The idea behind fire compartmentalisation is to divide a structure such as a warehouse or factory into ‘fire compartments’ in order to limit any potential fire or smoke from spreading. This form of passive fire protection is also cost-effective, as it may reduce the need for costly sprinkler systems.
In terms of warehouses, fire protection has to take into account the fact that fire and smoke often spread vertically, due to the high stack heights involved, whereas factories often contain complex production processes that can spread fire and smoke by means of conveyor belts.
“The thought process of the architects who design these structures is simply to join up various boxes, whereafter an industrial engineer will populate that space with the necessary production processes. Often the industrial engineer will supply the architect with a brief in this regard,” says Michael van Niekerk, CEO of ASP Fire.
However, it is essential to ensure that adequate fire-protection measures are in place in terms of such designs. “For example, if you have a conveyor belt running the length of a factory, then the emergency exit being on the one side of it will mean restricted egress in the event of an emergency.” This also applies to the correct location of fire-hose reels so that they can cover the entire factory area.
Van Niekerk stresses that the main aim of fire engineering for factories is to ensure that all eventualities are catered for, while minimising downtime and lost production. “We do not want to shut down any processes unnecessarily, while on the other hand there are critical processes that cannot be shut down at all without serious consequences in terms of uptime and output.”
It is essential that architects take all these factors into consideration during the design phase, which is where the technical expertise of fire experts can best be deployed. Retrofitting warehouses and factories in order to be compliant with all of the necessary regulations is not only costly, but in some instances either unfeasible or impractical.
This can be avoided by simply sub-dividing buildings into various fire compartments aimed at limiting the spread of a fire. These compartments, in turn, are separated from each other by fire-resistant floors and walls in order to stop any fire from spreading and engulfing an entire warehouse or factory.
The main benefit of fire compartmentation is that it prevents a fire from spreading out of control, which could result in workers being trapped. It also reduces the possibility of such a fire spreading, and resulting in even greater damage, and even fatalities. The degree of sub-division necessitated by fire compartmentation depends on the use of the building (such as a warehouse or factory), its height, and whether or not a sprinkler system has been installed.
In addition to fire compartmentalisation, evacuation procedures and fire protection strategies are also an essential component for warehouse and factory design. ASP Fire is able to conduct fire-risk assessments for warehouses and factories in order to determine whether the actual fire load exceeds the installed fire-protection system design.
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