When Is a Fire Suppression System Required?

For many businesses and commercial buildings, fire suppression systems of some kind are necessary in order for the building to operate. However, fire suppression systems come in many different forms, and not all of them function the same way or have the same effects on the fire (or the building) when they’re activated.

Fire suppression is important to manage risk, protect lives and help prevent damage to equipment and belongings. Understanding where and when to deploy it can be difficult, especially since it often isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Making sure you understand what the different types of fire suppression systems are, when they’re required, and what the different types are for will help ensure the best outcome in the event of a fire for your building or business.

What Is a Fire Suppression System?

In very general terms, a fire suppression system is a group of units, equipment and materials whose job it is to detect and stop the spread of flame and smoke. There are several different types of fire suppression, including both active and passive methods, which can be layered and combined to create the most successful system for a building.

Active Fire Suppression

Active fire suppression is a device or equipment that detects smoke or flame and actively works to suppress it or put it out. Sprinkler systems are one of the most common types of active fire suppression systems, and they are required in most commercial buildings, particularly those measuring more than 5,000 square feet or are more than 55 stories in height.

Sprinkler systems are very effective at helping to put out and slow down the spread of fire, but they may not be beneficial in certain areas. For example, in a kitchen, water may make a grease fire worse, so sprinkler systems may be less effective than fire suppression systems that use wet chemicals like potassium citrate, which can extinguish a grease fire without spreading it.

Sprinkler systems also may not be the best answer in buildings that have chemicals or that have sensitive electronic equipment or historic documents, as the water may damage these items. Therefore, other types of fire suppression including both dry chemical and clean agent active fire suppression and passive suppression may be needed.

How They Work

Active fire suppression systems initiate when they detect heat, flame or smoke particulates. Some can also be manually deployed if smoke or flame is detected visually before the system activates.

When the system is activated, water, wet or dry chemicals will be spread throughout the room. These will actively work to put out the fire or help stop its spread. Some systems can be operated when people are in the area, while others are designed only for use in unoccupied spaces.

While some types of active systems can create mess or damage, such as water damage, the idea is that the amount of damage done will be less than what may occur if the fire were to spread unchecked.

Passive Fire Suppression

Passive fire suppression is made of materials that block and prevent the spread of smoke and flame. This includes building materials that are flame retardant, as well as things like smoke baffles and smoke and fire curtains, which can be deployed to help block the spread of smoke and flame.

While passive systems don’t work to put out the fire, they do help contain it, so that an active system can suppress the flames and people in the building have time to exit safely.

Passive systems can be used to surround priceless artwork or important documents, protecting them from flame or smoke damage, and they can also be used to help create safe passage, such as helping to block smoke from entering stairways. In large areas, they can also help contain the smoke and flame, rather than allowing it to spread unchecked through the building.

How They Work

Passive systems can either be in place at all times, such as flame retardant walls or smoke baffles, or they can be discreetly placed to deploy if smoke or flame is detected. Smoke curtains installed at stairways, elevators and windows, for example, will deploy when smoke or flame is detected but will remain rolled out of view until that time. Like active systems, this type of passive system can also be deployed manually if smoke or flames are visible before they are detected by the system.

Passive systems do not actively work to put out the flame and do not contribute to any damage or mess the way that some active systems do. This is what makes them so effective in areas with important artworks or documents that may be damaged by water or chemical suppressors.

Working Together

In an ideal situation, a building would have both active and passive fire suppression systems installed. In fact, depending on the use of the building, both systems must be used. Flame retardant materials or fire doors could be required and sprinkler systems are mandated for commercial spaces over a certain size or occupancy

However, any building can benefit from adding a fire suppression system, particularly if you have sensitive electronics or equipment or if you have people living or staying overnight in the building such as dorm rooms and hotels. In these instances, having a layered fire suppression system designed for the building and its contents can help make the difference between catastrophic damage and loss of life and minimal damage.

Protect Your Business or Building

All commercial buildings require at least some degree of fire suppression system whether active or passive. It’s generally a good idea, however, to take a look at your business’s or building’s particular needs and layer in additional protections.

Fire suppression systems can help save lives and minimize any damage done to the building as well as any necessary clean up after the fact. Protect your business or building today by ensuring that you have adequate fire suppression systems from Smoke Guard installed throughout the space.