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The Basics of Passive Fire Protection

Passive fire protection (PFP) is an important part of every fire safety strategy.

It’s something you hope will never happen, but a fire in your building could mean total devastation without the proper group of systems for limiting the spread of fire.

Most people are familiar with standard fire suppression systems like fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems. Passive fire protection that prevents the spread of fire at its point of origin can be encountered on a daily basis without even realising, until the day you need it.

Passive Fire Protection Systems

Despite its name, passive fire protection is always working. The overall concept of PFP is based on containing fires by segmenting areas of a building and preventing collapse through structural fire resistance. When properly installed and maintained, your building’s passive fire protection can save lives, assets, and the building itself. There are generally four areas that passive fire protection covers.

Structural Fire Protection

Structural fire protection safeguards vital structural components from the dangerous effects of fire. This is done with a fireproofing material or building with concrete products according to local, state and national building codes.

When structural fire protection is designed and applied properly, the building’s structural integrity should be maintained when exposed to fire. This means that even when there is a structural collapse on either side of a fire-resistance-rated wall, it will remain standing.


Compartmentalisation is the process of segmenting a building through the use of fire-resistant rated walls, floors and doors to limit fire and smoke spread throughout a building.

It works to contain fire and smoke to a single compartment, protecting other areas of the building and items within. Fire-rated walls extend from the floor and continue past the ceiling, continuing into concealed spaces and cavities for full protection. These are often made from concrete, combination wood, gypsum and masonry.

In addition to stopping the spread of fire, compartmentalisation also works to maximise the time window for evacuation. Fire barriers that effectively contain the migration of smoke and fire make evacuation routes safer and clear of hazards.

Opening Protection

Fire doors and windows, along with fire dampers are installed in openings within fire barriers to maintain its fire resistance.

Fire Doors

Creating a fire barrier in a doorway that is as effective as a fire-rated wall is done with a combination of fire-rated doors, steel door frames and door hardware.

Most fire doors are designed to be kept closed at all times. Although some doors are designed to stay open under normal circumstances and close automatically in the event of a fire.

This is often done through a combination of active and passive fire protection systems with the use of an electromagnet wired to a fire alarm system with a fail-safe which disengages the magnet for power outages.

Fire-Rated Windows

Fire-rated windows are made using multi-layer intumescent technology or ceramic glass which holds its form, which in turn, with the intumescent technology closes gaps to create a smoke and fire seal.

Fire Dampers

Fire and smoke dampers are often used in duct systems to complete the fire barrier where air ducts penetrate fire-rated and smoke-resistant compartments.

These close automatically if the temperature rises. Passive fire protection often does not require any motion or electronic activation to function, fire dampers are the exception to the rule.

Fire dampers such as fire-resistive closures within air ducts and fire door closers must move, open and shut in order to work.

Fire Stopping Materials

Fire stopping materials are used to limit fire spread through fire barriers by sealing around openings and between joints in a fire-resistance-rated wall or floor structure.

Firestops are designed to maintain the fireproofing of a wall or floor allowing it to stop the spread of fire and smoke. You will usually find, firestops around electrical and mechanical openings, and where fire-resistance-rated walls or floor structures meet.

Materials used to create fire stops are usually concrete, intumescents (expands upon heat exposure), silicone, rubber compounds and mineral fibres.

It is quite common to see fire barriers penetrated during renovations or alterations to a building which leaves the barrier vulnerable. This can cause fire and smoke to enter walls and spread throughout a building.

Maintaining Your Passive Fire Protection

It is important to know the building codes and ratings associated with each passive fire protection system in your building, along with the maintenance schedule for each. Building owners and managers are a vital stakeholder in a building’s fire protection program.

They should be involved in every part of modification or renovation to their building to ensure their fire safety program isn’t compromised. This includes any planning, design, construction and maintenance of the building.

Everything from plumbing, wiring and intercom modifications have a high likelihood of having penetrated a fire barrier.

Even structures older than 10 years rarely have firestops installed. Particularly in apartments and offices where changes are often made without consulting or notifying a building manager.

While a qualified passive fire protection expert should be brought in regularly to carry out an official ESM inspection, there are some things you should always take note of:

  • Is the fire rating label visible on fire doors
  • Make sure the door swings properly
  • Make sure there are no chunks missing out of concrete walls
  • Are wall penetrations sealed

The bottom line is to know the current state of your building and keep an eye out for any changes that could affect your building’s fire safety strategy.

In the event that a fire does break out in your building, your proactiveness in your fire safety strategy will pay off when everyone has time to evacuate your building and the fire is contained.

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