Active vs. Passive Fire Protection Systems

April 8 2019

Active vs. Passive Fire Protection Systems

Every building needs to have adequate fire protection in place to ensure the safety of the lives of employees and to maintain the integrity of business assets.

When people envision fire protection, they think of sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers. But these two methods come under the umbrella of only one of the two categories of fire protection systems.

Those two fire protection systems are known as “active” and “passive.” Learning the distinction between the two is crucial for understanding why you cannot have one and not the other in your building.

Let’s start with Active Fire Protection.

What is Active Fire Protection (AFP)?

Active fire protection systems are those that require some action for them to be effective against a fire. When most people read this statement, they falsely believe that only manual actions (such as dowsing flames with a fire extinguisher) count as active fire protection.

This is not the case since automatic sprinklers also form part of AFP. Active systems usually kick in once the occupants (and computerized systems) in the building are made aware that there is a fire, which allows people to evacuate the building while the active systems keep the fire at bay until members of the fire service arrive.

However, AFP doesn’t just incorporate fire suppression systems; fire detection systems also play a crucial role in active fire protection.

They are programmed to initiate a predetermined response to either smoke, flames or heat when detected. Those responses include: turning on sprinklers, sounding an alarm, alerting the authorities or automatically closing all fire doors. 

What is Passive Fire Protection (PFP)?

Passive fire protection systems are always protecting a building against fire and do not require any action to operate. The key elements of passive fire protection systems are fire-resistant walls, fire-resistant glass, and heavy-duty fire doors. However, other assets can sometimes be passively protected through spray-applied fireproofing.

These systems safeguard buildings by ensuring that the fire burns out quickly due to a lack of available fuel. Items such as fire doors also play a crucial role in plotting a fire’s route through a building, thereby giving fire crews a better chance of putting it out quickly.

Why You Must Have Both

If the worst happens and a fire does break out in your building, both active and passive fire protection systems will activate. Active systems such as alarms, sprinklers and manual firefighting will begin immediately after detection.

Passive protection systems will stop the fire’s spread and keep it contained to certain areas of the building, giving more time for a building’s occupants to successfully evacuate, and reducing the amount of damage before emergency fire crews arrive.

This demonstrates why your building must have both systems in operation at all times. There is not a debate about which is a better system, as they perform different and equally important roles. What is more, if one system fails, (frozen sprinkler pipes for instance) then a fire could spread uncontrollably without the help of its counterpart.

You should always ensure both types of fire protection are in place and up to date with the latest codes of practice to adequately protect both your building and employees.

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