What is Fire Compartmentation?

A safe built environment for our communities is essential to prevent injury from fire and it may also be required by law.
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Once you have conducted a competent fire risk assessment, where necessary, you may then need to plan for what’s known as fire compartmentation, or passive fire protection survey.

It’s important to understand that Passive Fire Precautions (PFP) are a vital part of the building fabric, dividing the building into individual fire compartments, constructed, and lined with suitable fire resisting materials to reduce the spread of fire.

What is the purpose of Fire Compartmentation?

  • Prevent rapid spread of fire and smoke
  • Subdivide buildings into manageable areas of risk
  • Provide and protect adequate Means of Escape
  • Provisions in statutory guidance documents
  • Control fire size by managing the amount of fuel available

Correctly implemented fire compartmentation involves dividing an area into sections, which in turn allows the fire to be contained into one area of the building. This then allows fire crews to safely extinguish the fire whilst it is contained.

Different types of fire compartmentation

Fire Compartmentation takes different forms in a building and done correctly, should be designed before the building is constructed and identified in the Fire Strategy, this is a requirement of the Building Regulations. Once constructed the elements of fire compartmentation should be routinely assessed and maintained properly.

Here are some commonly found elements of fire compartmentation in a building. 

Fire Doors

A fire door that functions correctly can prevent or slow the spread of fire through a building. However, fire doors must be used correctly for them to be effective. If doors are wedged or propped open, they will not be able to perform their life saving role in a fire. 

During Fire Door Safety Week 2020, we shared a 5-step fire door checklist to be used alongside our unique fire door testing tool.

Building Materials

Buildings are constructed using different materials and techniques depending on when they were built. If buildings were constructed using a timber frame, then fire can spread much faster than buildings built with concrete or bricks. A fire safety consultant can recommend specific compartmentation methods according to the nature of the building’s construction.

Cavity Barriers

A cavity barrier is a passive fire safety measure provided to close a concealed space against penetration of smoke and flame or provided to restrict the movement of smoke or flame within a space. This could be within a roof space or within a wall cavity.

Fire and Smoke dampers

Fire and smoke dampers are devices installed within a duct or ventilation opening which breaches a fire compartment which operate automatically designed to prevent the passage of fire and smoke. They may also be fitted in fire doors and walls to prevent fire and smoke passing into emergency escape routes.

So, what is fire stopping and how does it help?

Fire stopping is a process to repair areas of weakness in fire compartment walls, floors, ceilings etc whereby certain materials, some specially manufactured, are used to resist (or stop) the spread of fire and smoke through the penetrations. The fire safety guidance documents advise us that the passing of services such as heating pipes or electrical cables through fire-resisting partitions leaves gaps through which fire and smoke may spread. This should be rectified by suitable fire stopping and there are many proprietary products available to suit particular types of construction. Such products should be installed by competent contractors.

Why you need passive fire protection

The overall aim of passive fire protection, such as compartmentation is to prevent the spread of a fire throughout a building. Passive fire protection doesn’t necessarily require direct human intervention in the event of a fire, but it does need to be correctly implemented and used properly to be fully effective.

Passive fire protection is an important aspect of the building’s fire safety strategy. Its role is paramount in safeguarding people, as well as limiting damage to buildings and their contents from fire and smoke.

Despite its name – passive fire protection does not mean that you can install it and forget about it! It does need periodic inspection and testing for maximum safety and efficiency.

The Fire Safety Order is the law in England and Wales, all public premises must be compliant. Passive fire protection is highly effective but should not be the only line of defence in the event of a fire. Fire compartmentation and other passive fire protection methods work co-dependently with other fire protection systems, such as fire alarms and accessible fire exits.

Summary: Fire Compartmentation

Fire compartmentation ultimately allows a fire to be contained and therefore easier to control. With a fire that’s been contained, occupants of the building can safely evacuate while fire crews can extinguish the fire in a controlled area without fear of it spreading rapidly and causing further damage.

All fire protection systems, including fire compartmentation, require periodic routine inspections and maintenance.

Maintaining your fire safety systems is a legislative requirement under the Fire Safety Order. If one level of fire protection fails to work correctly the fire could spread, so the difference between a well maintained, working fire protection system and a non-maintained, partially working fire protection system could quickly become the difference between life and death.

If you’re unsure what you need for your building or business premises, the Firerite team has extensive knowledge of delivering fire consulting services and risk assessments across a variety of different sectors and building types.

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