Highrise building fires are big news because of the potential for massive loss of life. But through innovations in engineering, losses of life are rare, because of built in protections to keep people and possessions safe. Part of the design of every modern building is something known as passive fire protection. It is part of the structure and design that is engineered to limit and contain a fire so it cannot spread to other areas. Here are some of the basics of Passive fire prevention.
- Structural Protection: It is critical that a buildings structure is not compromised in case of a fire. A building collapse is catastrophic and the worst-case scenario. For this reason, builders include fire protection to the structural elements. Steps taken are usually in the form of insulation and fireproofing of beams and structural elements.
- Compartmentation: Modern buildings are designed with special compartments designed to limit the spread of fire. Walls and surfaces of these compartments are made of fire-resistant materials. Passive fire protection in Australia is mandatory in all new building construction.
- Doors and Windows: Doors and windows are necessary in a building because people must come and go. But these elements can represent a weakness in the compartmentation of the fire prevention. Modern materials and engineering have made it possible to create doors and windows that are highly fire resistant, Engineers include these items at critical junction of the passive fire prevention system.
- Gaps in the Fire Protection Surfaces: A major issue of passive fire prevention is the inclusion of services and other alterations to the compartmentation that occur after the construction. When trades people put holes in the fire-resistant surfaces, they compromise the effectiveness of the passive system. For this reason, there are various products and practices designed to limit the effect of the changes. Special materials are available to fill the holes, as well as innovative hardware that is designed to accommodate wires and plumbing without leaving gaps for air or fire to move into the next compartment.
The inclusion of passive fire prevention measures adds cost to the engineering and construction of a building. But these costs are more than made up for by the peace of mind they provide, as well as reduction in insurance. PFP is the first step to fire prevention, but it does not work if people are unaware of its existence and how their actions might compromise the system. Education is critical in maintaining the integrity of passive fire protection throughout the life of the building.