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What Is Passive Fire Protection?

Your business may already be implementing a fire safety strategy, but have you checked if your strategy includes passive fire protection? Passive fire protection (PFP) may be mostly overlooked by a lot of building owners and managers because as its name implies, this component is passive, and thus, not as obvious as other components. However, according to fire safety experts, passive fire protection is important to any effective fire safety programme. It is termed passive because it is already built into a building’s structure and does not actively prevent fires. Instead, its presence aims to limit the damage of fires to the building and its contents by averting the spread of smoke and fire to a larger area of the structure by holding them in the compartment where they are in. Due to its containing (passive) action, passive fire protection also ensures the integrity of the escape routes, so that they can be used as they are intended in cases of fire. Finally, effective PFP also contributes to the protection of the structure and therefore confirming that it will be good to use in the coming years. 

PFP is built into the structure, particularly into its walls and floors and is, therefore, a major component of compartmentation or firestopping, or the practice of dividing a structure into smaller areas or compartments through walls and floors so that the fire risks become manageable in the sense that the floor area where the fire or smoke could spread is contained, therefore is more manageable. This protection comes from the materials included in constructing the building, although there is also PFP that is added to an already built structure (addition of a firewall or fire door, for example), to improve its resistance to fires. 

So, imagine a building level that is separated into three rooms – Room A on the left, Room B in the middle, and Room C on the right. If Room B has passive fire protection, the chances of a fire spreading to all three rooms are lessened. Why? Because if a fire starts from Room A or Room C, it would need to pass through Room B to spread to the entire building, but since Room B has PFP, there is a lesser, if not zero chance that the fire will further spread since the PFP in Room B will work its magic once the fire and smoke pass through that room. Obviously, if the fire starts in Room B, it will be immediately contained, thanks to the PFP installed in the compartment.  

How does PFP work?  

A majority of PFP products have the property of fire resistance, meaning these products when included in the compartment’s walls, columns, doors, and floors, among others, can contain a fire, either by resisting the collapse of the structure (i.e., stability), resisting the conduction of heat (i.e., insulation), or resisting hot gases and smoke to pass through it (i.e., integrity).  

Various parts of a structure may require one, two, or all qualities, depending on their role in the structure. For example, in a building with many floors, a structural floor will require all three qualities. A column, since its function is only to support the structure, will only need structural stability. Meanwhile, walls and doors will need to stop fire and gasses from passing through them, so they need both insulation and integrity. Finally, elements like pipes and cables that pass through separating elements such as walls should also be fire resistant as they may be conduits of smoke, heat, and fire. 

Passive Fire Protection in Materials 

There are several materials used in building structures that are already naturally resistant to fire such as clay brick. Thus, you have restaurants with clay brick ovens in their kitchens that are have not gone down in flames. Opposite to that is materials that are quite susceptible to fire, such as wood. When you have structures built out of these materials, the inclusion of PFP in them like a fire-resisting board is obviously a must. Other PFP products include fire doors, fire shutters and curtains, compartment floors and walls, fire-resisting shafts, fire-resisting ductwork, gap seals, cavity barriers, hydrocarbon structural fire protection systems, among others.