Active vs Passive Fire Protection: Why Do You Need Both?

Active vs Passive Fire Protection: Why Do You Need Both?

ByDiana S
| February 2, 2022

Active vs Passive Fire Protection Why Do You Need Both

Most people think having fire alarms and sprinklers is enough to protect against fire events, but it is the combination of fire protection systems that can better ensure the safety of the building and its occupants in case of a fire.

There are different types of systems you have to consider when constructing a building. Structures such as fire rated glass walls and fire doors can help improve your building’s fire safety. It is crucial to have a mix of the types of fire protection systems in your building.

Here are the two types of fire protection systems—active fire protection and passive fire protection—and how their mechanisms can ensure fire safety in buildings.

What is Active Fire Protection (AFP)?

Active fire protection (AFP) is a fire protective system installed in a building that requires triggers, whether through automatic or manual means, for it to work. This system usually includes fire or smoke detection and suppression systems to set off water and stamp out smoke or once it detects fire.

In this fire protective system, water suppresses the fire and cools down the surrounding areas and structures exposed to radiant heat to prevent them from collapsing. Aside from reducing the fire’s temperature as it turns into steam, it can also decrease the amount of oxygen that fuels the fire.

It’s important to identify what materials caused the fire, focusing on which liquids are denser than water, which ones are soluble in water, and the like. Understanding this helps in knowing what kind of AFP system should be put in place.

Examples of Active Fire Protection

1. Smoke Detectors

One of the apparent signs of a fire is the smoke it emits. Because of this, smoke detectors are used to help identify a possible fire in the building. Once the smoke has been detected, the smoke detection system sets off and alarms occupants about the potential fire with noise and light.

2. Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers put out different types of fire, which is why they come in different colors corresponding to the kind of fire they tackle. They are usually used to suppress the onset of small fires.

3. Sprinkler Systems

Sprinklers have a small glass bulb containing a liquid, which when heated, causes the bulb to break. Water from a connecting pipe then flows from the sprinkler head.

4. Fire Hydrants 

Fire hydrants are another connection point to a water supply. It has two to four outlets where a hose is connected. Usually, fire hydrants have a hose stored nearby, but if there are none, firefighters connect their hose to this vertical steel pipe.

5. Firefighters 

Firefighters are first responders to emergency calls during a fire. They are highly skilled personnel trained to extinguish hazardous fires that can damage properties and threaten lives.

What is Passive Fire Protection (PFP)?

Passive fire protection (PFP) is a fire protection system integrated into the building’s structures. Unlike the AFP systems that use a device to detect and suppress a fire, this system contains and slows down a fire event from spreading throughout the building using its structures like fire resistive walls and floors.

By containing the fire in its original area, PFP systems help minimize the damage to a property and give its occupants more time to evacuate the premises.

As such, it’s best to know which part of the building is prone to fire events and needs an extra layer of fire protection using this system. You also have to consider which areas are best to put emergency exits for evacuating occupants and giving firefighters access to the building.

Examples of Passive Fire Protection

1. Fire and Smoke Dampers

A fire damper is used to prevent the fire from spreading to other spaces through air transfer openings, ducts, and other penetrable areas of fire-rated structures. Meanwhile, a smoke damper controls and reduces the chances of smoke traveling through ductwork or wall openings. Both are used to help contain the fire in its origins.

2. Fire Doors

These are specialized doors that can withstand high amounts of temperature and extensive fires, compartmentalizing and slowing down the spread of the fire. When a fire door reaches a certain temperature threshold, it expands and seals off any gaps between the door and frame. These features help firefighters contain the fire.

3. Fire Resistant Glass Partitions

These are fire rated glass that has been tested against fire and can withstand high temperatures for an extended period. Like the fire doors, they help compartmentalize fire and slow down its spread to other areas. This type of glass can even prevent radiant heat transfer to different building sections, keeping occupants and other property protected from getting burned.

4. Photoluminescent Egress Lights 

Once a fire breaks out, the smoky environment can cloud the occupants’ vision. Photoluminescent egress lights guide occupants to a safer area by lighting the pathway and showing them where the emergency exit door is.

5. Smoke Baffles

Like smoke dampers, smoke baffles prevent the smoke from spreading to other areas by containing it in its original area. However, dampers help direct the smoke’s movement and are typically found in open or high-ceiling areas such as the tops of stairways, atriums, and the like.

Why You Need Both Active and Passive Fire Protection

In recent years, building codes have catered more towards AFP systems than PFP systems. However, it’s vital to incorporate passive fire protection systems in your building design and construction to effectively contain and subdue fires. Although best for suppressing fires, AFP systems are prone to malfunctioning due to poor maintenance.

PFP systems can help AFP systems by slowing the spread of the fire to surrounding areas. They also help keep radiant heat transfer, saving occupants from burns and materials catching on fire. This way, AFP systems can quickly put out the fire before it escalates. 

PFP such as fire rated glass used in fire rated walls, doors, openings and floors provide the added benefit of vision and transparency while performing their life safety function. Because they don’t rely on outside or mechanical triggers to work, they are reliable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Perfectly Balanced Systems

Although active fire protection (AFP) comes into people’s minds about fire safety, combining it with passive fire protection (PFP) improves your fire protection system. While AFP systems cool the surrounding areas and subdue the fire, PFP systems keep unaffected areas safe by preventing the further spread of the fire.

Indeed, these two types of fire protection systems ensure the overall fire safety of a building by working hand-in-hand in taking away available fuel for the fire to continue. Instead of active versus passive fire protection, it’s best to have both systems up and running in your building.

If you’re looking for world-class passive fire protection, SAFTI FIRST provides USA-made fire-rated glazing solutions enhancing your fire safety without compromising your structure’s design. To learn more, contact us today and see how our fire rated glazing solutions can give you the best of both worlds.