Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants
Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF), Fire Engineering and Fire Risk Management Consultants



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Lawrence Webster Forrest
Legion House
Lower Road
Kenley
Surrey
CR8 5NH

Tel: +44 (0)20 8668 8663 Fax: +44 (0)20 8668 8583
E-mail: fire@lwf.co.uk

Fire Precautions - Compartmentation

 

Fire compartmentation is a vital part of any fire safety design.  Compartmentation is a tool that is used in the vast majority of buildings, other than simple low rise developments.  Compartmentation is referred to in many different ways: fire walls (and floors); fire separation; protected corridors / stairs etc.  All these terms carry the same meaning.

Compartmentation is basically the division of a building into cells, using construction materials that will prevent the passage of fire from one cell to another for a given period of time.  The most common feature of compartmentation that we all use and see on a day to day basis is a fire door.  However, most building users forget that the surrounding construction will also be fire rated. 

 This fire precaution is used to achieve a number of goals, although its primary consideration is usually the protection of the means of escape.  In some buildings, there will be little / no other fire separation other than the means of escape.  For example, a simple office building, served by a single stair.  The floor area may be open plan, with no partitions, however, the stair will be enclosed by fire walls (and fire doors) to ensure a fire within any part of the accommodation cannot pass into the stair.  As buildings become larger or more complex, the objectives and reliance on fire compartmentation is usually increased.  High rise residential buildings are commonplace and are a good example of where great reliance is placed on fire separation, in this example, each flat / unit is generally treated as its own 'cell', therefore fire separation from one flat to another should not occur.  Dependant on the size of the flat, additional fire separation may be required within it to protect the occupants means of escape.  This example shows how occupancy also has a significant impact on requirements and reliance on fire separation, with the key risk profile being that occupants may be asleep, therefore at greater risk.

Compartmentation falls into the passive category as it doesn't typically react or change in a fire condition and this is one of its many advantages, as a feature, it is effectively a capital cost and can have little maintenance requirements, i.e. once a masonry wall is in place little will change throughout its 'life', it does not need a weekly test or a quarterly service, however, its integrity must be maintained.  The most common problem with fire separation is that it frequently needs passing through, whether it is people (passing through fire doors) or building services, these create openings and therefore weaknesses within the separation.  Specialist attention needs to be given to these breaches.

Firestopping is the generic term given to various components that are used to seal openings in fire compartmentation.  The method adopted will differ greatly, depending on the type and size of the opening as well as the material that is passing through.  Other systems, such as fire dampers are used where ductwork passes through fire walls.  Technology and industry advances mean that fire separation (if installed properly) can have an enviable success rate, however, it is the weaknesses that must be continually considered, particularly with the constant changing environment in buildings requiring service alterations.

Experience indicates a number of areas that are mismanaged in terms of fire separation.  Cavity barriers are a form of fire separation, placed in areas where fire and smoke spread could occur and go undetected, commonly this is not adequately achieved within roof voids, increasing the risk of fire spread within the building.  Similarly, deficiencies have been identified within both ceiling and floor voids.  The level of deficiencies normally depend on the time of construction, newer buildings, built to current regulations, using modern building systems tend to have less problems, however, where refurbishments have been undertaken in existing buildings, large un-separated areas have been observed.

Fire compartmentation should be included as a significant consideration of your existing fire risk assessment and is an area where competency is critical.  This bulletin should have highlighted the importance of this fire precaution and highlighted some of the potential issues affecting it, if these are not adequately considered, this gives rise to a potential failing of the fire risk assessment and far worse than that, could mean that a fire is allowed to spread.

If you would like to know more – or would like to arrange an appointment with one of our senior fire safety advisers – simply call Peter Gyere on 020 8668 8663

 

 

 

 

 

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FIRE SAFETY BLOGS

  • Fire Engineering Design and Risk Assessment - Compartmentation & Fire Severity - Part 10

    In LWF’s Fire Engineering blog series for Architects and others in the building design industry, we have been looking at the use of compartmentation to avoid the spread of fire. In part 9, the use of compartments with sprinkler systems was discussed and in part 10, we look at the potential severity of fires in enclosed spaces.The severity of a fire in an enclosed space is dependent upon factors such as heat leaving the...

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  • Fire Safety for Healthcare Premises - Sprinklers - Part 44

    In LWF’s blog series for healthcare professionals, the aim is to give information on best practice of fire safety in hospitals and other healthcare premises. In part 43 of this series, we discussed cavity barriers and those areas where they are not practical for use, for fire safety reasons. In part 44, we move on to discuss the use of sprinklers in healthcare buildings. Sprinklers are not a requirement for patient areas of healthcare buildings...

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  • Facilities Management & Fire Safety - Fire Safety Engineering - Part 1

    In LWF’s blog series for those who work in Facilities Management or who have an interest in or responsibility for fire safety, we were looking at fire safety training. In Part 1 of this series, however, we begin to review the subject of fire safety engineering. While most people reading on this subject could work out what fire safety engineering is, from the title, LWF will start by looking at the history of fire safety...

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  • Fire Engineering Design and Risk Assessment - Compartmentation & Sprinklers - Part 9

    In LWF’s fire engineering blog series for Architects and others in the building design business, we have been looking at compartmentation and how can be used both in prescriptive and fire engineered solutions. In part 8 of this series, the provision of a fire safety strategy for a building was discussed and in part 9, we move onto how compartmentation and sprinklers work together.The effectiveness of sprinkler systems at controlling fires has had a...

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  • Fire Safety for Healthcare Premises - Cavity Barriers and Sprinklers - Part 43

    In LWF’s blog series for healthcare professionals, the aim is to give information on best practice of fire safety in hospitals and other healthcare premises. In part 42 of this series, we looked at how cavity barriers should be installed in uninterrupted concealed spaces or cavities and also some exceptions to the rules. In part 43, we will continue looking at the use of cavity barriers in healthcare buildings.There are some instances where cavity...

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Case Studies

The Wohl Neuroscience Institute - Fire Safety, Strategy & Engineering
Key Facts: Client: King’s Clinical Neuroscience Institute Project Manager: MACE Ltd Designers: Devereux Architects/Allies and Morrison Approximate Size: 7,400m2 Description of the Project:...

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General Bulletins

Fire - The External Risk
When we consider fire safety, our focus is normally from within, what can we do to prevent the occurrence of fire and how we can limit its damage.  Whilst this is the correct stance to take, we m...

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Technical Bulletins

Evacuation Modelling - Factor in Human Behaviour
Evacuation of buildings can be analyzed in different ways. Approved Document B (ADB) which provides guidance on meeting the requirements of the England and Wales Building Regulations with regard to fi...

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