Why Fire Compartmentation Saves Lives
The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire on 14th June 2017 could have been avoided if the external cladding had not used aluminium as its primary material. Aluminium has high conductivity; its presence aided the trajectory of the fire from one storey of the building to another, and through the windows. As a result, fire compartmentation at Grenfell was fatally breached and lives were lost.
What is Fire Compartmentalisation?
It takes just 30 seconds for a fire to shift from a manageable event into an emergency threatening life. Fire compartmentation is designed to slow down this process by containing the fire and providing an interval during which people can evacuate safely.
Fire compartmentation is a key component of passive fire protection design. Unlike active fire protection (sprinklers, extinguishers), passive design is integrated into the fabric of the building. If a fire occurs, human agency is not required to instigate protection; it will happen automatically.
How Does Fire Compartmentalisation Work?
There are 3 elements to compartmentation: structural protection, firestopping and fire doors.
1. Structural Protection
The building is designed as a series of sealed compartments. If a fire starts in one of these compartments it will be prevented from spreading to other areas. This is achieved with the use of fire protection barriers to walls, ceilings and floors. Additionally, fire and blast panels are used to protect evacuation routes, or critical plant.
Where a building uses structural or non-structural steelwork, intumescent paints are used to protect the metal from overheating.
A fire needs an aperture no larger than a pen nib to rage out of control. Walls are rarely free from gaps; holes for cables, vents, or gaps around the edges of pipework create opportunities for fire or smoke to move from one compartment to another. These have to be sealed using either intumescent paint which swells in response to heat to fill the gap, or cementitious spray which prevents any breach of the compartment.
3. Fire Doors
A poorly designed fire door, or one that is habitually wedged open, is a risk to the integrity of sealed compartments. For fire doors to be fully effective in case of a fire, they should:
- Comprise a fully certified frame and door.
- Be self closing.
- Have no gaps between the door and frame when closed.
- Be fully protected with intumescent spray to guarantee the seal.
A passive fire protection design provide occupants of the building with a period of time (between 30-240 minutes) in which they can safely exit the building using evacuation routes.
Working with Wallace Fire Protection
We are a specialist provider of bespoke passive fire protection solutions to the commercial sector, the construction industry, utilities and critical infrastructure. Wallace is proud to be one of just 6 licensed and approved installers of Promat DURASTEEL® across the UK.
We have the in-house capability to design, manufacture and install passive fire protection walls, ceilings, barriers, tunnels and ductwork including firestopping, sealing of pipework, ductwork and cable penetrations. We supply and install high quality fire door sets.