Does Your Commercial Building Need Extra Fire Protection?

When it comes to planning for commercial fire protection, there are several materials and systems that have become commonplace additions in a building. Whether they are required or recommended add-ons, some of these fire protection systems don’t always consider one of the most dangerous aspects of a fire event: smoke.

The inability to contain smoke effectively can be just as damaging as fire to both the building and its occupants. Let’s review some important things you should consider in determining if your commercial building has the proper amount of fire protection it needs.

Know Why Fire Protection Is Important in Commercial Buildings

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that approximately 103,000 non-residential fires occurred between 2009 and 2018, resulting in 85 deaths, 1,025 injuries and more than $2.6 billion in damages. Those are significant statistics that could have been lowered with proper planning.

Commercial buildings receive yearly fire inspections to ensure adherence to local, state and federal fire codes. While some of these codes and the reasons for failed inspections can be traced to the building owner, others are the responsibility of the builder, who should have planned for them in the design phase.

Always Include Fire Protection in the Building Design Phase

When designing the layout of a new building, it’s important to work with fire safety consultants. Working with an expert will ensure the process is easier and that you’re more thorough in your design. These types of consultants offer many types of services that will be valuable to you when designing or upgrading a property, including:

  • Code Compliance: Learn and understand local building codes and how they can impact your design.
  • Hazardous Materials Management: Determine safety risks in your building including high-risk areas like spaces that contain hazardous materials.
  • Fire Protection Systems: Get correct guidance on choosing the right fire protection materials and systems.
  • Site Development and Evacuation Planning: Plan and develop the ideal building layout, guidelines and best practices for building occupants based on the needs of the building.

Understand the Top Causes of Fire in Commercial Buildings

While it is not always within your control to prevent a fire from happening, there are ways you can prevent fire and smoke from spreading throughout your building. That’s why another important step in planning fire protection is understanding your risks for fire.

The following are five well-known causes of commercial building fires:

  1. Cooking/Kitchen Appliances
  2. Arson/Intentional Cause
  3. Human Error/Unintentional Cause
  4. HVAC System Malfunction
  5. Electrical Malfunction

These areas are known as common places for fires to begin in buildings:

  1. Kitchens
  2. Electrical Systems
  3. Smoking Areas
  4. HVAC System
  5. Storage Areas
  6. Office Spaces

Becoming familiar with these threats means you can take more effective steps to both help prevent and minimize the amount of damage that occurs in the event of an accidental fire. Always review and analyze your building to discover these risks.

Consider Adding Fire and Smoke Curtains to Your Design

In today’s commercial buildings, it’s commonplace (and often required) to have standard fire protection methods like sprinklers, fire extinguishers/hydrants, fire alarms, emergency lights and exit signs. But there are a few different ways you can add to the effectiveness of these standard means of protection.

It doesn’t matter what type of commercial building you are designing, fire compartmentation is a very important part of keeping it safe. This is the process of dividing large areas of a building into smaller rooms or spaces and can often be successfully achieved using fire curtains and smoke curtains (sometimes they are called smoke baffles).

Most often you will find these curtains housed within the ceiling and positioned over a doorway, staircase, or elevator door. When linked to a smoke detection system, the curtain housing opens, and the curtain deploys to create a barrier.

There are four main types of smoke and fire curtains available:

1. Elevator Smoke Curtains

Elevator smoke curtains block smoke from entering and exiting through elevator doors. Elevator shafts cause air to be pulled upwards through to the roof of the building. In the event of a fire, this can cause smoke to spread quickly to other floors of the building.

2. Vertical Smoke Curtains

Vertical smoke curtains close off openings from standard doorways to larger atriums. They are located within the ceiling above the opening and are deployed downwards to prevent smoke from spreading through the building. This is a good way to divide the building into smaller spaces and contain smoke to individual rooms.

3. Draft Curtains

Draft curtains are most often placed in warehouses or manufacturing environments. This type of curtain doesn't form a total barricade against smoke but instead breaks up the airflow along the ceiling. They should be strategically placed near exhaust vents to slow down the travel of the smoke and push it outwards through the vents.

4. Perimeter Curtains

Perimeter curtains form an independent perimeter, requiring no walls or corner posts. Although perimeter curtains are designed specifically to slow flames, they will help to slow the movement of smoke as well.

As you can see, fire and smoke curtains can be used in many different ways, and most curtains require very little remodeling to install since they can either stand-alone or rely on existing doorways and staircases. Each style of curtain is also compatible with other fire safety systems.

Did You Follow the Fire Protection Checklist?

For maximum protection, it is ideal to use a combination of active and passive smoke control systems. Following is a quick fire protection checklist detailing the most common products used.

  • Mechanical Exhaust Systems: A common solution for high-rise buildings, this type of system extracts smoke from open spaces to prevent it from entering other parts of the building.
  • Smoke Proof Exit Stairs: Protection for exit stairs is required in all commercial buildings so they can be used as a safe evacuation route. Be sure your stair design options are code compliant.
  • Elevator Smoke Curtains: These curtains are easy to install for an added layer of protection. They are especially useful for building upgrades. Smoke Guard offers some popular code-compliant curtains
  • Fire and Smoke Rated Curtains: A great solution for comprehensive smoke protection, especially for atriums and large enclosures. Smoke Guard offers several types of these curtains.

Are You Ready to Enhance Your Commercial Building’s Fire Protection?

The experts at Smoke Guard make sure you don’t have to worry about installation or maintenance. We guide our clients through the selection and installation process, and an expert helps with product installation and testing to ensure your design is up-to-code.

Learn what kind of solutions Smoke Guard provides in your area. Click here to find a Smoke Guard distributor.