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Fire protection, prevention and suppression

Fire Safety Systems 101: Fire Prevention, Protection and Suppression

Fire prevention, fire protection, and fire suppression systems are fundamental safety measures that buildings should have against fire. For most people these terms may be interchangeable, and how these systems differ are not obvious right away. While there are differences between these systems, they have to work cohesively to keep buildings and the people that live and work in them safe. 

Fire Prevention 

Three elements must be present for a fire to start: fuel, heat, and oxygen. In a fire prevention system, issues that may arise from the presence of these elements are identified and removed to decrease a building’s fire load to the lowest possible level. Fire load refers to the potential severity if a fire were to happen in a building based on the fire hazards identified. 

A fire prevention strategy should start by undertaking a fire risk assessment which includes detailing the issues that would arise from the presence of fuel, heat, and oxygen, as well as mapping out actions to be taken to remove one or more of these elements. 

Here are a few examples of what can be included in a fire prevention system in relation to the three elements where their presence poses a risk: 


  • identifying flammable materials in the building or workplace
  • the quantity of flammable liquids in the workroom should be kept at a minimum
  • training staff on the proper use, handling, and storage of flammable materials


  • inspecting and cleaning chimneys and cooking exhausts regularly 
  • ensure smoking areas in the building are away from combustible materials, as well as separating cigarette and match disposal from combustible rubbish 
  • cleaning and maintenance of plant and equipment to prevent overheating 


  • keeping oxygen equipment in good condition
  • installing oxygen monitoring equipment in confined spaces or poorly ventilated rooms 
  • forbidding smoking where oxygen is being used 

In the real world, the best fire prevention strategy still cannot eliminate the possibility of a fire 100%, which is why your building’s fire prevention system should be designed in tandem with equally robust fire protection and fire suppression systems. 

Fire Protection 

A fire protection system will protect the building’s occupants by increasing their chances for evacuation. It will also reduce repair costs by minimising damage from the fire. A comprehensive fire protection strategy requires implementing both active and passive fire protection systems.  


Active fire protection is triggered in response to a fire and can either have a programmed response or need human intervention. A few examples are: 

  • fire and smoke alarms 
  • sprinklers 
  • hand operated fire extinguishers. 


Passive fire protection refers to the mechanisms installed that will contain a fire to a specific area and slow down, if not prevent, smoke and fire from spreading to other parts of a building. Some examples are: 

  • compartment floors and walls 
  • fire doors 
  • fire dampers

You can find more information on Fire Door Surveys here or full fire compartmentation surveys here. 

Fire Suppression 

A fire suppression system completes a building’s overall fire strategy in preventing the spread of fire by extinguishing it as quickly as possible. Typically connected with a building’s fire protection system, it can be automatically activated when a fire is detected. There are also fire suppression systems that need to be manually activated. 

Fire suppression systems may be: 


This includes the traditional wet pipe sprinkler systems, deluge sprinkler systems, and water mist suppression systems. 


In this fire suppression system, wet or dry chemicals are used depending on the setting, particularly where fire suppression by water is counterproductive such as in commercial kitchens and industrial work environments. 


For spaces where chemical residue or water damage must be avoided, a gas-based fire suppression system is utilised. Typically a blend of argon, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, this system works by lowering the oxygen level in the area, effectively choking out the fire. Museums employ these systems to protect further damage on artwork and other fragile pieces. 

Having all these three systems in place and working in tandem should be a priority. Fire prevention, fire protection, and fire suppression strategies should also be regularly assessed for them to provide the best chances in protecting life and property from fire.