How Buildings Can Be Designed with Fire Safety in Mind

February 24, 2021

It’s no brainer, but it’s worth the emphasis: fire has a devastating effect on lives and property. The National Fire Protection Association reported that structure fires resulted in 2,980 fatalities, 13,900 injuries, and $12.3 billion in damages in 2019 alone. Fire safety is crucial but establishing preventive and protective measures requires a lot of effort and planning. As a guide, here are three aspects of fire safety that you should consider when designing buildings.

Structural Fire Prevention

Structural fire protection ensures fire is stopped or contained in one zone to avoid it from spreading to other areas. It allows occupants to get to safety quickly through well-designed and well-placed access routes. Containment also preserves the rest of the structure so it can remain functional after the incident.

There are five aspects to fire safety: prevention, communications, escape, containment, and extinguishment. Prevention means regulating fuel sources, so ignition does not start. These are concepts that can be covered in further depth via an online fire awareness safety course that are certified and easily accessible. Architects and construction workers should carefully evaluate the combustibility of the materials they are using. Certain parts of the structure, such as the roof, external walls, windows, doors, floor, are vulnerable if a fire breaks out. Designers also must ensure the passage is unobstructed and leads directly to an exit.

There are two ways to contain the fire: passive fire protection and active fire protection. Passive fire protection uses fire-resistant walls, ceiling, floors, doors to prevent the spread of fire. Active fire protection involves equipment or systems that need manual intervention, either direct or indirect, to function. Examples of such are fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, alarms, and sprinklers.

Designing an Effective Smoke Control System

In most indoor fires, fatalities are a result of smoke inhalation and not of burns. Fire and smoke are both dangerous, but fumes can be more deadly as they spread more quickly, leads to disorientation, loss of oxygen, and clouds one's vision.

For this reason, every building should have an effective smoke control system as part of its fire management protocol. It includes installing fixed or automatic smoke curtains. A smoke curtain serves as a barrier that traps fumes that rise to the ceiling from the flames, creating a smoke reservoir that keeps the smoke from spreading.

Automatic smoke curtains remain hidden until triggered by a fire alarm. Their compact design is ideal for places with low headroom, as they create more open space for people to move. They are suitable for offices, department stores, or other establishments that need to look presentable.

Fixed smoke curtains have the same function; however, unlike automatic curtains, they are permanently in place and look like overlapping panels fastened to each other. They are ideal for industrial structures, hangars, factories, and areas where aesthetics is unnecessary or lifting and lowering objects are not required.

Active Smoke Ventilation

An effective smoke ventilation system is an indispensable part of the overall fire protection strategy. Active venting directs harmful smoke to exhaust inlets, allowing it to escape to the outside. Not only does it ensure the safety of occupants, but it also confines the fumes to a single area.

Single-story buildings should have ventilation on the roof, while multi-story structures use mechanical vent extractions to let the smoke out. In some cases, a layer of smoke may build-up on the ceiling as the fire gets bigger. Designers should ensure the venting system keeps the smoke from accumulating overhead to prevent it from descending and harming the occupants. In addition to installing an active ventilation system, there should be regular check-ups and maintenance to guarantee the facility is working, this is something you will expect to be done after hiring a proficient quantity surveyor to look over the building.

To summarize, an efficient smoke ventilation system keeps escape routes free from harmful smoke, stops the fire from getting bigger, and minimizes the risk of further damage to the structure. Most importantly, architects, engineers, and construction workers should have a thorough understanding and awareness of fire safety.


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