A Fire Protection system is implemented in the design process of a building with the goal of protecting a building’s occupants and minimizing the damage associated with fire. It provides the widest possible window for a safe evacuation while also reducing potential property damage. As the name suggests, it’s all about protection should a fire occur, but it does not act proactively to stop them from happening.
No building can be 100% free of fire hazards. All we can do is be prepared in every way possible to ensure that no one will get hurt and no property will be damaged unnecessarily if it comes to this.
Depending on their functionality during a fire and whether or not they need to be activated, either by human activity or automatically through smart detection, the fire protection gear can fall under two categories: Active or Passive.
Active systems encompass most of the equipment and measures we often assimilate with fire protection, being the most visible and audible parts, such as sprinklers, detectors, and fire alarms. They are called this way because they only activate in case of a fire, actively alerting the occupants and helping extinguish or minimize fire spread.
They can also be further categorized by detection, suppression, and ventilation/evacuation, depending on which phase of a fire they activate.
Detection: The detection gear encompasses products that detect either smoke, heat, or flames, alerting the occupants of a fire situation. They activate during the early phase of fire to alert the presence of a fire condition as soon as possible, giving the most significant window possible for occupants to evacuate the building in safety. Primary examples are smoke detectors and fire alarms.
Suppression: The suppression gear can be either activated automatically or wielded by trained professionals to extinguish flames, such as sprinklers, fire hoses, or fire extinguishers. They act subsequently to the detection gear and are the primary agents in preventing the fire from spreading. We have a guide on Fire Suppression Systems where we get into more details focusing on complete suppression systems rather than just the suppression gear; feel free to have a look.
Ventilation/Evacuation: Products such as automatic vents and fans help keep the smoke out of corridors and safety exits so the occupants or firefighters can locate themselves inside a building in case of a fire. Along with escape lighting and intercom systems, they provide safe and clear passage for the evacuation.
Passive systems are typically related to structural measures taken to prevent the passage of flames and smoke as well as to maintain the building’s structural integrity. They are independent of any kind of activation; thus, they are called passive.
These structural measures are all part of the fire evacuation plan and are also incorporated in the design process. Some examples of passive fire protection measures are:
Compartmentalization: This measure aims to contain fire and smoke to specific areas, preventing it from spreading uncontrollably throughout the building. This is usually done with the purpose of providing a clear path for escaping as well as keeping the fire away from sensitive structural elements of the building, keeping its integrity. This is generally done using fire-resistant barriers in specific areas defined in the design process.
Intumescent Fireproofing: Intumescent, by definition, is a substance that swells as a result of heat exposure. This kind of coating or sealant can be added to sensitive structural elements such as columns or steel beams. When it expands due to the high temperatures of a fire, they end up providing additional protection to those elements, helping them withstand more extended periods under those circumstances without losing their physical properties.
Fire doors: The aim of those doors is actually more than just providing safe passage during evacuation. Since they are fire and smoke resistant, they are an essential piece in the compartmentalization strategy of the building.
Passive fire protection systems are just as important as active ones. They can sometimes go unnoticed since they tend to be hidden from plain sight as opposed to active fire protection gear, but they add invaluable safety for the building and all its occupants when it’s most needed. They both work independently. However, they should both be closely maintained in order to have adequate protection.