Fire protection engineering is a broad technical field, covering all the systems that prevent and mitigate fire damage in buildings. A fire protection design must include detection devices and alarms to warn occupants and fire departments, combined with fire suppression and smoke control measures.
There are many types of building systems, but fire protection measures are characterized by having zero tolerance for failure – if a single protection element does not accomplish its function, the consequences can be severe. For example, fire alarms must respond as soon as possible to allow a quick evacuation, and automatic sprinklers must have optimal coverage to stop fires when they are still small.
Fire safety engineering is a subtopic of fire protection, dealing with human behavior and evacuation management during fire incidents. Although the two concepts are strongly related, it is important to know the difference.
Importance of Detection Systems in Fire Protection Engineering
The first step of effective fire protection is having a system that can detect flames and smoke immediately. This allows a quick evacuation, the fire department is notified automatically, and qualified staff members can get fire extinguishers and hoses ready. However, a quick response is only possible if occupants are aware of the ongoing fire.
Fire detection and alarms are covered in depth by the NFPA 72 standard from the National Fire Protection Association, and the NFPA 72E deals exclusively with automatic fire detectors. To get approval for a building project, developers must have a fire protection design that meets these standards, and any additional requirements from local codes.
Professional fire protection engineering services provide the simplest solution to ensure code compliance, and to complete the project design and approval process without delays.
Active and Passive Measures in Fire Protection Engineering
Based on how they operate, fire protection measures can be considered passive or active. As implied by their name, passive measures are building features that mitigate the impact of fire and smoke, while active measures provide direct fire suppression and smoke control.
- Fire barriers and smoke barriers are two examples of passive protection measures. A building layout that minimizes the spread of fire and smoke can also be considered passive protection.
- Active protection refers to systems that work directly against fire and smoke. This includes automatic sprinklers and the positive pressurization fans that keep smoke away from means of egress and other key areas.
Note that some fire suppression systems are automatic, while others must be operated manually. For example, while fire sprinklers respond to heat by themselves, portable extinguishers and hoses must be operated by qualified personnel. There are also communication systems and special piping connections intended for use by the fire department, in cases where their assistance is needed.
Other than specifying the right protection devices for each application, fire protection engineering involves an effective layout design where devices can be accessed easily. In addition, even if your building never suffers a fire incident, you need a code-compliant fire protection design for project approval.