What is Fire Protection System Design? | How to a Design Fire Protection System

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For commercial buildings, having a failsafe Fire Protection System (FPS) is a priority. To preserve life, property and business continuity – develop your FPS to align with specific objectives. New building design, retrofits and renovations need an integrated approach to achieve a holistic safeguard system.

Getting building owners and managers, architects, engineers, contractors and consultants involved in early planning ensures risk reduction by covering factors from materials, structural design and addressing heat and smoke movement to safe emergency egress routes.

Proper planning for fire protection involves knowing the four sources of fire: natural, man-made, wildfire and incidental. A strategic, integrated systems approach allows your designer to examine all building elements to produce a total building fire safety system.

Best practice for FPS encompasses detection, alarms and notification and suppression as the three fundamental layers of fire protection.

Nationwide, all commercial buildings must meet the standards specified in the Building Code of Australia. This code classifies different classes of commercial buildings, like offices as Class 5 and retail and restaurants as Class 6. Each class has rigorous fire safety system regulations, and fire-rated materials must comply with AS4072.1 and AS1530.4.

Each fire-rated element is assigned a Fire Resistance Level (FRL). Shown as three numbers, this signals how that element combats fire in test conditions. The first number denotes structural adequacy: the minutes that element remains sound enough to support the relevant structures. Windows and doors aren’t assigned numbers because they don’t hold anything up.

The second number represents integrity: how effectively the element stops flame and hot gases from advancing. The third number reflects insulation: the number of minutes the element hinders fire spread due to heat transfer.

Both active and passive fire safety systems are crucial for commercial buildings. Active elements, such as fire extinguishers or sprinklers, are manually or automatically activated to work. Passive elements like glass fire doors and fire-rated windows continually work to compartmentalise a building. Active elements contain, suppress or put out fires, while passive elements stop the spread of fire and create safe passages for evacuation.

The National Construction Code Australia (NCC) is another regulatory document pertaining to new and existing commercial buildings. It’s legally enforceable and requires fire safety solutions to facilitate the safe evacuation of building occupants and minimise property damage. Due to factors like size and layout, each building may not need to meet all fire safety measures.

Until 1991 the building code in New Zealand was a prescriptive code that followed a set of rules for designing a building. The traditional building code constituted approved documents outlining one way of meeting the performance requirements for a commercial building.

Since 1991, a performance-based approach has superseded the traditional approach to fire safety. This allows designers to use fire engineering instead of rules to overcome issues. Fire engineering uses principles of fire science, human behaviour and risk management to develop building-specific fire safety solutions.

In the design phase – how a building is used and occupied is critical. A warehouse or storage facility, for example, will have different fire-protection requirements than a multi-tenant office building.

Mixed-use buildings are occupied in numerous ways – think shopping centres with retail, food, parking and cinemas. And transport hubs and offices that feature ground-level retail. It’s important to factor in all uses when designing fire safety for these properties. Consider how the order of movement alone affects notification and alarm systems in each zone.

Accurate installation during construction is crucial to ensure all systems uphold the building structure when occupied. Sometimes systems are required to function during partial occupancy while construction continues. Long-term fire protection monitoring and maintenance, including any renovations or refurbs, is also essential. Consider your fire strategy as a living document which continues to frame requirements and responsibilities.

A complete fire strategy in the design phase offers an overview of all scenarios and ways to prevent them. This saves time, money and crucially – lives.

There’s no such thing as a standard blueprint for fire-protection design, but the systems found in any building typically include the basics of detection, alarms and notification and suppression. Fire protection system design is a science; get an expert involved in the early stages.

Detection devices have come a long way – they can now distinguish different alarm thresholds. And heat detectors can trigger systems even before any smoke is in play. These same alert systems can also close fire doors, summon elevators and communicate with suppression systems like sprinklers. They also connect with life-saving ventilation and stairwell-pressurisation systems within a building.

When it comes to suppression, sprinklers are commercial stalwarts. Each operates independently and features a heat-sensitive element. They’re so effective that 90% of all fires are brought under control by less than six of them. A big stat for such small equipment. Alternatively, designers can consider gaseous/chemical suppression systems.

Whatever the elements of your FPS, it must be customised to the particulars of your property and designed and executed by experts.

Maintenance is a crucial component of any commercial FPS. Even a state-of-the-art system is unreliable if not routinely maintained and tested. Think of it this way – if you work in a building with a sprinkler in your sights, and you know it works – you feel safe.

Understand the relevant fire safety regulations, check your building for expired fire extinguishers and working alarm batteries, and confirm your emergency lighting plan. Make sure you comply with your local fire code for state requirements for regular testing. And remember to set up frequent inspections, see our five steps to fire compliance, and get expert compliance tips.

Grosvenor’s specialist fire services encompass the entire life cycle of fire safety and protection assets, including maintenance, repairs, upgrades, construction, compliance and design. We stay on top of your FPS so you can get on with life.

Contemporary buildings usually have numerous individual fire safety measures that make up a holistic fire safety system. Safeguard your precious people and property with effective fire protection system design and maintenance. Work with our experienced fire asset management experts to design fire safety solutions for your commercial building.