A Contractor Talks Industrial Fireproofing
MJ Painting Contractor Corp., a family-owned painting contractor headquartered in Olean, New York, has been in the commercial and industrial coatings industry for more than 45 years. Founded by Mike John in 1970, the company moved over the years from primarily residential and commercial painting to specializing in fireproofing and heat-resistive coating work for refineries and other oil and gas and petrochemical structures.
Now, oil and gas structures comprise about 85 percent of the company’s work, which includes blasting, painting and specialized work such as coating underground pipelines with plural-component spray. MJ’s crew of about 45 travels throughout the eastern half of the country.
MJ’s manager of sales and marketing, Pete Dandrea, spoke with PaintSquare News about some of the challenges and rewards of working with specialized coatings for fire protection.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
PaintSquare News: What are the specific structures within the refineries and petrochemical facilities that you’re generally working with in terms of fireproofing, and what challenges come along with working these jobs?
Dandrea: One refinery that we’re working with right now is actually a wax plant; it refines the oil and gas into wax. They have tanks and piping, platforms and walkways and buildings that require the fireproofing. And anytime you’re working in one of those facilities, really the challenges are being safe, abiding [by] their safety rules and regulations. When it comes down to coating—it’s still pretty straightforward. You need to clean and prep the surface, and you need to apply the coating as the manufacturer prescribes. If you do that, you’re going to have good results. The biggest challenge is the environments you’re working in: They’re very volatile; there are all sorts of opportunities for mishaps to happen.
Do these facilities shut down for this work at all? How does return-to-service play into your work?
They’re mostly live situations. For obvious reasons, these people can’t really shut down production; they can’t lose their schedule, so to speak. The majority of the time, we’re working in live conditions, and that’s a challenge in itself. We did a job at a refinery out in Montana, and the surface temperature of the oven that we were doing was 400 degrees [Fahrenheit] or so. We had do to that while that machine was running; we had to have the right equipment for our guys to work on something that’s that hot, you had to have the right coating to apply on something that hot.
What are the specialty coating types that you use in fireproofing?
The two main ones we use are intumescent and cementitious. It’s primarily the intumescent coatings that we use, more than the other. The nice thing is, that can be applied in many layers, so if you’re trying to achieve a fire rating, one way you do that is with the number of layers that you apply. Cementitious creates a barrier between the coating and the substrate, and that allows potentially for moisture to get into there, so that’s why our customers are shying away from that. When you use the intumescent coating, you prep the surface and you spray it on or brush it on like a regular coating.
|© iStock.com / Eremeychuk Leonid|
Refineries and petrochemical plants often require fireproofing on tanks and pipes, buildings and walkways.
When you’re in a dry environment, you’re not worried about moisture, cementitious might be the way to go, because that’s a very effective method of fireproofing—both ways are very effective. It’s just that cementitious opens the door to moisture, and that’s when you have to consider the environment.
Are there any specific challenges to surface preparation on these structures?
The environment really dictates what you do. Again, if it’s a refinery and you’re in a live situation, you’re not going to be able to produce a spark. So you have to find a way to remove material off of your substrate without doing that. There’s obviously different ways of doing that nowadays. We do everything from hand wire brushing to sandblasting to vapor blasting; the environment and the situation will dictate what’s the best procedure to use.
You also do fireproofing for architectural and commercial buildings; what differences do you see in doing the same type of jobs on these two different types of structures?
Commercial [structures], they’re generally wide open spaces and there’s less opportunity for disaster. You can sandblast, and you don’t have to worry about a whole bunch of other things that come into play when you’re working in an industrial or refinery situation. It’s the structural steel, so a lot of times you’re onsite while [a commercial building is] being built; you don’t have to work around people. It’s a much more doable environment than the challenges that you get from the [industrial structures].
|© iStock.com / kodda|
"The biggest challenge is the environments you’re working in," Dandrea says. "They’re very volatile; there are all sorts of opportunities for mishaps to happen."
Also, as a commercial building owner, it doesn’t have to be ugly anymore. Coatings have come such a long way in just the last couple of years; you can have an effective fireproof coating applied to your building, structure, what have you, and it doesn’t have to look ugly. It can match your decor and be appealing to the eye.
What other properties are you looking for in coatings when you’re working in refineries or petrochemical plants, besides fire protection?
It [depends on] what it’s going to be exposed to: if it’s exposed to high heat, or exposed to a lot of moisture, if it’s a high-traffic area. All of those things you have to take into consideration when you look at a project. Every industrial situation is almost unique, depending on what they’re doing inside that facility. If you’re at a manufacturing facility that spews a lot of dust or whatever, you’ve got to take that into consideration—what’s going on in that environment.
Are there any things that you as a contractor want asset owners or specifiers to know about what you do, and how you work with them?
The main thing to me is that it’s not 100 percent. When people hear “fireproofing,” it’s not, "OK, you’re good to go from here on out.” They get rated and it more or less deters the fire, puts it off so to speak, but it’s not 100 percent. If it’s a raging inferno, the place is going to go down. That’s the biggest thing: to understand what the coating is going to accomplish for you, and to understand what your heat rating needs to be to protect your structure and your employees. You know, there are building codes and all that stuff that you need to adhere to for sure, but if I were a business owner and I employed 100 people in my building, one of my considerations would be the safety of my workforce. What does that mean when I go to fireproof my building? What type of fire hazards do we have, and what do we have to guard against?