Fire Protection Systems for Archives and Records


Archives and records have an increased risk of fire- and smoke-related damage, more than many other materials. The nature of most archives and records often means that they consist of or have large amounts of very dry and old paper and books — items that are often highly flammable, as well as irreplaceable if a fire were to occur.

Every archive or record repository, therefore, needs to take active steps to help prevent fires and to help reduce any potential damage to the building and its contents in the event of a fire.

Designing a Fire Plan

In the event of any fire, regardless of what type of building or its contents, the first thought should be to the safety of the people in the building and getting them out as quickly as possible. So, while many of the fire protection systems and techniques used for archive and record buildings are designed with those materials in mind, it’s also important to protect the people who work with and utilize those records as well.

A good fire protection system needs to be made up of several different components, including both active and passive systems that are designed to help protect the contents of the building and to assist the people inside.

This means that the first considerations made to the fire plan need to be for the occupants of the building, with the records and archives coming second. The building should have adequate smoke and fire detection systems, clearly marked exits and exit strategies and systems in place that will help protect the people inside if they are unable to exit an affected area.

Types of Fire Protection Systems

Fire protection systems are categorized as active or passive depending on whether or not they perform an action to help extinguish the flames or alert people to the presence of the fire or whether their presence is enough to help block the spread of smoke and flame by itself.

Ideally, every good fire protection plan will use a combination of methods from both active and passive systems, which can work together to help mitigate the spread of the fire, to control it and put it out.

Active Fire Protection Systems

In an active system, the presence of smoke or fire is what triggers the system and puts it into play. These types of systems are designed to help extinguish the fire once it begins. The most well known is the sprinkler system, which detects the presence of heat and releases a spray of water into the area to help extinguish the fire.

When choosing an active fire protection system, it’s important to consider the contents of the room. While paper records and archives could be damaged by fire, they could also potentially be damaged by water as well, which means that using a sprinkler system or mist system to put out the flames may do just as much damage.

For this reason, sprinkler systems should be confined to areas of the building where paper records are less likely to be used or stored. In the areas where paper records are kept, different systems may be of better use — such as potassium-based aerosol systems that are harmless to both people and most papers — and have minimal cleanup.

In some cases, where there is limited risk to people or occupants, gas systems may also be used to help eliminate the amount of oxygen in the room, which can help suppress the fire by removing the oxygen that helps it burn.

Careful consideration should be taken when considering which system to use and where, and in many cases, a combination of systems may be the most effective. In addition, passive systems can be used in conjunction with active systems to help better protect the archives while suppressing the flames.

Passive Fire Protection Systems


Passive fire protection systems help stop the spread of fire and smoke. By helping to contain the flames, they can help make it easier for active systems to extinguish them. At the same time, passive systems can help prevent damage to additional areas in the building and can make it safer and easier for occupants to exit.

Many passive systems can be built right into the building. Using flame retardant materials for walls, doors and other areas can help contain and block the spread of flames. For buildings that house archives and records, there can be additional passive fire protection systems that can help protect these fragile documents.

The first consideration should be how the documents are housed. In many cases, it may be possible to store the documents in cabinets or cases that are flame retardant. Many types of metal filing cabinets, for example, may be flame retardant and can offer at least some degree of protection.


For materials that cannot be housed or stored in flame retardant cabinets, smoke and fire curtains may be the best solution.

Smoke and fire curtains can be hung from any area. They stay discreetly tucked away until needed, at which time they deploy, completely blocking any fire or smoke from getting through. It’s possible to surround displays or to block off entire rooms with the use of fire or smoke curtains, which provides protection to the occupants and the contents of the building.


Smoke and fire curtains can also be used to help occupants safely exit the building. They can be used to help block smoke from traveling through stairways and to block elevators to help prevent smoke from traveling throughout a building.

Take Steps to Protect Your Building and Its Contents

Smoke and fire can be a serious threat to many archives and records. Effort should be put into digitizing and otherwise finding ways to keep copies of these records offsite, and equal effort should also go into helping ensure their protection in the event of a fire.

By utilizing the right types of fire protection systems, including smoke and fire curtains from Smoke Guard, you can help protect important documents — and their keepers — from destruction.

Consider updating fire protection plans for your archives or records and ensure their safety for many years to come. Contact a Smoke Guard team member to talk through what would be the best option for your building or project.