What is passive fire safety?

Passive fire safety refers to the materials and features within a building or structure engineered to prevent the spread of fire, smoke, and heat while maintaining structural integrity. These measures are always ‘passively’ working; for example they do not require a fuel, water or electricity source to function (see examples below.)

Active fire suppression systems (like fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems) are designed to detect and extinguish or control fires actively. These systems require some form of action, either manually or automatically triggered, to operate. Unlike active fire safety systems that require action or activation, passive fire safety materials and features work without intervention.

Passive fire safety has a long history dating back to ancient times. It has evolved significantly over centuries, particularly in response to major fire disasters and the resulting advancements in building codes and technology. At present, passive fire safety standards are codified in the International Building Code (IBC.) The International Building Code is a model building code developed by the International Code Council (ICC) that sets standards for the construction of buildings and structures, with the primary goal of ensuring public safety, including fire safety. The history of passive fire safety materials in relation to the IBC involves a progression of understanding, technology, and regulation. The first edition of the International Building Code (IBC) was published in 2000. It included specific requirements for passive fire protection materials, such as fire-resistant wall assemblies, fire doors, and fire-stopping materials.

What are common examples of passive fire safety solutions?

Common examples of passive fire safety solutions include:

  • Fire-Resistant Materials: The use of materials that are resistant to fire or have a high fire rating is crucial in ensuring safety. Certain advanced materials, such as Intuplas and Bernograph, have been specially engineered for their fire-resistant properties. These materials provide an extra layer of protection in various applications.
  • Fire Rated Doors: These are specially constructed doors that can resist fire for a certain period, such as 30, 60, or 90 minutes. They are designed to prevent or slow the spread of fire and smoke between compartments. These doors often utilize advanced materials to enhance their fire resistance, one of which is tempRCORE, an inorganic composite core that contributes significantly to their fire-resistant properties
  • Fire Walls and Fire Barriers: Walls that extend from the foundation to the roof are designed to limit the spread of fire within a building or between adjacent buildings.
  • Compartmentation: Dividing a building into sections (compartments) using fire-resistant walls and floors. This limits the spread of fire and smoke to small areas.
  • Fire Dampers: Devices installed in ducts and air transfer openings designed to close automatically when heated to prevent the spread of fire and smoke through the ventilation system.
  • Intumescent Materials: These are materials that expand when exposed to heat, filling gaps and preventing the spread of fire and smoke. Such characteristics make them crucial in building construction, particularly around door frames and expansion joints.
  • Smoke Vents: These allow smoke and heat to escape from a building, helping to clear visibility and reduce temperatures for people evacuating and for firefighters.
  • Firestops and Fire Seals: Used to seal around penetrations in fire-rated walls and floors (like where pipes or cables pass through) to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. In this context, a product that stands out for its effectiveness and innovative design is SafePassage.
  • Fire Curtains: Fire-resistant fabric barriers that can be deployed to contain fire and smoke in specific areas.
  • Fire-Rated Glazing: Special glass that can withstand exposure to fire for a specified period, helping to contain fire and smoke.
  • Structural Fire Protection: Using materials to protect the structural elements of a building (like steel beams) from the effects of fire, often through coatings or encasements that provide insulation.
  • Egress Pathways: Designing buildings with clear and safe evacuation routes marked by fire-resistant materials and emergency lighting.

All these elements form part of an integrated approach to fire safety, where passive and active measures work together to provide comprehensive protection.

Why is passive fire safety an effective safety option?

Here are a few key reasons why passive fire safety is effective at preventing the spread of fire and enhancing fire safety:

  1. Constant Protection: passive fire safety measures are always in effect regardless of human action, mechanical failure, etc. They don’t require activation or electricity, ensuring protection is constant and, therefore, highly reliable.
  2. Reduced Damage and Economic Loss: by slowing the spread of fire, passive fire safety measures can significantly reduce the damage to a building and its contents, resulting in lower repair costs and economic loss. This containment also means that after a fire, a smaller area may need refurbishment, allowing for quicker recovery and less operational downtime.
  3. Cost-Effectiveness: once installed, most passive fire safety measures require minimal maintenance, making them cost-effective over the lifespan of a building.
  4. Synergy with Active Fire Protection: passive fire safety measures complement active fire protection systems (like sprinklers and alarms). For instance, while sprinklers work to extinguish or control a fire, passive measures prevent its spread, giving the sprinklers a better chance of being effective.
  5. Containment of Fire and Smoke: by compartmentalizing the building into different fire zones, passive fire safety measures limit the spread of fire and smoke. This containment is crucial not only for protecting unburned areas but also for providing safe evacuation routes for occupants and access routes for firefighters.
  6. Protection of Structural Integrity: passive fire protection materials help maintain the structural integrity of a building during a fire. By protecting key structural elements (like beams, columns, and floors), these measures reduce the risk of structural collapse, which is vital for the safety of both occupants and emergency responders.

In summary, passive fire safety is effective because it provides continuous, reliable protection that enhances the overall fire safety strategy of a building. It works in concert with active fire protection systems, helps maintain structural integrity, facilitates safe evacuation, and minimizes damage and economic loss.