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The Role of Passive Fire Protection

Passive fire protection systems are included as part of the very fabric of buildings, with fire resistant walls, floors and doors all serving as examples. Each area has a variety of different solutions that are suited to varying build requirements. For example, fire resistant walls can be constructed using panels of reinforced cement with steel sheets bonded to each side, or through the application of a cementitious fire spray.

Passive fire protection products and systems are named as such because they are considered to be always ‘switched on’ and do not require activating in order to fulfil their role. In contrast, active fire protection devices require some form of response and/or motion in order to work. A further differentiation being that active fire protection systems are added to the building after construction, as opposed to being part of the building itself.

Active fire protection systems can be broken down into two areas: fire detectors and fire suppressants. Fire detectors serve to identify where a fire is occurring by locating heat, smoke or flames, before providing a warning of the blaze through an audible alarm and often through alerting the fire service. Fire suppressants play an active role in trying to extinguish or at least control fires; examples being sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers.

Compartmentalisation Approach

Unlike active types, passive fire protection systems never seek to extinguish the blaze. Instead their role is to contain the fire to its point of origin and prevent the flames and smoke from spreading throughout the building. This is achieved through compartmentalisation, whereby every room or section of the building is effectively a sealed unit. In many instances the blaze will burn itself out within the contained unit, without spreading to other areas of the building.

Even if the fire does eventually spread, passive fire protection systems greatly improve the chances of those present in the building safely exiting it, by containing the blaze for a length of time. In addition, they serve to protect the structural integrity of the property and reduce the likelihood of collapse. This provides the fire services with a safer environment in which to work, as they clear the building of any remaining people and seek to extinguish the flames. Passive fire protection systems not only serve to save lives, but also limit the damage to the property, thus reducing repair costs