Passive Fire Prevention: Fighting Flames Before The Fire Ever Starts

You might be surprised to realize every building, including your home and office building, is designed--at least in part-- to keep your safe in a fire. Fire protection engineering encompasses fire safety from the ground up: suppression systems, control, and and even fire-resistance ratings. However, one of the most effective ways of implementing fire safety into a structure is passive fire protection, or PFP. Passive fire protection is how buildings are actually made to burn in a certain way, so people have time to get out or reach help. So, how does passive fire protection work? 

It's in the design.

One of the most basic aspects of passive fire protection is keeping the building structurally sound enough so rescue workers can bring people out and so people are able to escape without being being harmed. Fire protection engineering design elements include:

  • fire proof walls. Fire walls are designed to keep the burn contained within the area it starts. They are typically made from cement and steel infused with a level of moisture so the water cools the metal during a burn, reducing the chance it will melt and collapse. These walls are also designed to separate during a fire, so if the building does collapse, only the burning section collapses-- just half of the wall gives way. 
  • fire resistant floors. Fire resistant floors try to prevent the spread of flames from one floor to the next. They are typically air tight, as fire tends to spread to new areas as it is deprived of oxygen.
  • smaller building sections. Open concept layouts are great for modern design, but buildings should actually be made of many small pieces put together. If a building is truly designed to be fire-resistant, the open areas will be surrounded by structural firewalls, and all doors leading out into halls and offices will be fire-doors, made to fit air-tight and often made from heavy concrete or steel. Doors with glass panels are often reinforced with layers of wire mesh to prevent breaking as the pressure changes during a fire. 

If a building is to hold both stores and residences, like apartment buildings with restaurants and gyms, it is better for fire protection if these are separated by fire barriers. These can by physical barriers, like firewalls, but also barriers in design, like a creating the apartment in a U-shape so most residences will have no contact with the businesses that pose a higher risk of fire. 

It's in the materials.

Did you know most fire-friendly materials, like wood, can be sprayed with with flame-retardants so they are less likely to burn in a fire, and if they do burn, they will burn at a lower temperature? Lowering the temperature of a burn is important because it helps firewalls and floors maintain their structure. Examples of fire resistant materials include:

  • cement-like plasters. Interior walls are given another layer of protection when they are finished with plaster instead of just paint and drywall or plywood. 
  • metal or chemical enclosures around fire hazards, like furnaces and wire boxes.
  • intumescent cable coating. This coating helps to reduce smoke and combustion of cable and wire jackets.
  • fireproofing sprays. These sprays, ranging in material from vermiculite to calcium silicate, cover firewalls and core building structures as a heat barrier so they can stay stable longer. They help to keep the concrete and steel from reaching a temperature that makes them unstable. 

As you can see, fighting flames is not just about response, it is about prevention. If you are hoping to live or work in a flame-free environment, you should look into what kinds of PFP were implemented into your home and place of work.