When you think of fire protection for a building, you probably think of things like smoke detectors, fire alarms, sprinkler systems and so on. While these are all vital to the fire safety of any premises, it’s important to understand that this kind of responsive (or active) fire protection isn’t enough to keep your building safe from the effects of fire. In this article, we’ll explain both kinds of fire protection and why you can’t ignore passive fire protection.
Active fire protection
The following kinds of systems and devices are known as active fire protection:
- Fire detection systems: such as smoke alarms and fire alarms. These detect heat, smoke or flames, then warn people in the building of the fire with an alarm.
- Fire suppression systems: such as sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, gaseous cleaning agents or firefighting foam systems. These work by actively trying to put out or control a fire.
What they all have in common is that they require some kind of response or motion in order to work – as such, they need to be activated in order to fulfil their fire protection role. Additionally, active fire protection systems are generally added to a building after it has been constructed, rather than being part of the building itself.
Passive fire protection
On the other hand, passive fire protection systems and devices are part of a building’s very fabric. They don’t need to be activated or ‘switched on’ in order to provide protection from fire like active fire protection systems, but their role is very different. A passive fire protection system won’t put a fire out – however, it will contain a blaze in its point of origin and prevent it from spreading further through a building. This can help to protect a building’s structural integrity and provide a safe environment for the fire services to work in to put the fire out.
This makes passive fire protection a really important part of your building’s fire safety for several reasons:
- it gives occupants of a building more time to get out
- it means there are safe spaces for people to escape to in a fire
- it minimises damage, thereby reducing rebuild costs after a fire
- it protects your assets inside a building.
There are many different kinds of passive fire protection systems, including things like:
- fire doors
- fire curtains
- firestopping systems
- intumescent coating paint
- fire-resisting ductwork
- fire dampers
- fire-resistant suspended ceilings
- fire resistant partitions.
Problems with passive fire protection
While it’s essential that passive fire protection is part of the construction of a building’s fabric, it’s important to regularly inspect any devices or systems for signs of mis-use or deterioration.
These are just some of the issues that can arise which, if left unchecked, could lead to your passive fire protection systems failing to protect your building in the event of a fire:
- fire doors wedged or propped open
- smoke seals around fire doors becoming damaged, or not being fitted correctly in the first place
- self-closers on fire doors becoming worn out and ceasing to operate correctly
- cracked glazing in fire doors
- fire compartment walls, floors and ceilings being breached or damaged when new services like computer cables or pipes are installed
- tradesmen cutting corners by filling holes in walls with standard DIY expanding foam, which isn’t fire-resistant
- adjustments to the building creating new cavities and voids which could allow fires to spread.
How to avoid problems with passive fire protection
The best way to avoid any problems like this arising in your passive fire protection systems is to ensure that they (and the rest of your building) are regularly inspected and assessed by a fire protection specialist. They’ll be able to spot any signs of deterioration or wear and tear, and recommend steps you can take to put any issues right. An assessment will also help you uncover any areas of your building where the passive fire protection is inadequate, and tell you how to bring them up to standard.
In addition to this, it’s vital that everyone living or working in your building is aware of their responsibilities around fire safety. At the very least, everyone should understand the fire action plan, so they know what to do in the event of a fire breaking out. However, your staff should also understand that actions such as propping open a fire door or allowing renovations to take place without reference to fire safety experts can lead to elevated risks for everyone in the building.
We can’t stress too much just how important passive fire protection is, both for the fabric of your building and the people within it. However, it should never be viewed as an alternative to active systems such as fire alarms and sprinklers. Effective fire protection comes from a combination of passive and active systems working together.
For more information about any aspect of fire safety in your premises, contact Pro.Tek Interiors today on 0800 689 0254.