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The Importance of Passive Fire Protection In Commercial Buildings

male and female firefighter at the station in fire truck

As the need for property safety grows, we need an understanding of passive fire protection in buildings more than ever. In the first quarter of 2023 alone, Fire Rescue Authorities (FRAs) in England responded to over 2,000 fires in commercial buildings. Shockingly, nearly a third of these incidents were deliberate fires, increasing the importance of robust passive and active fire safety measures.

Office buildings, hotels, hospitals and retail stores are full of people and essential products and equipment, which is why commercial fire protection should be a priority. 

Passive protection measures, although often unnoticed, are the ultimate guardians of your building and its occupants. Operating quietly in the background, they effectively stop fires from ripping through a building by controlling the spread of flames, smoke and toxic gases during a fire. These measures are not standalone solutions but are a comprehensive approach to fire safety, working alongside active fire prevention systems like alarms and extinguishers.

This article will explore the vital role of passive fire safety in protecting commercial structures, interior assets and, most importantly, the people inside.

What is Passive Fire Protection?

Fire safety should be a concern for every property, including commercial buildings. Most of us know active fire protection, like fire alarms, sprinklers and fire extinguishers that respond to a fire event, but passive fire protection is just as important.

So what is passive fire protection?

Also known as PFP, passive fire protection in buildings is all about slowing down the spread of fire, smoke and heat before causing any damage or injuries. PFP consists of materials and systems that contain a fire within a specific area. Curbing a fire is critical for the safety of occupants and property protection, allowing time for evacuation and limiting the damage caused by a fire.

Here are some key elements of commercial passive fire prevention:

Fire-Resistant Materials

Fire-resistant materials are used in the construction of walls, ceilings and floors as a passive fire protection strategy. Some fire-resistant materials are brick, steel, stone, concrete, reinforced glass and timber treated with fire-retardant chemicals or intumescent paint.

Cavity Fire Barriers 

These fire-rated barriers are strategically placed in concealed spaces, such as wall cavities and floor voids, to inhibit the movement of flames and smoke. Using cavity fire barriers is a top choice for fire protection in buildings, thanks to their ability to contain fire hazards within concealed areas, preventing the rapid spread of fire to other parts of the building.

Penetration Sealing 

Penetration seals are one of the key components of passive fire prevention. They preserve and enhance a building’s fire resistance, including walls, floors, pipes, cables and ventilation ducts. These seals help fire-resistant barriers maintain effectiveness, boosting the overall fire safety of the structure. You can also use steel-coated fire collars & pipe wraps to protect plastic pipework passing between different building compartments.

Fire Protective Sprays

Fire protective sprays contain robust fibres, filling materials and a binder like cement or plaster. They offer a practical solution for safeguarding steel-structured buildings and are typically used in environments such as warehouses and specific office environments, where the emphasis is firmly on fortifying structural integrity against fire hazards.

Compartmentation

One of the fundamental principles of passive fire protection is compartmentalisation. This involves dividing a building into zones, each with its fire-resistant features. In the event of a fire, the fire is contained within that compartment, preventing it from spreading to other areas.

Fire Doors

Fire doors are also a vital part of commercial PFP. Constructed with fire-resistant cores and sealants, these doors automatically close during a fire to create a strong barrier slowing the spread between different areas, giving more time for evacuations and extinguishing the fire. 

Smoke Control Systems

Commercial passive fire protection also includes systems that control the movement of smoke. Smoke control systems, like automatic opening vents, reduce smoke build-up and help with safe evacuation during a fire.

Always speak to an expert before attempting to install any of the above measures. 

Read on as we delve deeper into the importance of a passive fire strategy in different industries, including office buildings, hotels and retail spaces.

man is reaching his hand to push fire alarm hand station Image by jcomp

Active Vs Passive Fire Protection

Commercial fire safety has two core approaches: active fire protection and passive fire protection. Active fire prevention measures only work when a person intervenes or equipment begins to function when detecting a fire. These systems include the following components.

  • Fire Alarms: Fire detection systems detect the presence of smoke or flames. When exposed to fire, these alarms are activated to alert the people inside the building so they can perform emergency response procedures.
  • Sprinkler Systems: Automatic sprinkler systems release water or other fire-suppressing agents during a fire. They are a highly effective means of controlling and extinguishing fires.
  • Fire Extinguishers: Portable fire extinguishers allow individuals to control small fires in their early stages. Plus, they are essential tools for firefighters tackling indoor fires.

As discussed earlier in this article, passive fire protection operates without batteries or human interaction. 

Ultimately, active protection responds to fires, while passive protection aims to slow fire and smoke spread. Together, they create a comprehensive fire safety strategy for protecting lives and property.

Evacuation of people from burning office building

PFP for Office Buildings

Packed with employees and sensitive data, commercial fire defence is a top priority for office buildings.

Regulatory Framework

Office buildings are legally required to meet all UK Fire Safety Regulations. Some of these include:

  • Fire Risk Assessment
  • A designated person ‘fire marshal’ 
  • Appropriate fire extinguishers in accessible locations 
  • Fire safety signs
  • Fire safety training 
  • Functioning smoke alarms

Various regulatory bodies and building codes set the standards for fire safety in office buildings. These regulations often recommend using passive fire prevention measures, which include:

Protecting Your Business

The Association of British Insurers reported that over 60% of private businesses never recover from a fire. So, aside from saving lives and preventing injuries, a primary reason for ample fire protection in office buildings is to protect business continuity. Fires in these settings can disrupt operations, lead to data loss and cause unemployment. 

Evacuation and Safety

Employee safety is paramount. Passive fire protection measures, including fire-resistant materials and barriers, increase the time for safe evacuation in a fire emergency. This extra time allows employees to exit the building and reach designated assembly points without deadly fire and smoke exposure. 

Asset Protection

Office buildings house valuable assets, including equipment, technology, and significant documents. Passive prevention measures help safeguard these assets by containing fires and minimising the extent of damage.

Commercial Passive Fire Protection in Hotels

Comfort and safety is the hallmark of every hotel. Ensuring the safety of guests and protecting property is something that hotels take very seriously.

Complying with Rigorous Regulations

The hotel industry is subject to stringent regulations and standards when it comes to fire safety. These regulations include a range of requirements to protect guests and staff, as well as the preservation of property. Some of these include:

  • Fire Safety Risk Assessment
  • Robust fire detection and warning system
  • Clear escape routes and fire doors
  • Safe evacuation points
  • Emergency lighting
  • Active fire defence equipment

Effective fire compartmentation is essential for hotel and leisure structures because of its unique layouts. Installing comprehensive passive fire protection measures is a necessity within these establishments. The purpose of PFP in hotels is to help residents evacuate securely and swiftly in a fire emergency.

Protecting Lives and Property

The ultimate reason for commercial passive fire protection in hotels is to safeguard lives. Cavity fire barriers are installed into walls, ceilings and floors, creating effective fire resistance. 

Impacting Finances

Hotels are not just places of accommodation; they also serve as venues for conferences, events and more. The interruption of business due to fire can be financially devastating. Passive measures are designed to limit the spread of fire and minimise damage, allowing hotels to stay open.

Saving Valuables

Hotels have valuable assets, from guest belongings to high-end equipment. PFP acts as a shield, controlling fires and preventing them from reaching these assets.

Concealed Spaces and Cavity Fire Barriers

Hotels often feature concealed spaces, such as wall cavities and floor voids. Using cavity fire barriers in these areas will slow down the movement of fire, offering additional protection.

Safeguard Shoppers & Valuable Property With PFP for Retail Spaces

Commercial retail spaces are always full of people and valuable goods. That’s why these environments require meticulous attention to welfare, and that’s where fire safety comes in.

Fire Regulation Compliance

The retail industry operates within an array of safety standards. These regulations refer to local building codes and industry-specific guidelines and all highlight fire safety. Some include:

  • Complete the Fire Risk Assessment and make a plan
  • Test and maintain all electrical items in stores
  • Annual electrical system checks
  • Fire safety training for every staff member
  • Enforce a smoking policy
  • Install fire detection and suppression systems
  • PFPs like structural seal protection and compounding

Protecting Shoppers and Staff

Commercial fire protection in retail spaces is for the preservation of life. People’s lives are at risk without an ample Fire Risk Assessment and enforcing a plan. 

Valuable Inventory

Retail spaces are not just places we go to shop – they store large amounts of valuable inventory. Whether it’s high-end electronics or expensive products, PFP acts as a silent hero, containing fires and preventing them from reaching valuable assets.

Fire Cavity Barriers and Concealed Spaces

Most stores and shopping centres feature small, concealed spaces, like wall cavities. Fire defence in buildings should extend into these hidden areas with cavity fire barriers for higher security levels.

By integrating these measures into their commercial fire protection strategy, retailers create safe and secure environments, allowing shoppers to enjoy their experience with peace of mind.

team of young specialist doctors standing in the corridor of the hospital Image by senivpetro

Commercial Fire Protection in Hospitals

Hospitals are home to extremely vulnerable people. With most people immobile, the safety of patients, healthcare providers and critical medical equipment is a serious matter. 

Meeting Stringent Healthcare Regulations

The healthcare industry, including the NHS, works within a tight regulatory framework that places massive importance on patient and staff safety. And of course, some of these regulations are centred around fire safety. Here are a few rules, regulations and guidelines:

  • Fire Safety Risk Assessment
  • Hospital fire compartmentation
  • Fire doors
  • Enforce a smoking policy
  • Sprinkler system
  • Monitor fire hazards such as overused sockets, cables and medical equipment
  • Hospital kitchens’ fire assessments

Passive fire protection is indispensable for hospitals to meet demanding standards, which is why most healthcare buildings utilise fire-rated barriers, steel protection and compounding. 

Preserving Lives and Medical Resources

Fire-resistant materials, expertly installed into the property’s infrastructure, like walls, ceilings and floors, create formidable barriers against fire and smoke. These barriers slow fire and smoke progression, allowing for the safe evacuation of patients and staff. Evacuating sick patients can take much longer than other commercial settings, making passive fire protection all-important for hospitals. 

Uninterrupted Medical Services

Medical services are a lifeline to communities. Disruptions due to fires can have dire consequences. Passive prevention will minimise damage, ensuring hospitals remain open after a fire. 

Precious Medical Equipment

Hospitals also contain medical equipment and critical patient records. Commercial fire protection will contain fires and stop them from reaching these invaluable assets.

Safeguarding Structures and Saving Lives

In commercial environments, passive fire prevention creates a place where businesses can thrive, patients can heal, shoppers can browse safely and workers can focus on their tasks with peace of mind. Plus, it can cushion businesses from financial blows caused by fire damage. It’s a quiet assurance that when a fire breaks out, there is a barrier between chaos and safety.

To learn more about PFP and how it can work for your business, contact the Fire Immunity team online here to discuss further. 

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