Fire protection, prevention, and suppression systems are all fundamental to safeguarding a building from fire. However, some people may be unsure as to how these systems may differ. Rather than using these terms interchangeably, it’s important to understand how fire protection, prevention, and suppression systems work together. In this article, we’ll define these three systems and how they all work in tandem to keep both buildings and people safe.
What is fire protection?
The aim of a fire protection system is to protect a building’s occupants and minimise the damage associated with fire. Overall, the goal is to provide the widest possible window for a safe evacuation, whilst also reducing potential repair costs.
Fire protection systems can be categorised as either active or passive. While active systems are designed to help fight fires (such as fire alarms and sprinklers), passive fire protection describes the structural measures which prevent the passage of flames and smoke. To delve deeper into this subject, we recommend our article ‘what is an active and passive fire protection system?’
There are several facets to passive fire protection; apart from preventing the spread of fire, it also helps to maintain a building’s structural integrity. Here are some of the most important elements of a passive fire protection strategy:
Fire safety regulations specify that a building must be ‘compartmentalised’ into manageable areas. To stop smoke from passing through these areas, specialists will install fire doors, walls, and cavity barriers. Fire protection boards are also an important part of compartmentation. They’re designed to absorb heat rather than conduct it, and don’t shrink when exposed to high temperatures. Fire stopping solutions are used to seal around service penetrations. If a fire breaks out in a certain compartment, the fire integrity and insulation of the surrounding compartment helps to confine high temperatures and smoke to the specific area.
Ultimately, compartmentation helps to effectively contain heat, fire, and smoke. This ensures that essential escape routes are protected, especially for when firefighters arrive on the scene. Visit our dedicated page to learn more about fire compartmentation in buildings.
Intumescent paint is key to protecting steel beams against fire damage. This paint is either spray-applied or brush applied to add a thin film coating to the structural frame. Typically once a fire exceeds temperatures of around 500°C, the intumescent paint swells to create a carbonaceous layer. This adds a new protective layer to the steel, minimising its exposure to heat and delaying its degradation. Intumescent coatings provide up to 120 minutes of fire protection. This window of time could make the difference between safely evacuating a building and incurring costly physical damage – not to mention putting lives at risk. Visit our dedicated page on intumescent paint for steel for further information.
These are just some of the most important parts of a quality fire protection strategy. For instance, it is imperative for fire protection that any building materials being used on-site are both non-flammable and rated by industry standards. Broadly speaking, any part of the fabric of a building that is fire-rated is considered part of a fire protection strategy.
It’s important to point out that fire protection doesn’t necessarily stop a fire from occurring in the first place. Instead, it’s about reducing damage and ensuring a swift and safe exit plan for a building’s occupants. This is where we encounter our first difference between fire protection and fire prevention.
What is fire prevention?
Fire prevention systems are put in place so a building’s fire load is as low as it can possibly be. ‘Fire load’ is a term used by fire protection professionals to determine the potential severity of a fire in a building, based on the presence of certain hazards. Essentially, fire prevention reduces the likelihood of a serious fire. By safely storing combustible materials, and taking care of points of ignition (such as heating systems and plug sockets), we are reducing the risks associated with fire.
We must always be vigilant of any potential fire hazards – a big part of this is carrying out regular fire safety inspections and risk assessments. However, fire prevention measures are mostly just common sense. We don’t need to be trained fire safety technicians to know the dangers of smoking indoors or blocking fire exits. We do, however, need to be advised on any specific measures put in place to prevent fire in a building. This applies to both residential and commercial buildings.
We can now see how fire prevention differs from fire protection. Fire prevention is about proactively identifying and removing fire hazards. However, we can never be 100% sure that a building cannot be at risk from fire. This is why we must supplement our fire prevention strategy with a fully-compliant, high-quality fire protection system.
What is fire suppression?
The sole objective of a fire suppression system is to extinguish a fire as quickly as possible. Once occupants are alerted to the presence of a fire, the system will begin to emit a concentrated substance to suppress the flames. The exact nature of this substance can vary, based on the environment the system is designed to protect. Common examples include carbon dioxide and inert gas, as well as a range of both liquid and dry chemical agents.
One of the defining features of fire suppression systems is that they don’t use water. The only exception is water mist suppression systems, which we explore in our article on fire protection and suppression technologies. For this reason, fire suppression systems are often used in spaces which are particularly susceptible to water damage, such as rooms with large amounts of electrical equipment. Fire suppression systems also tend to be installed in galleries and museums, as they usually contain highly valuable and fragile materials.
Fire suppression is the final measure put in place to fight the spread of fire. In this context, we can understand fire prevention, protection, and suppression as a three-stage process, with each stage containing specific measures to prevent and fight fires. Therefore, we have a responsibility to regularly review and assess each part of the system, so we can quickly identify risks and rectify any damage or neglect. To briefly summarise, here are the main differences between fire protection, prevention and suppression:
- Fire prevention systems aim to minimize potential fire hazards.
- Fire protection reduces damage and helps to safely evacuate a building.
- Fire suppression systems are intended to extinguish the flames.
CLM Fireproofing are the UK’s leading experts in passive fire protection. We are on-hand to provide specialist installation and consulting services. Our operatives are fully compliant with the latest industry regulations, so our clients can feel confident that their building is protected from fire. To speak to one of our passive fire protection specialists, contact CLM Fireproofing today.