The Care, Feeding and Maintenance of Padgenite Boards

By Don Manno

The whole thing about any burn building is Burning! To burn inside a building you have to do something to protect the building. I have been to burn buildings where no measures were taken to protect the building from the destructive effects of interior firefighting training! If you want your building to last, you must find a means to protect or insulate the structural parts of the building system from fire and heat.

Padgenite is an insulating board, or panel, a thermal barrier that provides protection from fire and heat. Does any thermal insulation material last forever? Not to my knowledge. Even the Space Shuttle has to have its thermal insulation materials and its tiles checked and replaced. Our board is made from industrially crushed and milled calcium silicate. This material is then compacted, and formed and “glued” into panels of various sizes. The finished product is a white board, one inch thick.

Before the Padgenite board can be used in fire training, it must be waterproofed. The waterproofing is to protect or “shield” the panel from absorbing water. Why. Steam! If the panel has water trapped in it, heat from interior fires will sooner or later cause the panel to “spall”. Then the panel needs to be replaced. In the course of normal training dings, dents, chips and the like will occur along the edges of the lower boards. These spots Must receive another coating of the waterproofing material!! Or water will enter the panel. Remember the thaw and freeze weather process will also affect the boards, just like it does highway surfaces, if it gets inside the board.

When panels are initially installed care must be taken to ensure that each washer holding the panel can be turned with thumb or finger pressure pushing against it. Why. Thermal Expansion! When a fire is built in the room, something is going to happen when the heat builds up and starts banking down. There will be convective heating and radiant heating working on the panels. Remember there should be no direct flame impingement on any panel. The fire should not be placed directly on the floor, but rather on a burn crib above the floor. If the panels can’t “move” or expand with the heat, tension is created in the panel. The tension is relieved when the panel cracks. This can easily happen with fires in the 600 degree range. It is not the heat, it is the restraint placed on the panel. The washers must be able to be moved by finger pressure before you begin to burn. Check the panels/washers on a regular basis. Follow the maintenance schedule provided. If an additional maintenance schedule is needed, call or email me, and I will send you another one!

When the attack line opens up, the cooling effects are just as dramatic on the panels if the washers are tight against the board. If you are interested in long panel life and want to make life easy, just make sure the washers are “loose” before you burn! I know it is counter-intuitive! Something that is screwed together with a washer and it is supposed to be loose!! But here loose is better than tight!!!!

If a crack develops due to tension release, or is dinged by a bottle or tool, use the high temperature caulk to seal up the opening physically, to protect against direct water entry, and then waterproof the whole patched area again. It’s not a hard process and will ensure maximum panel usage.

Watch out for people who don’t care about your building or the thermal protection system.


How hot is hot enough? You sure get a lot of answers on this one. In the end each of you has to decide for yourself. Here is a bit of a different take on this question.

Go to a burn building that has a heat monitoring system. Ask the owner to build a fire that sustains 600 degrees of heat at the ceiling, and go inside and experiment with that known heat level. Take no water with you. Carefully experiment with that heat level. Don’t get hurt or burned.

Now do the same thing, in a separate fire, in dry protective gear, but take the heat level up to say 800/900 degrees at the ceiling, sustained. Take no water with you. Be careful and don’t get burned.

Remember in both fires to get a heat reading at the second highest heat recording position, just for information and comparison.

If you need more information, then do it again and take the heat at the ceiling to 1000/1100 degrees, ( my experience is you will probably spike up to 1200/1300 degrees) and do the same things. Be careful, use only dry protective gear and don’t get burned. And take readings from every heat monitoring device in the room.

When you have all this information, cool off, sit back, re-hydrate, and talk about interior fire attack training. What About Panel Life?

Make sure you stay within NFPA guidelines and standards for live fire training. Our product will give you good service and protect your facility if you follow these standards

The short answer is, the hotter you burn the sooner you will have to replace panels. If you burn between 600 and 1000 degrees, with a heat monitoring system, and you do the maintenance items described above, you will get long panel life. If you burn constantly at high temperatures, the building will be protected, but panels will wear out sooner. It is again important to do the maintenance items mentioned with high temperature fires. As a rule of thumb 2 pallets will generally reach 600 degrees. Three will get an increment higher. It goes up accordingly.

Don Manno served as Director of the Marketing Division for WHP Training Towers. He was an instructor at the National Fire Academy for over 16 years and was a nationally recognized speaker on fire training and safety.

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