAI Project No.: 1JJB05264. 006. August 13, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2014 at: http://media.lasvegassun.com/media/pdfs/blogs/dO2008/08/29/montecarlo0829.pdf.

2. Demand Products, Inc. (2010) “Material Safety Data Sheet: EIFS & Stucco Tape.” Retrieved October 1, 2014 at: http://www.demandproducts. com/assets/msds/msds_eifs%20stucco%20tape.pdf.

3. Fairfax County, Virginia. (2013). “EIFS in Fairfax County.” Retrieved October 6, 2014 at: http://www.fairfaxcounty. gov/dpwes/construction/eifs.htm.

4. Havel, Gregory. (2008) “Construction Concerns: Exterior Insulation Finishing Systems,” Fireengineering.com. August 25, 2008. Retrieved October 3, 2014 at: http://www. fireengineering.com/articles/2008/08/construction-concerns-exterior-insulation-finishing-system.html.

5. Hopkins, Dick. (1990) “The Truth About EIFS,” Construction Dimensions. September 1990. Retrieved October 6, 2014 at: http://www.awci.org/cd/pdfs/9009_g.pdf.

6. Soong, James Todd. (2014) “Polyethylene Wall: ‘Gasoline Construction’ for Houses,” Fire Engineering, July 2014. Retrieved November 19, 2014. http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/print/volume-167/issue-7/features/polyethylene-wall-gasoline-construction-for-houses.html.

7. Spadafora, Ronald R. and Daniel Browne, Michel Grogan, Joseph Schiralli, Brendan Gillen. (2012.) Post Incident Analysis: Bronx Box 4-4-3217. Fire Department of New York (FDNY). November 29, 2012.

8. Spadafora, Ronald R. (2013) Sustainable Green Design & Firefighting: A Fire Chief’s Perspective. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar, Cengage Learning, 2013.

9. Walls, Bradley. (2009) “Exterior Flashover.” WNYF. 1st/2009.

10. Willis HRH. (2008) “EIFS: When ‘F’ Is for Flammable.” Technical Advisory Bulletin: Property Risk Control. December 2008. Retrieved October 10, 2014 at: http://www.willis. com/documents/publications/Services/Claims_Management/EIFS.pdf.

11. Zwayer, Gary L., RA. (2010) “Building Envelope Design Guide: Exterior Insulation Foam Systems (EIFS).” Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG). Last updated June 4, 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2014 at: http://www.wbdg.org/design/env_wall_eifs.php.

Ronald R. Spadafora is an assistant chief and the acting chief of fire prevention for the Fire Department of New York.

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