Compartmentation is a crucial aspect of any passive fire protection system. Essentially compartmentation refers to the method by which a building is divided into cells, with the usage of construction materials that prevent the spread of fire from one demarcated cell to the other. Retarding the flow of fire allows for people to escape safely from the building.
The purpose of compartmentation is primarily to ensure that in the event of a fire, there is enough time for occupants of the building to escape. Compartmentation can be done in a number of ways, depending on the kind of building it is being implemented in.
Factors that determine compartmentation
In some buildings, fire separation will not be there, apart from the means of escape itself. For example, in a basic office building, where the fire escape is a single staircase, the floor itself may be of an open floor design. However, the staircase will be surrounded by walls and doors that are fire rated. This would be necessary to ensure that the fire cannot pass into the staircase. A larger building that is more complex would necessitate a more detailed compartmentation plan. For example, high rise apartment buildings have a compartmentation layout which is more complex. Every apartment is designated as a separate cell. So the objective of the layout will be to ensure that fire should not spread from one apartment to the other. The size of the apartment also determines the extent of compartmentation necessary to provide enough time for occupants to escape.
Apart from creating a layout that is designed to curb the spread of fire, heat absorbent materials need to be used in the construction of the building. Concrete and gypsum based plasters are common materials used in this regard.
Maintaining the integrity of the plan
As compartmentation is one of the aspects of a passive fire protection system i.e. it isn’t triggered as a response to a fire, it is essentially a capital investment and does not require maintenance. However, its integrity needs to be maintained; it is very frequent for fire barriers to be penetrated due to the installation of pipes or cables or any other building upgrade. The openings that are created as a result, need to be sealed to maintain the integrity of the separation.
This brings us to firestopping materials, which is another aspect of passive fire protection systems. These are materials that are used to seal penetrations in the fire barrier and maintain the integrity of the compartmentation plan. The method and subsequent materials used depend entirely on the size and type of the opening in addition to the material going through. If it’s ductwork that is passing through a fire wall, it is best to use fire dampers. Given the innumerable advances in technology, a compartmentation plan can be extremely successful; weak points in the system need to be constantly monitored.
Compartmentation needs to be a priority whenever you are carrying out a fire protection survey. It is a crucial component of any passive fire protection system, and can be the difference between lives lost and lives saved in the event of a fire.