here are three essential elements to consider during the building design phase in protecting people and property from fires:
- Detectors & alarms
- Suppression systems
- Fireproof compartmentation
Detectors, alarms and fire suppression systems (sprinklers) are considered active systems, while compartmentation is classified as passive building protection. Collectively these three elements are designed to allow occupants time to escape and fire fighters time to respond.
These active systems detect heat and smoke early-on in occupied or unoccupied spaces within a structure. Once a problem is detected the occupants within the entire structure as well as the fire department will then be alerted. Alarms need to be hard wired with battery backup.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), "When sprinklers are present, the chances of dying in a fire are reduced by one-half to three-fourths, and the average property loss per fire is cut by one-half to two-thirds." Additionally if sprinklers are present, the International Building Code (IBC) may allow reductions in certain compartmentation requirements. Examples of potential reductions are lowering or elimination of fire ratings for doors and fire resistant wall assemblies in corridors.
Before the introduction of alarms and sprinklers the primary way to slow or stop the spread of fire was through the dividing of large space into smaller spaces (compartmentation) with the use of heavy building materials. Stone and brick were most commonly used years ago. This subdividing of space created many dark maze like areas which were very uninviting and production limiting. Fortunately, today compartmentation can be achieved with use of fire rated glazing in conjunction with sealants, fire dampers and other products. Fire rated glazing can be used throughout a building’s design to enhance visibility, security and natural lighting within a buildings core while providing effective compartmentation.
"History has shown that neither passive or active technology can provide absolute protection by itself, but a combination of the two will most always be more effective than either alone," states Kurt Roeper, manager of global codes and standards for Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, in the February 2007 issue of Doors and Hardware magazine.
Of course, costs to implement both active and passive systems are obviously higher versus opting for only one type of system. Building owners need to weigh that additional up-front cost with potential catastrophic loss of life and property by relying on only a single system. Large fires can cost millions of dollars in direct damage and potential liabilities.
It is always better to be safe than sorry.
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