The Ultimate Fire Test: Part Two
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The Ultimate Fire Test: Part Two

And now the conclusion'(if you want to skip to the showdown with S-134, scroll down to Wolf 359')

After surveying the S-134 test tower, checking the sample Nichiha panels and construction materials, and getting acquainted with the lab staff, we set out to the local Home Depot to rent tools and acquire other necessary supplies and equipment. We needed a framing nailer, air compressor, drill, impact driver, (the aforementioned) circular saw, fasteners, and various other implements, including steel L-brackets with which to anchor our wood assembly to the CMU test tower. I checked on the status of the custom fabricated 26-gauge steel flashings I had remotely ordered from a local shop via the Carleton Place, Ontario Home Depot. Thankfully they were on track to arrive the next day, though they wouldn't be needed until Wednesday.

So far, I hadn't messed anything up (except the navigation that morning). The last preplanning item still circulating my mind, providing slight doubt and worry, was the delivery of the platform lift scheduled for early afternoon. Hopefully it would be waiting on us by the time we got back to the fire lab. Gathering and paying for everything needed from the Home Depot took a bit more time than I was comfortable with but better to be thorough and not forget anything. Hundreds of newly generated, free credit card airline miles (all for me) and an early lunch at the local A&W later (fine Canadian dining!), we returned to the lab and got to work, roughly around 11:30 or so. (This was still Monday morning, in case I've thoroughly lost everyone on the timeline.)

The lift had not arrived yet but we would not need it for a couple hours or so. We could construct the first level and install without the lift, so we got started. Chuck took the lead on laying out the lumber for the first level, encompassing the window. With all the framing pieces arranged on the floor, and any cut lumber handled by Chris (I was not yet appointed cutman), it was not long before our rented framing nailer was put to work. Partway through, well mostly through, fastening the first-floor lumber together, Chuck realized an error. The window opening was not positioned correctly. The intent was to completely frame out the first level on the floor, mirroring the test wall condition and necessitating only tilting the frame up and anchoring. But somehow there was a visualization anomaly in the layout and the window was in the wrong place. Minor Goof (1 point) & Major Catastrophe (3 points) Scorecard: David 1, Chuck 1, Chris 0.

By the time the first floor lumber was being dissembled and reassembled, I was beginning to truly worry about delivery of the lift, a most essential piece of equipment for this project. It was around 1:00 or so and now late. I paced around a bit outside, lovely and peacefully quiet, checking my phone repeatedly. Speaking of my phone, I had activated temporary international service in advance (see, I was thorough and thought of everything, like Captain Picard does) but felt stressed at the severely limited data allocation. Since my cell service plan remains unchanged from the original Unlimited Data plan AT&T used to have when iPhones were a brand new thing, I am unaccustomed to monitoring my data. It was only the first day and I was already starting to run low. The navigational troubles that morning had zapped a significant portion of my meager allocation in Canada. My phone rang. It was a local number. It was the delivery truck driver with our lift. He was lost. Ramsay Concession 8 had struck again. Unable to help him, I scurried inside and found Eric and handed him my phone. It sounded like the driver was way off course, over in Mississippi Mills, having been led astray, just like us, by the navigational computers.

Perhaps fifteen minutes or so later, the driver arrived with our lift and I was relieved, until Chris drove it inside and its severe inadequacy was immediately, horrifyingly clear. What I had missed in my oh-so-thorough planning was the small platform the test wall stood on that also stuck out like a curb. The extra height and space meant the lift could not be maneuvered directly to the wall face, and worst of all, it maxed out a little too low. Installing the top course or two of panels would be difficult, if not very dangerously impossible. I felt panicked. Chuck and Chris looked distressed as well. The lift was too small, too short, and would be a crippling impediment to getting the wall built in the time we had. I had brought a pocket knife to a sword fight. Minor Goof & Major Catastrophe Scorecard: David 4, Chuck 1, Chris 0.

Our obvious crisis did not go unnoticed by the Night's Watch. I observed them huddled nearby, looking, discussing amongst themselves. They, of course, knew we were in trouble and the timeline for the test threatened. What we didn't know was they were debating a solution. Reluctantly, they knew they had to save us and offered the use of their lift. It came with strings and stipulations. For safety reasons, they would need to operate the lift and we had to wear safety harnesses. Liability was the obvious fear, least one of us get hurt in the course of using their lift. Nevertheless, it was agreed that our lift was not going to get the job done. It would have slowed us down so much we never would get the wall done in two days. So off one of the staff went to retrieve the lab's lift, which was kept in a smaller, separate building, concealed from the eyes and awareness of visitors such as us. We heard it coming before we saw it enter the side door of the main building housing the test tower. It was colossal. Crocodile Dundee appeared in my mind, pointing to my lift, 'That's not a knife' and then to the Knight's Watch Lift, 'That's a knife!' The platform had extenders and when employed made the lift wider than the wall, and of course it raised just beyond the very top of the tower. We could load up whatever was needed (mostly), resulting in far fewer assents and descents and no need to move the lift out of position, except when the first panels were installed. We and the timeline were saved.

But then we learned at 3:00 that the lab closed for the day at 4:30. In disbelief, 'when, what?' was my reply to Eric. Shocked and disturbed, I had counted on being able to work as long as we wanted, late into the evening until hunger and fatigue shut us down. The timeline was back in crisis, as true to his word, Eric came and kicked us out when 4:30 came. We had not finished the framing, let alone added insulation, sheathing, or weather barrier. According to the plan, we now only had a day-and-a-half to do all that AND install 672 square feet of Nichiha AWP and the metal flashings. It would not be a relaxing Monday evening. At least Eric had agreed to arrive at the lab the next morning earlier than normal to add another hour or so to Tuesday's schedule.

We beat him there but true to his word, Eric showed up and let us in around 7 AM. Tuesday was just a day of hard work and hustle, particularly for Chuck and Chris, but it was also my dusty premier with the circular saw. I can't recall anything to add to the Mishap/Catastrophe Scorecard, although I think someone forgot to charge the drill batteries. I need to pin that on Chris to even up the Scorecard, but it caused no delays - so no harm, no foul. At lunchtime, I picked up the steel flashing from the Home Depot and some A&W (again) for the team. We finished the framing, insulation, and sheathing, though hoped to get some panels on the wall, too, but ran out of time, again kicked out around 4:30. Maybe a little later.

Our third and final day began with Eric granting daybreak access to the lab. WRB and panels were going on the wall before long but we would need the whole day for certain. The original schedule required us to finish by mid-day so that the lab staff would have the afternoon to begin their preparations. They needed to install multiple sensors to track how high the burn room's flames would travel up the wall face. A break came our way when we all learned the NRC's new director wanted to witness the test (Nurse: 'The Administrator is here, doctor.' Doctor: 'Switch everything ON! Administrator: 'Ahh! I see you have the machine that goes 'ping!' This is my favorite. You see we lease this back from the company we sold it to, and that way, it comes under the monthly current budget and not the capital account. [applause]'') It would be his first viewing of S-134 in action, and his attendance meant we could work as late as was needed to finish the installation. As I noted earlier, we were doing something no other company had done before. Usually teams just installed their product directly to the test wall or with much less other build up. The precedent two-and-a-half-day schedule did not fit our mission and prior to the news, there had been plenty of chatter about postponing the test to the next week. It was a veritable shower of cleansing relief to wash away this possibility.

While Chuck and Chris installed panels and when I was not tidying or lifting stuff up to them in the lift, I was using up what little cellular data I had to attend to my normal work emails. Regular business continued and I could not abide leaving my inbox to explode. And then there was the not unimportant task of locating hotel rooms for us that evening. This was the one pre-planning item I had delegated. Chuck did book our accommodations but a bit later than needed, and because of an event happening in Ottawa that Wednesday night, there were no rooms to be found and our existing reservations had this mid-week hole in them.
I searched online Monday and Tuesday for anything close to Ottawa and anywhere near the lab, but there was nothing. In the back of my mind I held open the possibility of Montreal as a last resort. By late afternoon Wednesday, it was our only choice. So, when installation was finally complete, after about a 13-hour day of physical labor, we had no option but to head all the way to Montreal. It was only 145 miles (rather 233 km), at night, in another country, with two languages, and with me at the helm, there was a missed turn at the end of a long, looping detour (La boucle d'chec! ( in the outskirts of Montreal. So we got to do it again, all 3 miles (4.8 kilometres!). Near delirium and madness from fatigue (on the drive, we listened to the second of the 137 GOP presidential debates of the 2015/16 cycle), and somehow navigating through nothing but French-signed roadway construction zones, we made it to our hotel well after 11. Spumoni! (Chuck alone will understand.) Mishap/Catastrophe Scorecard: David 5, Chuck 4, Chris 0.

Wolf 359 ' The Fleet Engages the Borg

Mercifully, Thursday would be a day off from all physical labor. The test was scheduled for 10:30, so our only chore that morning was the trek back from Montreal. Then there was nothing to do but watch the test unfold. We had some butterflies as the burn room lit up. Impressive is inadequate to describe the intensity of the inferno as the Knight's Watch slowly increased the gas flow. Safely removed from the Burn Hall, we watched behind chicken-wire-reinforced glass in the control room. So, we did not get to feel the heat. Four, 3.8m-long linear propane burners filled the 5.95m x 4.4m x 2.75m burn room at the tower base with bright, almost plasma-like light. The gas flow ramped up for twenty minutes when the burn room temp reached a peak of about 1200 degrees C, and then the flames were scaled back until the 25 minute mark when gas was shut off. The maximum temperature at the window opening peaked correspondingly at about 800 degrees C.

Thermocouples at five levels measured temperature data for the window and wall. The first wall thermocouples were 1.5 meters above the center of the window and then the others spaced evenly every meter up the wall. At each level there were three such sensors: on the panel surface, on the Tyvek wrb, and on the drywall behind the framing and insulation. Three sensors at the top of the wall were on the surface but spread 1.3 meters apart horizontally. Lastly, three water-cooled heat flux transducers (flux capacitors!?), located 3.5 meters above the window, monitored total heat flux density to the wall. Blindly trusting Wikipedia: heat flux is the rate of heat energy transfer through a given surface per unit time and heat flux density is the heat rate per unit area.*

Our test wall panels included a Double Flange Sealant Backer joint centered above the window. This continued upwards 2.73 meters where it met a Horizontal/Compression Joint, a half-inch, flashed horizontal break between Nichiha panels. Both joint types are typical installation requirements, depending on the size and scope of the installation. Including them in our test meant our system overall was vetted more thoroughly, and it was required by the CAN/ULC S-134 standard anyway.

As the first 20 minutes ticked off and the flames began shooting out the burn room window, we (and The Administrator) excitedly watched but before long it was apparent our wall was not going to catch flame. We became happily bored and proud. Well, the Nichiha people at least. Perhaps the Knight's Watch and The Administrator had hoped for a much more dramatic display, but I'm only speculating as they remained fully professional and showed no outward signs of desire for disaster (for us).

The test continued after the gas shut down at 25 minutes, lasting to the 60-minute mark to include an observation period. Had the material alighted, this period would have accounted for how much the fire traveled on its own merits (go west, young man!). For us, there was none of that. The test went perfectly and Nichiha AWP passed with flying colors. The acceptance criteria of S-134 are as follows: no vertical flame propagation to 5 meters above the top of the window (we topped out at 2.5) and the maximum one-minute average value of the total heat flux density at 3.5m above the top of the window cannot exceed 35 kW/m^2 (ours was 25.4 kW/m^2). The finish burned off the panels in a cone-like shape, but everything held in place.

No points awarded to anyone this day on the Mishap/Catastrophe Scorecard. In fact, no more were added at all. Though we could not begin demolition of the test wall until Friday morning, my last remaining worry proved needless. I was not sure we could manage it all on Friday before the guys needed to catch their flights home. But demo could not have gone more efficiently and quickly. In only a couple hours, the test tower was bare and we were tidying up. Done before lunchtime. We were a bit dirty, however, with no hotel showers to seek afterward. Washing up at the lab as best we could and a change of clothes later, we set off back to Ottawa and had a celebratory lunch. The guys deposited me at the train station on their way to the airport. Though out of cellular data (like a Borg cut off from the hive mind (Picard rescued and dis-assimilated)), I went to Toronto for the weekend, did some exploring, and picked up the local language, eh.


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