On the morning of November 21, 1980, a fire started in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (now Bally’s) in Las Vegas. 87 people were killed, mostly due to smoke and toxic fume inhalation. It remains the 2nd worst hotel disaster in US history, and helped usher in many building code changes and safety measures.
Among the many things that contributed to the rapid spread of the toxic smoke were the combustible plastics (PVC) used in the building wiring. The cables burned easily, allowing the fire to spread, and gave off toxic smoke that spread though the air conditioning systems. Although the fire itself was contained within the casino and restaurant, most people died from smoke inhalation on the upper floors of the hotel. It is for exactly this reason that modern electric codes require the use of a slow-burning, less toxic cable jacket, generally known as a “plenum rated” jacket, in many commercial installations. (A plenum, in this context, is an air space in a building, typically used for HVAC air flow.) Generally speaking, true plenum-rated cable jackets are usually made from Teflon®, a DuPont product. It’s relatively expensive compared to standard PVC-based cable jackets, but there’s just no substitute for public safety.
Unfortunately, there’s been an alarming trend in our industry. I complained in my last post about unscrupulous manufacturers cutting corners when making cables. But recently, continuing customer demand for less expensive plenum wire has resulted in manufacturers producing toxic burning wire that they claim is plenum-rated, and selling it for a price that’s too good to be true. If this counterfeit cable gets installed, and the building does catch fire, it’ll be a liability nightmare for all parties.
Now, producing a poor quality cable is one thing. But flat-out lying about the rating of your product, and allowing it to be installed in a public building (such as your child’s school), is… well, even “reprehensible” isn’t a strong enough word.
So, for all the installers and resellers out there, be careful what you’re buying. Don’t automatically assume that something is what a supplier claims it to be, especially if it’s “a real bargain.” Demand quality at a fair price. Remember, your children may attend the school that that wire gets installed in. Keep them safe.