The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Smoke Control – Part 2

October 12, 2017 2:40 pm

In LWF’s blog series for those who work in Facilities Management or who have an interest in or responsibility for fire safety in buildings, we have been looking at smoke control and its importance in terms of successful evacuation of the building and levels of damage to the building and contents. In Part 2, we will continue looking at the potential for smoke damage before exploring how smoke moves and spreads.


The ‘man on the street’ might assume that the majority of damage to a building and contents in a fire situation would be caused by the fire itself, but actually, most damage is usually caused by smoke. Although the structure of a building which has contained a large amount of smoke can usually be salvaged by thorough and prompt cleaning, the contents in storage, for example, may be beyond retrieval. Examples of holdings that would be destroyed by smoke are food, sensitive electronic equipment and other heat and substance sensitive items.


Therefore, while permanent smoke damage to a building can often be avoided through cleaning, similar damage to a computer suite might impact upon business continuity.


Of course, smoke can only affect those areas which it is able to reach and the potential for damage from smoke to the building, its stock and equipment and the welfare of those people inside the building are all reasons to understand how smoke spreads and to stop it from doing so.


It’s no great surprise that when a fire starts, smoke from that fire will travel through open apertures within the room of fire origin to other areas. For instance, if a door were left open, the fire would spread through to the next room or compartment. Once the fire becomes more established, smoke will fill the available space and pressures are created due to the expanding gases. This means that the smoke will begin to find its way through the smallest gaps, for example, a small gap between a door and its frame or through air vents.


Service penetrations into the room (for electricity, air conditioning, water pipes etc.) which have been left unstopped will also provide access to smoke to travel to any other area of the building which is also served by that cable or pipe.


It’s now easy to see how the insidious spread of smoke can soon fill a building which is not built to withstand it. There are measures which can be taken to avoid smoke spread, some of which are a part of the building design and some more advanced systems which can be employed where necessary.


In Part 3 of this series, we will look at how the spread of smoke can be stopped through adequate initial design and provision, along with ongoing maintenance. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.


Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings.


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