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Safeguarding Materials

by Clare Coppa

Some ASTM members have interesting hobbies and others consider their work their hobby.

The second category applies to Marcelo Hirschler, Ph.D., whose CV needs a forklift. Either Hirschler has cloned himself, or he has an uncanny ability to create an exhaustive number of papers and attend an exhaustive number of meetings. His resume lists 384 publications from 1974 to the present. He participates in well over 100 meetings a year given by nine ASTM committees and 11 additional professional societies. He attends so many meetings that his colleagues couldn’t believe he had a wife when she came to an ASTM event.

Standards development meetings can get heated when product representatives and fire-safety specialists like Hirschler discuss minimum standard requirements. Hirschler brings a peripheral knowledge of materials and codes to meetings on the fire safety of buildings, cars, furniture, clothing, and aircraft, gained from 20 years of fire-science research and obtaining his doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Buenos Aires in 1975. “I’m against going down in safety but I also don’t want the consumer to have to pay much more unnecessarily,” he says. “I don’t believe in offering better protection when there is no need for better protection.”

“Whatever he says, he believes very strongly,” says ASTM committee manager Tom O’Toole. “Without a doubt, he is one of ASTM’s most energetic committee members.”

Hirschler participates in developing and amending the IBC (International Building Code from the International Code Council); NFPA 5000 (Building Construction and Safety Code ofp- the National Fire Protection Association); NFPA 101 Life Safety Code; NEC (National Electrical Code)/NFPA 70; and others.

Among his 384 papers, recent studies cover the development of codes, standards, and regulations/fire hazards associated with passenger cars and trains. “One area I’m particularly working in right now is cars,” says Hirschler. “Most cars have plastic walls separating the passenger compartment from the engine compartment instead of the former steel walls. So if there is a fire in an engine, which happens pretty regularly, it very quickly penetrates into the passenger compartment because there is no fire wall separating them.”

Committed to safer products for consumers through fire-performance testing, he wrote, edited, or contributed to six books, such as The Combustion of Organic Polymers (Oxford University Press, 1981) and Electrical Insulating Materials—International Issues (ASTM, 2000).

Born in Buenos Aires, Hirschler has resided in South America, Europe, and the States. He previously was fire-sciences manager for BF Goodrich, Ohio; has consulted internationally on technical/legal fire-science and fire-testing since 1991, and is currently president of GBH International, Mill Valley, Calif.

A member of national and international standards organizations, Hirschler says ASTM standards are easiest to use. “I’ve been working within ASTM for a number of years and I’ve been working with some other standards bodies,” he says. “I think that in general the quality of ASTM standards, and the ease with which they can be used, is much higher than that of many standards bodies.”

His work truly is his hobby. Since 1988, Hirschler has participated in 17 technical groups in the NFPA, CSA (Canadian Standards Association), IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers), ISO (International Organization for Standardization), IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), ASTM, and others. Among present appointments too numerous to mention, he is the U.S. Principal Assigned Expert for ISO Technical Committee TC92 on Terminology for Fire Standards. Nine recent awards include CSA’s International Award of Merit in 2001, and ASTM’s E05 Wayne Ellis Award in 2002.

“I’m just a face,” Hirschler jokes. “It’s my dogs and my minions under the table who do the work.”

Copyright 2003, ASTM