What are the Two Types of Fire Protection?

Fire protection is a crucial element of any building’s safety system. There are two main types of fire protection – passive and active. Understanding how these systems work and integrating them appropriately can make the difference between life and death in a fire emergency. For buildings in Dublin, having the right fire protection is key to satisfying Fire Safety Regulations.

Passive Fire Protection

Passive fire protection (PFP) aims to contain fires by compartmentalising the building and limiting the spread of flames. PFP systems are integral parts of the structure. 

Some examples of passive fire protection include:

  •  Fire-resistant walls and floors – These are built with fire-resistant materials like concrete, fire-rated gypsum wallboard, or masonry. They contain the fire by preventing flames from penetrating adjacent spaces.
  • Fire doors – These are intumescent-coated doors that can withstand fire for a minimum period without failure. They prevent fire spread from one compartment to another.
  • Fire dampers – These regulate air flow through ducts to isolate the fire. They prevent flames and smoke from circulating through the building.
  • Fire stops – These seal penetrations and openings in floors and walls. They prevent fire travelling from one compartment to another through gaps around pipework or wiring.

Proper PFP design is mandated by building codes. It guarantees occupants have enough time to evacuate while limiting property damage. Passive systems require no external power or control systems, so they offer reliable protection.

However, PFP has limitations. It cannot extinguish fires on its own. If a fire overpowers PFP elements like doors or walls, more active suppression is needed.

Active Fire Protection

Active fire protection (AFP) consists of systems that detect and actively control fires. AFP systems require an external power source and manual or automatic activation. 

Common active protection includes:

  • Fire sprinkler systems – These systems contain an integrated network of piping and sprinklers filled with water. Heat from a fire causes sprinklers to activate, spraying water to suppress the flames.
  • Fire alarms- These contain smoke, heat or optical sensors to detect fires. Alarms alert building occupants and security so evacuation can begin immediately.
  • Emergency lighting – This lighting activates in case of an outage to illuminate exit routes. It helps occupants evacuate safely when visibility is low.
  •  Fire extinguishers – These portable devices allow occupants to suppress small fires manually. Extinguishers contain suppressants like water, foam or CO2.
  • Fire suppression systems – These release fire retardants like FM200, Novec or CO2 to rapidly extinguish fires. They are often used to protect sensitive areas like server rooms.

Active systems offer quick control but rely on external utilities. Sprinkler pipes can burst or freeze. Alarms and sensors require periodic inspection and maintenance. Because AFP is more complex, specialised testing and certification is needed.

Which is Better – Passive or Active Protection?

Both passive and active fire protection are essential elements of a complete fire safety strategy. 

Passive protection excels at containing fires and preventing spread. It can maintain tenable conditions longer, providing precious additional evacuation time. Passive systems also have minimal maintenance needs.

However, passive protection has limitations for active fire suppression. This is where active systems complement PFP. Active systems detect fires early and can begin suppression quickly. Quick detection and control minimises overall damage.

The best approach combines thoughtful passive compartmentalisation with active systems tailored to each space. For instance, a commercial kitchen would rely heavily on active extinguishing systems due to its fire risks. Mission critical electrical rooms would use passive sealing but active suppression.

Proper zoning via fire barriers and doors ensures active systems only activate where needed. This avoids entire sprinkler activation for a small fire. Integrated systems are most effective for life safety and property protection.

Which is More Cost Effective?

In terms of upfront costs, passive protection is often cheaper than active systems for new construction. Passive elements like fire-rated walls have lower material and installation costs. 

Active systems require expensive mechanical and electrical components. Installation is more complex, and specialised design is needed. Commissioning and testing add cost.

However, when considering lifetime costs, active systems can pull ahead. Maintenance is minimal for walls or fire doors. But active systems require periodic inspections, sensor replacement, pipe flushing and ongoing service. These recurring costs add up.

Passive protection also has higher replacement costs. If a two-hour firewall is ever breached, the entire wall may need rebuilding. Active components like sprinklers or extinguishers can be replaced individually at lower cost.

For retrofits, active systems can be more cost effective. It is expensive to add new fire-rated walls or compartments to an existing building. Active systems can be overlaid throughout the building more easily.

Overall, a combination of both systems provides the most cost-effective protection over the building lifetime. Thoughtful design provides savings by eliminating redundancy and balancing advantages. The ideal system meets safety goals without excessive cost.

How to Get a Fire Safety Audit

Given the importance of integrated passive and active fire protection, it is wise to get a professional fire safety audit of your building. An audit helps identify any gaps that need to be addressed in your overall fire strategy.

Here are some tips for getting a useful audit:

  • Work with certified professionals – Look for qualified engineers that specialise in fire protection and are licensed by local authorities. They will be familiar with specific regulations
  • Do regular periodic audits – Schedule audits at least every 3 years, or whenever significant occupancy, layout or usage changes occur. Regular inspections help keep protection current.
  • Review building plans Provide auditors with up-to-date floor plans and architectural drawings. This gives them a better understanding of designed fire compartments.
  • Tour the entire sit* – Walk through the building with the auditors to view fire doors, fire rated walls, and active systems like extinguishers and alarms. Identify any areas of concern.
  • Check inspection records – Share documentation for fire door inspections, alarm system tests, and sprinkler flushes. Auditors can ensure proper maintenance is being done. 
  • Discuss potential upgrades – Be open to recommendations to improve your fire strategy. A good auditor offers cost-effective solutions tailored to your specific building risks.

Taking these steps will generate an audit report that identifies gaps and provides a strategic improvement plan. Best practice is to promptly implement audit recommendations to keep your building as fire safe as possible.

Partner with a Fire Protection Specialist

Fire protection is a complex and constantly evolving field. New construction techniques, building usage trends, and emerging regulations bring continuous change. 

Partnering with qualified fire protection experts is the best way to implement and maintain a robust fire strategy tailored to your property. Specialists like Fire Stoppers Ireland bring decades of experience designing, installing and inspecting systems.

Seeking regular professional guidance ensures:

  • Your fire protection integrates seamlessly with architectural features and occupancy workflows. 
  • Active systems are sized correctly using hydraulic calculations and modelling.
  • Equipment is certified and professionally commissioned.
  • Inspections meet local compliance requirements.
  • Personnel are trained appropriately on equipment.
  • Upgrades take advantage of the latest technology and techniques.

With the right specialist partnership, you can be confident your building offers the highest levels of fire protection. Your occupants and property will be ready for any emergency.

Passive Fire Protection Specialists

Both main types of fire protection play essential roles. Passive systems excel at containment and compartmentalisation. Active systems enable quick detection and suppression. Properly integrated, they provide comprehensive protection.

Regular fire safety audits help strengthen your fire strategy. By partnering with certified specialists for audits, maintenance and upgrades, building owners ensure reliable, cost-effective protection that meets all regulations. If fire strikes, full preparation makes all the difference.

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