With fire safety an important consideration for the design of any commercial building, this article explains the key features to look for in a fire curtain to ensure it proves the best possible line of defence if and when a fire breaks out.
As a result of several high-profile news stories, attention over fire risk and corresponding mitigation and protection has significantly increased. Sadly, the most common cause of death in a fire incident continues to be the excessive inhalation of gas, smoke or toxic fumes. Therefore, in-built fire barriers are included in building design to prevent the spread of flames and smoke, in order to reduce the risk to occupant safety.
Compartmentation and curtains
The implementation of fire-resistant barriers, such as fire doors and curtains, into a building’s design divides a space into compartments. In large commercial premises, there are multiple challenges when it comes to building compartmentation and passive fire protection. With the rise in popularity of open plan layouts, it has become all but impossible to utilise fire doors, due to the absence of walls. Where fire doors cannot be implemented, fire curtains may be installed.
Stored discretely in a steel headbox located above a ceiling, lobby or doorway, a fire curtain is a highly robust piece of fire-resistant material. In the event of a fire, the curtain is released by a trigger from a fire alarm or local detector, which allows it to fall vertically via gravity obscuring the space, doorway or lift shaft above which it is located. Once deployed, the role of a fire curtain is crucial for the prevention of flames spreading either laterally or vertically, acting as a physical barrier between the fire and the escape routes to be used by occupants in the evacuation of the building.
Unlike fire doors, curtains can be installed in a number of different locations including where there is an absence of walls, such as in open plan spaces. A fire curtain can be used to replace a non-load bearing wall and fire rated glazing, for example, which in turn allows open plan building designs to still meet the relevant regulations. Additionally, lifts and lobbies, which tend to be the most critical escape routes for a building’s occupants, can utilise fire curtains to control fire spreading through the lift shaft.
Fire-resistant curtains and doors serve three main purposes in a building: to limit the initial development of a fire, to prevent the spread of fire, and to protect escape routes. An effectively fitted fire curtain can help to suppress the growth and development of a fire and smoke within a building.
Building regulations require escape routes to be protected and any opening, such as a doorway or lift opening, that does not utilise fire-resistant barriers poses the risk of fire spreading into designated escape routes. Therefore, fire curtains are used to protect building occupants when evacuating a building. With the help of certification and testing, a fire barrier is designed to withstand the heat and effects of a fire for a specific period of time. This length of time is specified to enable an effective evacuation with enough time to make the necessary checks of the building, in order to minimise the risk to human life.
Standards and integrity
NFPA 80 is an important standard, providing comprehensive guidance on key aspects such as a proficient installation and ongoing maintenance of the fire barrier, to illustrate competence and quality. For full compliance against this standard, fire curtains must have passed all of the necessary tests, and if one or more of these tests are not completed the product is not considered to have reached the minimum requirements necessary to gain this seal of approval.
The fire resistance and integrity of components used in building construction has come under increased scrutiny. This in turn has placed a higher degree of focus on the level of integrity of every product. UL10D is the key testing certification to look for in terms of compliance and product integrity which investigates a fire curtain’s fire resistance level. The testing methods involve placing the curtain at elevated temperatures, and at maximum loads following a prescribed timeline heat curve for a specified number of cycles.
Third party certification provides assurance to end users and building occupiers that the product has been subjected to, and passed, thorough third-party testing against a set of rigorous criteria.
Where a fire curtain is installed in place of a door, a vision panel could be a huge aid to first responders. For this reason, there is a growing global demand for the ability to see through a curtain.
As well as preserving occupant safety, the role of a fire curtain is to offer protection to fire fighters as they continue to extinguish the blaze. In an emergency, first responders are required to evacuate individuals from a building, therefore, fire curtains with a vision panel may help in the process. Once deployed a fire curtain or other barrier may hinder first responders in doing their job due to the inability to identify risk on the other side. By adding a window-like panel into the curtain, it enables flames and smoke to be identified in different sections of the building, which could ultimately save precious time in an evacuation.
BLE’s fully compliant, translucent fireproof panel, the ResQ-Window™ is a concept capable of making a massive difference in areas of a building which need to be assessed prior to entry. A fire curtain with a vision panel is perfect for lift openings and lobbies, as well as escape routes incorporating doorways and corridors.
The benefits of having a vision panel in fire-resistant barriers are clear. However, where they appear in curtains there must be no compromise on compliance, quality and the product’s resistance level. Choosing products that are certified and have undergone thorough testing, provides assurance to specifiers and facilities managers that the fire protection measures in place are the of the highest standard to preserve human life.
For more information, go to www.ble-smokeandfirecurtains.com