How passive fire protection limits the spread of fire in buildings: the basics

29 September 2021

Passive fire protection (PFP) refers to products installed in a building to improve its fire safety rating. The products may be part of the initial make up of the building, or they can be added post construction to enhance the structure’s fire performance. The point of this type of protection is to keep people safe and to limit fire damage to the building’s structure and its contents. This is done by restricting the spread of fire and smoke, and shielding escape routes long enough for occupants to evacuate the building calmly and safely.

Passive fire protection differs from active fire protection as active fire protection provides some way for people to respond to and actively stop a fire. We wrote about the difference between active and passive fire protection systems in more detail.

How does passive fire protection work?

Compartmentalisation is at the core of this type of protection as is the practice of creating layered pockets of fire resistance in order to contain the spread of smoke and fire within small areas. This works to ensure that there is enough time for occupants to leave a building safely.

Examples of passive fire protection components 

Fire doors

Fire doors are vital components for stopping the spread of smoke and fire within a building. If a fire door is properly made by a BWF certified manufacturer, with compatible parts, and certified by an accredited third party, it should hold back a fire for 30 minutes or more. They are designed to automatically close behind you in the event of fire and so these types of doors should never be propped open. Fire doors are legal requirements in most commercial buildings such as care homes, offices and retail stores.

Fire rated expansion joints

Fire rated expansion joints are necessary in order to maintain a building’s safety and resiliency. They are an integral part of preventing the spread of fire and smoke throughout levels and are critically important in all expansion/movement joint openings that interrupt fire rated compartments.

Construction materials

As we said earlier in the post, passive fire protection may be part of the initial make up of the building and this could include the construction materials used. This is because some materials have some natural resistance to fire and as such already have built-in fire protection. An example of this is clay bricks, which, when constructed to form a wall, is fire-resistant in its own right.

Other passive fire protection products include:

  • Fire shutters
  • Compartment walls and floors
  • Fire-resisting walls and partitions
  • Suspended ceilings
  • Fire-resisting glazing
  • Industrial fire shutters and curtains
  • Fire fighting shafts and stairwells
  • Fire-resisting ductwork
  • Fire-resisting service ducts and shafts
  • Linear gap seals
  • Penetration seals for pipes, cables and other services
  • Cavity barriers
  • Hydrocarbon structural fire protection systems

Passive fire protection and risk assessments

Research by the Association of Fire Protection Specialists has found  that “many buildings are constructed and operated with passive fire protection either badly installed or missing altogether” and that “this situation is compounded by alterations made to the building by the occupier as changes in occupancy, operations or systems take place.”

With that in mind, it’s important for commercial property owners to undertake fire risk assessments  to identify the need for passive fire protection and determine if such measures are capable of fulfilling their design capabilities in the event of a fire.

Our fire risk assessment methodology, template and approach to fire risk has been developed, reviewed and adapted over the last 16 years in business. Based on the PAS 79 methodology but not rigidly adapting the PAS 79 FRA template.

Our fire risk assessments assist the Responsible Person in identifying significant findings, including passive fire protection, that are clear breaches of the Fire Safety Order, with priority, risk and time scales recorded to action the findings. Our process will also identify fire risks that may be outside the scope of the Fire Safety Order but could present a property or business continuity risk.

For more information contact the team!


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