Fire prevention programs focus their intentions directly on preventing loss of life, and property damage. The devastation that fires can bring cannot be understated. This is especially true when involving a business. A fire in the workplace will likely result in disruption of business activities, loss of business documents, loss of employee work hours, and liability claims if the fire spreads to adjacent properties. Fortunately, fire prevention features can protect lives and property in harm’s way.
A fire prevention program aims to reduce or eliminate any incidence of fires through proper training. This includes educating all occupants in fire safety, as well as encouraging proper maintenance of fire protection systems, and limiting potential ignition hazards. A successful fire prevention program will integrate better safety practices into the day-to-day operations of an entity. Ensuring fire prevention should be a top priority for the owner, the manager, and all occupants of a property.
Adequate fire prevention procedure consists of three primary parts:
- Limiting potential fire hazards
- Proper education on fire safety
- Fire protection and life-safety systems
Precautions against Fire
The most fundamental aspect of fire prevention programs is to emphasize the importance of prevention. Precautions that are effective means of preventing a fire from starting include:
- Control smoking materials and open flames
- Proper storage of flammable and combustible liquids
- Handle electrical equipment with care
- General housekeeping tasks completed regularly
- Investing in fire-safe furnishings, decorations, and interior finishes
- Adequate maintenance of kitchen exhaust systems
- Awareness towards special hazards
Fire prevention is reliant on a general understanding of fires and their effects of fire. Educational programs for businesses can ensure that everyone in the building understands these concepts along with proper extinguishing methods. Furthermore, building occupants are taught how to identify and correct fire hazards, plan evacuation routes, effectively use fire extinguishers, and recognizing the signs of a fire in the building. The manager of a business is responsible for facilitating the continuous education of their employees on the necessary skills of fire prevention habits.
Bolstering tenant participation in fire prevention programs is critical for fire safety and prevention. Tenants may be encouraged to engage with these programs if:
- Local fire officials are involved
- Tenants are made aware of recent fires
- A drawing is held for participants to win prizes
- Favorable weather during evacuation drills
- Refreshments are provided
Fire Protection and Life-Safety Systems
Fire protection and life-safety systems include fire alarms, building exit displays, and fire suppression systems. Fire prevention codes mandated by law require proper maintenance of these systems. Acceptable fire protection procedure involves the installation and use of these structural and operational systems. Utilization of these systems is not only required by law, but they are beneficial to all parties involved as they minimize the incidence and impact of fire.
Fire protection systems can be distinguished into two main categories:
- Passive fire protection
- Active fire protection
Passive Fire Protection
Passive fire protection involves the use of structural components to control or limit the fire. The walls, floors, and ceilings of a building can be specially constructed to constrict the passage of fire and smoke. The components are rated on their effectiveness on a time scale. For instance, a wall can be rated as one-hour fire resistance, meaning that the wall will significantly reduce the passage of a standard fire for one hour. This strategy is most effective when barriers are arranged to provide compartmentation: they divide the building into compartments to control the size and spread of fire.
The most fundamental aspect of compartmentation is that it cannot have any weak spots. If there is an unprotected opening through which fire and smoke can spread, the strategy is rendered obsolete. Furthermore, passage through these fire-rated barriers must be minimized. If passing through a compartmentalized area is necessary, the entrance into the area must be protected through an additional measure to maintain the fire rating of the barrier. It is a common mistake to install fire-rated barriers only to find that they are entirely ineffectual because piping, telephone lines, or data transmission cables have been allowed to pass through them.
Improper use of a fire door can also cause a fire barrier to be rendered useless. A fire door is a door designed to restrict the passage of fire and smoke. If it is blocked open or made inoperable, all fire-rated components attached to the door can no longer serve their purpose.
Older high-rise office buildings typically rely on compartmentation as their primary method for fire protection. This can cause serious complications when the building undergoes renovations ad the compartments are often compromised.
Walls and Doors
Traditional compartmentation systems focus on fire-rated walls and associated fire doors to quell the fire. This is effective in preventing the horizontal passage of fire. The fire rating of the wall can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 4 hours and maybe calculated for a fire exposure on one or both sides of the wall. Fire doors typically maintain a lower than walls. The theory for this trend is that doors experience less fire exposure than walls which leads them to be a lower priority.
The various types of fire-resistant walls:
Firewall/fire partition: A wall that extends continuously from slab to slab, with fire-resistant openings
Party wall: A firewall on an interior lot line used for joint service between two buildings
Smoke barrier: A smoke resistant, continuous membrane
Floors and Ceilings: Compartmentation can also consist of a fire-resistant-rated floor or ceiling assembly. This is more effective at preventing the vertical movement of a fire. This strategy may include concrete or protected steel floor, a fire-rated ceiling system, or combinations of both. Like fire-rated walls, fire-rated floors and ceilings should minimize penetrations as much as possible. If penetrations are necessary, the opening must be constructed to the same rating as the floor or ceiling they pass through.
Fire codes usually contain explicit provisions which permit large openings from one floor to the next. A good example of this is a staircase. Stairs can be permissible if they are not necessary to the building’s existing system, however, they must have additional fire protection measures. An example of this would be to closely space automatic sprinklers with noncombustible, vertical smoke barriers on the opening in the ceiling.
Active Fire Protection
Active fire protection involves procedures in which direct physical action is taken to reduce the growth rate of an ongoing fire or the migration of smoke. Examples of these include fire sprinklers, fire alarms, and other smoke control systems. These mechanisms are generally used to first identify the presence of fire by detecting smoke or heat, then to employ extinguishing systems and methods of notifying building occupants and the fire department.
Fire sprinklers and other extinguishing systems are designed to extinguish or control an ongoing fire. Smoke control systems are intended to limit the spread of smoke, which allows building occupants better exit opportunities. The fire alarm activates the fire sprinkler system along with other detection devices and alerts occupants of the building as well as emergency personnel of the fire.