Understanding Fires

A fire protection system is an important part of your fire safety plan. When choosing the right system (or checking that your current systems are suitable), it is first important to understand how a fire would spread in your building.

This can be related to many factors. A few examples might be:

  • The type of work undertaken;
  • The building materials and layout of your premises;
  • The risks and hazards present.
fire protection - detect and protect against workplace fires

Understanding Fire Protection Systems

A fire protection system is the combined sum of the measures you put in place to prevent and reduce the outbreak and spread of a fire. Although there are a multitude of methods you can utilise to protect your building from fire (such as procedures, plans, equipment, and specialist suppression systems for specific fires), generally a fire protection system is broken down into three parts.

Active Fire Protection: relates to the detection of fire. It includes automatic and manual systems for detecting fire, such as; fire suppression systems, sprinklers, fire alarm systems, smoke alarms and the provision of suitable manual firefighting equipment.

Passive Fire Protection: relates to the layout and infrastructure of a site or building. It covers building design, the use of fire resistant construction materials, compartmentalisation, fire walls and doors, signage, emergency lighting and evacuation plan.

Fire Protection Training: relates to the education of relevant personnel. It ensures that all personnel with responsibility for fire safety are trained, competent and aware of both active and passive methods of fire protection in use. You are relying upon your company’s personnel to ensure that all aspects of your fire protection system are maintained, understood and work successfully.

Together this fire protection system is always active. The ideal is to create a synergy where people and equipment work together, to provide peace of mind that a fire won’t spread from area to area and roar through a whole building. That instead, be confident in the assurance that working and time-tested processes are in place to raise the alarm as soon as a fire is detected, to ensure it is compartmentalised and quickly put out. Ultimately, your fire protection system ensures that danger to life and property is minimal and damage costs are contained.

How important is your fire protection system?

Below are some examples of what can go wrong if your fire protection systems are lacking.

Case Study – Glasgow School of Art

There have been a lot of fires in the news recently. If you’ve heard about the Glasgow School of Art in the UK you may know that a fire devastated this irreplaceable historical building in 2018 only a day before a new fire suppression system (an active fire protection system) was due to be installed. Ironic, and tragic. Furthermore, a fire in the same building in 2014 was reported to have spread via gaps in the walls (which should be managed as a passive control).

Investigations are still ongoing into the cause of the recent Glasgow fire, but two devastating fires in the same building in the space of 4 years highlights the point that pitfalls in both your active and passive fire protection systems could cause devastating effects leading to huge property damage and potential loss of life.

Case Study – Cameron House Hotel

An example of compartmentation failure (an important passive fire protection measure) is the tragic fire at Cameron House House Hotel on the edge of Loch Lomond in Scotland, which killed two men. According to an emergency service worker, ‘flames had travelled up the void between the outside and inner walls. This acted like a chimney to stoke the spread of the fire…Crews were ordered to evacuate the building for fear of their own lives as temperatures reached 1,000C.’

‘Compartmentation is the greatest influence on the reduction of the spread of fire within a building,’ says fire safety expert Adrian Lee, ‘and for all gaps and openings to be protected.’ You can find out more about compartmentation and passive fire safety in our blog post.

How do you tell if your current systems are adequate?

Is reading this beginning to make you feel a bit uncomfortable about your own fire safety arrangements?

Undertaking a competent fire risk assessment is a good start to gauge your level of compliance and get peace of mind.

A good way of identifying if you need to review your fire risk assessment is this…if a fire happened in your building now, do you know exactly what would happen? Do you know exactly where a fire might be compartmentalised, what class of fire it might be, how your staff would react? How quickly would the building would be evacuated and the fire extinguished? If you’re not sure have a look at our fire risk assessment advice by clicking on the image below.

gauge your current level of fire protection to achieve fire safety compliance