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Active Fire Protection vs Passive Fire Protection

Research shows that over 70% of businesses that are involved in a major fire either do not reopen or fail within three years. It is essential for buildings to have proper fire protection in place.

Passive fire protection is a vital component of fire safety for all buildings. In turn with active fire protection systems, they work together, limiting the spread of fire and smoke. Having both systems will allow people to evacuate quickly and minimise damage to equipment, assets and your building. 

Active Fire Protection (AFP) Systems

Active fire protection is a group of fire suppression systems that require varying degrees of action to work effectively in the event of a fire. These systems may be operated manually, like a fire extinguisher or automatically, like a smoke alarm. Active fire protection typically falls into three categories:

Fire Detection

Fire detection is performed by various types of sensors that identify excessive levels of smoke, flames or heat in the area. They then communicate the signal to alarms and other devices in charge of suppressing the fire. Devices like fire alarms, smoke alarms, thermal detectors first detect and alert those working or living in the building.

Fire Suppression

Fire suppression systems take over after fire has been detected and is focused around extinguishing various types of fire by direct action. This includes fire sprinkler systems, extinguishers, fire blankets, fire hose reels and firefighters. The fire detection systems can either trigger suppression systems automatically, or alert people to take action by using extinguishers to slow the growth of the fire. Once firefighters arrive, they use fire extinguishers and fire hoses to put out the fire altogether.

Fire Ventilation

Ventilation systems have the task of ensuring that escape routes are smoke-free. They also work to reduce the amount of oxygen in a room to remove fuel for fires.

Passive Fire Protection (PFP) Systems

Passive fire protection works in a very different way to AFP. While active fire protection requires some level of action, passive fire protection is integrated into the structure of the building itself.

By segmenting a building into single rooms or floors, passive fire protection systems preserve the structural integrity and limit the spread of fire and smoke. This gives people plenty of time to evacuate a building and for fire emergency services to arrive. Passive fire protection can be narrowed down into two areas:

Structural Protection

Structural protection is done through the use of fire-resistance-rated walls built with concrete products according to local, state and national building codes.

When designed and applied properly, a building’s structural integrity should be maintained when exposed to fire for extended periods. This means that a fire-rated wall will remain standing even when there is a structural collapse on either side. It also works to protect other parts of the building and adjacent premises.


Compartmentalisation aims to close off all passages and openings that connect the area in which fire occurs. This is done with fire-rated windows, fire-rated doors and fire dampers that can keep the fire contained to a single section of a building. Most of these can keep a room secure for 30 minutes up to four hours. 

  • Fire doors help compartmentalise a building and seal openings while giving its occupants means of escape.
  • Fire dampers are used in air ducts and activated by excessive heat and smoke.
  • Fire-rated walls and floors help separate the building into compartments to stop the spread of fire/smoke from room to room.
  • Fire windows work to limit the spread of smoke and fire while reducing heat radiation. The windows are made with glass that swells when exposed to heat which creates a smoke and fire seal.

How Active Fire Protection and Passive Fire Protection Systems Work Together

Although different in function and purpose, active and passive fire protection systems are vital to a building’s overall fire safety.

As the old saying goes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In order to work effectively, your fire safety strategy must incorporate both fire protection systems.

Together, they will do more than either system could on its own. AFP uses systems to take direct action for fire prevention, while PFP prevents it from spreading.

Having one doesn’t mean ignoring the other, or that one is more important. Fire is unpredictable and it is much better to have redundancies than be lacking fire safety measures.

To ensure that a building has total fire protection, both active fire protection and passive fire protection should be working together.

Learn how passive fire protection can protect your building and assets from fires.