Fire and the associated damage, injury and loss of life within buildings has been a major issue for as long as humans have lived in and occupied built structures. How this is monitored and dealt with however, has changed significantly especially in more recent years with the advancement of modern technology. In the following sections, we will discuss the common types of fire and life safety systems including structural fire protection, escape routes, fire alarm and detection systems and fire suppression systems.
Fire requires three elements to exist: heat, fuel, and oxygen. Eliminating any one of these factors will prevent a fire from starting; or eliminating one of these during a fire event will extinguish the fire. The way a building is designed and constructed, the types of materials and the construction methods used all have an impact on how a building will perform, if it were to be subject to a fire event. Certain materials are inherently more fire-resisting than others, for example wood (inherently flammable) versus concrete (inherently fire-resisting). Based on this, certain materials are specified and installed at different areas of a building. Combustible materials/components are often protected with additional fire proofing. Regardless of how a building performs or is expected to perform, escape routes are planned into a building’s design and the maintenance to provide clear and unobstructed route(s) out of a building in a fire event. Keeping exit routes clear of obstacles and well-lit are an essential part of the management of a building.
If a fire were to break out at a building, systems are in place to alert building occupiers/users that a fire is happening and to evacuate. Systems can be as simple as isolated individual smoke/heat detectors and alarms, or more complex building-wide monitored and automated fire alarm systems. In addition to alarm and notification systems, fire suppression systems are commonly installed within buildings. Suppression systems are designed to stop or prevent the spread of fire by extinguishing the flames. Systems usually consist of wet-pipe or dry-pipe sprinkler systems which activate in the specific area where the fire is occurring. Localized fire extinguishers are often used as an additional fire suppression measure. In commercial installations, areas subject to heat and higher fire-risks, such as a kitchen, are typically provided with chemical suppression systems. In addition to fire-systems, other life-safety systems are often found within buildings. For example, carbon monoxide detectors and alarms which alert users to the presence of this odor-free gas, which can be deadly if inhaled within a closed room/confined space.
Finally, fire systems are predominantly designed and installed based on specific code requirements which ensure that buildings meet uniform set standards.