Active Fire Protection Systems – Get It Right

Active fire protection is an important part of your fire safety plan. Having the right active fire protection system determines the way in which a fire is detected in your building, so it’s important to get it right.

Here’s another important question…

How would a fire spread in your building?

This is a broad question perhaps, but if you understand the principals of fire and understand the way fire safety is managed in your business, you should have an idea of how to answer this question. If you’re not sure how to answer the following three questions it may be worth looking further into your fire safety arrangements. This is not a subject you can afford to get wrong.

floor plan for understanding the behaviour of fire - active fire protection

Where is a fire is most likely to start?

Where are your most high risk rooms? Areas such as computer rooms, kitchens, equipment and chemical storerooms are places that require particular attention.

How would a fire spread?

The layout of your building, the materials used, and the active and passive fire protection measures you have in place can greatly effect the way a fire would behave in a building. Do you know how a fire would be detected and extinguished? If you need support with fire safety, you can find out more information here.

How long would an evacuation take?

Are your staff well practised with fire drills? What about visitors? Are your evacuation routes well marked and lit?

Now we’ve got you thinking a bit about your own fire safety provisions, read on to find out about how active fire protection determines the way a fire would be detected in your building.

Active fire protection systems

There are a plethora of systems that can be used to protect and detect. Below, we’ve listed a selection of the most commonly used.

Automatic Fire Suppression System

This is an all-in-one automatic detection and extinguishing system. Often installed in large spaces, it is an engineered system that can operate autonomously, detecting fire via an electrical or mechanical heat sensor and providing delivery of a suitable fire extinguishing agent (e.g. water/ dry powder, etc) via pipes and nozzles which are installed into the structure of the building.

Sprinkler System

There are several different types of sprinkler (fast response, quick response, standard response, and residential, to name a few). A sprinkler system comprises of multiple individual sprinklers with heat sensors that trigger the release of water. If your priority is to quickly extinguishing a fire and reducing any damage, sprinklers are highly recommended.

Smoke Detector

Commercial smoke detectors are often part of a complex fire alarm system, and are inter-connected to detect smoke and heat in specific zones, which can then be shut down and isolated. Basic single smoke detectors can also work well in smaller or lower risk buildings.

active fire protection from fire extinguishers and other equipment

Fire extinguishers

There are multiple classes of fires and therefore multiple fire extinguishing agents. If you would like to know more about fire extinguishers, we have dedicated a full chapter to them in The Beginner’s Guide to Fire Safety.

active fire protection - compressed air foam

Gaseous or Condensed Aerosol Fire Suppression System

This is a system that uses gases and dry chemical powders to extinguish fires. It consists of a power supply, control panel, detection system and storage canisters containing the extinguishing agent.

(Image: Copyright US Air Forces in Europe, Air Force Africa)

active fire protection emergency lighting

Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is an active system as it operates once the power fails in the building, although as some lights are always switched on they could also be deemed passive, (as long as someone turns on the lights!)

Fire Alarm System

This is a system of equipment that raises the alarm that a fire has been detected in a building. There are many categories of fire alarm system. These range from:

Manual systems – such as hand bells, gongs, and semi electrical push button call points;

Systems designed to save lives – which are further broken down into 5 categories and determine where equipment is located in a building to best evacuate occupants, and;

Systems designed to protect buildings – which are installed throughout a building. Some of these systems operate complex functions such as controlling emergency lighting, automatically locking fire doors, and conducting staged evacuations, etc. A control panel operates the entire system autonomously.

How do you decide which active system is best suited to your building?

That’s a lot of options you’ve got there, and that’s just the more common types. It’s no wonder business owners are intimidated, especially at the scope of engineering involved in the installation and design of sophisticated systems. And the potential cost. But these technological marvels are clever, they are amazing in fact, and their lifesaving capabilities are wholly worth the on-site disruption.

Thankfully, though, not everyone needs to turn their building into an engineering workshop to get a suitable active safety system in place. By understanding the fire risks in your business and putting great passive fire systems in place you can keep costs to a minimum.

However, certain activities or fire risks may require specific measures to be put in place. Minimum requirements are specified by your local authority. As well as local building control, the Fire Regulation Authority (FRA) manage standards for fire safety.

If there have been changes in your business (such as building / maintenance works) you may require a review of your fire safety arrangements. A qualified and experienced fire professional can advise you if your fire safety precautions are still adequate and then dictate through to the FRA if any changes are required. Installation companies would be able to advise of the best system to suit your building design.

active fire protection systems that are fit for purpose

What to do now?

If you think any part of your fire safety management needs to be reviewed it would be worth getting a fire audit and risk assessment carried out. We perform both fire risk assessments and audits at the same time. This is cost effective and more efficient as we are looking at the same information for each activity. If your fire risk assessment is out of date or needs to be reviewed, you can find out what to do by clicking the image below.

fire risk assessment to check active fire protection system