What does it mean to be "Flame Retardant?"

What does Flame Retardancy Mean?

Fabrics are often certified as "flame retardant" to California State Fire Marshal 13115; NFPA-701-1999; ASTM-E-84, Class A Building Material.  Here is some information off of various sites regarding flame retardancy.

The following excerpt is taken from http://osfm.fire.ca.gov/LawsFinal.html

(a) It is unlawful for any person, firm or corporation to establish, maintain or operate any circus, side show, carnival, tent show, theater, skating rink, dance hall, or a similar exhibition, production, engagement or offering or other place of assemblage in or under which 10 or more persons may gather for any lawful purpose, in any tent, awning or other fabric enclosure unless a tent, awning or other fabric enclosure, and all auxiliary tents, curtains, drops, awnings and all decorative materials, are made from a nonflammable material or are treated and maintained in a flame-retardant condition. This subdivision shall not apply to tents used to conduct committal services on the grounds of a cemetery, nor to tents, awnings or other fabric enclosures erected and used within a sound stage, or other similar structural enclosure which is equipped with an overhead automatic sprinkler system. 
(b) One year after the adoption of regulations by the State Fire Marshal, but not later than July 1, 1976, it shall be unlawful for any person to sell or offer for sale any tent designed and intended for use for occupancy by less than 10 persons unless the tent is made from flame-retardant fabrics or materials approved by the State Fire Marshal. One year after the adoption of regulations by the State Fire Marshal, but not later than July 1, 1976, all tents manufactured for sale in this state shall be flame retardant and shall be labeled in a manner specified by the State Fire Marshal. Any manufacturer of tents for sale in this state who fails to use flame-retardant fabrics or materials or who fails to label them as specified by the State Fire Marshal shall be strictly liable for any damage which occurs to any person as a result of a violation of this section. (c) "Flame retardant," as used in this section, means a fabric or material resistant to flame or fire to the extent that it will successfully withstand standard fire-resistive tests adopted and promulgated by the State Fire Marshal.

What is the NFPA 701 Test?

Fabrics used in most public spaces (including schools, churches, auditoriums, theatres, and more.) is required by law in many states and cities to be certified as flame retardant, according to standards developed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA has various standards depending on how the fabric will be used. In the case of draperies, curtains, and similar hanging textiles, the standard that applies is NFPA 701: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. This test measures the flammability of a fabric when it is exposed to specific sources of ignition. 
NFPA 701 (Small Scale) testing measures the ignition resistance of a fabric after it is exposed to a flame for 12 seconds. The flame, char length, and flaming residue are recorded. The fabric will pass the test if all samples meet the following criteria:

  1. An after flame of less than 2.0 seconds
  2. a char length of less than 6.5”
  3. the specimen does not continue to flame after reaching the floor of the test chamber

Fabric certified as flame retardant is certified to have been tested and passed the NFPA 701 test.