By Nigel Ward, Managing Director of Sales at BLE
The rise of open plan layouts means the challenge of incorporating fire protection into building design has become increasingly complex.
Offering users flexibility and freedom to alter a space as necessary, open plan layouts have increased in popularity. There are multiple benefits to the creation of large open spaces, including significant energy savings due to more natural light and a more social, collaborative environment for offices, due to the lack of dividing walls.
Unfortunately, should a fire break out in an open plan environment, the spread of smoke and flames is much more rapid than in a smaller or compartmented area. The most severe risk to occupants in a fire is excessive inhalation of gas, smoke or toxic fumes which can be reduced by containing the spread of fire and protecting evacuation routes with implementation of fire-resistant barriers into a building’s design.
To prevent the spread of fire, a building must be divided into compartments, which are marked by the implementation of fire-resistant barriers, such as fire doors and curtains. Open plan spaces pose specific challenges because it is impossible to utilise fire doors, due to the absence of walls. Where fire doors cannot be implemented, fire curtains may be installed.
Fire-resistant barriers, such as curtains, suppress the growth and development of flames and smoke within a building, protect escape routes and help minimize the risk to human life. Open spaces and critical escape routes such as elevator openings and lobbies, can utilize fire curtains to control the spread of fire, which could spread more rapidly.
A fire curtain is a highly robust piece of fire-resistant material which is stored discretely in a steel headbox within the ceiling. In the event of a fire, the curtain is released by a trigger from a fire alarm or local detector, causing it to fall vertically via gravity. Once deployed, it obscures the space, acting as a crucial physical barrier between the fire and the escape routes.
Unlike fire doors, curtains can be installed in different locations where there is a lack of walls and can be used to replace a non-load bearing wall and fire rated glazing. In open plan layouts, the installation of a fire curtain enables a building to still meet the relevant regulations.
Certification & Integrity
A fire barrier is designed to withstand the heat and effects of a fire for a specific length of time. The required duration of resistance is specified to enable an effective evacuation with enough time to make the necessary checks of the building, in order to minimize the risk to human life.
NFPA 80 is an important standard, providing comprehensive guidance on specification and installation. Aimed at specifiers, manufacturers, installers and facilities managers, the standard covers key aspects, such as a proficient installation and ongoing maintenance of the fire barrier, which must be achieved to illustrate competence and quality.
For the fire curtain industry, UL10D is the key testing certification to look for in terms of compliance and product integrity. The level of integrity used to describe a product illustrates its fire resistance level.
With fire resistance and integrity of components used in building construction facing increased scrutiny, there is a higher degree of focus on the integrity of every product when exposed to fire. This certification provides assurance to end users and building occupiers that the product has been subject to, and passed, thorough third-party testing against a set of rigorous criteria.
The benefits of having a vision panel in fire-resistant barriers are clear. However, where they appear in curtains there must be no compromise on compliance, quality and the product’s resistance level. Choosing products that are certified and have undergone thorough testing, provides assurance to specifiers and facilities managers that the fire protection measures in place are of the highest standard to preserve human life.