When most people think of fire protection systems, they think of sprinklers and fire extinguishers. Fire and smoke alarms might also come to mind. However, these are just a few of the elements needed to provide comprehensive fire protection. To be truly comprehensive, your fire protection system requires three types of fire protection:
- Active Fire Protection
- Passive Fire Protection
- Fire Prevention Systems
Active Fire Protection
Fire sprinklers, fire extinguishers and alarms are all examples of active fire protection (AFP) – systems that require some sort of action or motion in order to function in the event of a fire. Some AFP systems, such as handheld fire extinguishers, are manually operated while other types may be automated, such as smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems.
Smoke alarms are activated by the physical movement of smoke past their sensors while many fire alarms are designed to be manually triggered. Both help to alert people to evacuate, while automated sprinkler systems help to slow the growth of a fire or put it out altogether. All of these AFP systems are critical to keeping people safe when fire breaks out in a building.
Passive Fire Protection
Passive Fire Protection (PFP) also plays an integral role in a comprehensive fire safety system. PFP systems rely on compartmentalization to protect people and minimize damage in the event of a fire. They work by slowing the spread of fire and smoke from one area of a building to another, giving occupants more time to escape and confining the fire where possible.
PFP is accomplished through the use of firewalls, firestops, fire doors, as well as fire dampers. Fire dampers help prevent the spread of fire and smoke throughout the building through its duct work, while firewalls and fire stops help confine fire and smoke within a given area. The use of photoluminescent lighting is also considered a type of PFP because it triggers automatically when the lights go out to mark the pathway to safety.
Why You Need Both Active and Passive Systems
Some types of AFP and PFP systems may seem redundant in the type of protection they provide. You may ask, “My building has fire-rated walls and floors to prevent the spread of fire from one area to another. So, why do I need sprinklers to do the same thing?”
Simply put, fire protection systems may not always work as expected for any number of reasons. For example, AFP systems like sprinklers may not work properly if they lack sufficient water pressure or if they are not properly maintained. Likewise, fire alarms and fire extinguishers may not be reliable if not regularly inspected.
Even though most of the components of a PFP system are installed when a building is constructed, they also may not be entirely reliable. For example, mistakes in how firestops are installed are quite common and can significantly undermine the protection a PFP can provide. The fact that 57 percent of people killed in fires are found in rooms other than the one in which the fire started emphasizes the importance of effective PFP systems to limit the spread of smoke and fire in a building.
It's also important to remember that while PFP systems are designed to slow the spread of fire, they do nothing to actually extinguish a fire. This is yet another reason why it is critical to have both AFP and PFP systems in your building. This said, without prevention – the third and integral component of a comprehensive fire protection system – your risk of fire is higher than it should be.
The "Third Leg"
Much like a three-legged stool missing one of its legs, a fire protection system without a prevention component will not stand up to the "gold standard" of truly comprehensive fire protection.
In the simplest of terms, fire prevention is defined as the activities and measures taken to keep fire from breaking out. Since fire needs both heat and fuel, prevention often boils down to controlling combustibles and anything that can ignite them. In order to do this effectively, you need to first assess your risk by identifying all potential sources of ignition and where and how combustibles are stored relative to those sources. Looking at your operations will help you discover any potentially risky workplace practices and educate your workers on how to avoid inadvertently starting a fire.
If you are a building owner or facilities manager, or if you rent a building for your operations, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for fire prevention plans are a great resource to help you to gain a better understanding of your fire risks, which will help you be more proactive in mitigating them. For example, OSHA fire prevention plans must include:
- A list of all major fire hazards in your building and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each one.
- A list of potential ignition sources and how to control them.
- Proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials and procedures to minimize and control the accumulation of flammable and combustible waste.
- Procedures for maintaining safeguards on heat-producing equipment and controlling any potential sources of ignition or fire.
Employers are also required to inform their employees of all fire hazards to which they are exposed to and review with them the parts of the fire prevention plan that pertain to them. Being aware of fire risk is a first and necessary step in mitigating it. The best fire prevention system will not stop there but will also ensure that employees have proper training on practices to help avoid accidentally starting a fire.
OSHA regulations apply to any business with one or more employees. So chances are, they apply to you. Even if they don't, it's a good idea to follow them because doing so can help you prevent a fire that can cost you your business and your workers' livelihoods and lives. Remember that even small fires are costly. And, the fact that about 80 percent of all small businesses that experience a fire never reopen only underscores the importance of fire prevention and its role in a comprehensive fire protection system.
Is Your Fire Protection System Truly Comprehensive?
It's highly likely that you already have many if not most of the components of a comprehensive fire protection system in place in your building. But, do you really know all of your fire risks?
While OSHA requires annual fire inspections, they can vary in type and frequency, depending on the jurisdiction. More importantly, inspections can also vary significantly in how they are performed – what is inspected and the level of detail in the inspection. Given this, you cannot safely assume that passing your annual fire inspection means your fire protection systems are offering the most comprehensive protection possible.
Koorsen can help you fully assess any or all of the components of your fire protection system including your AFP and PFP systems, and how well they have been installed and/or maintained as well as all the measures and activities that make up your fire prevention system. Our experts will identify any weaknesses in your system and recommend ways to remedy them.
Contact Koorsen today to begin enjoying the peace of mind that only a truly comprehensive fire protection system can provide.