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Why passive fire protection is critical to commercial construction plans

When protecting commercial and multi-family buildings, where occupant rates range into the hundreds and cost millions to rebuild, fire protection tops the priority list of concerns for builders, owners and facility managers. It’s crucial to look beyond active fire protection, such as fire extinguishers, fire detectors and sprinkler systems and pay equal attention to the less-visible, passive fire protection systems that work to contain and compartmentalise fire and smoke and its point of origin.    

Compartmentalisation involves erecting barriers to divide a building into smaller units that will confine the fire. This step helps to reduce risk and avoid reliance on any one element in a fire safety plan. Compartmentalisation is critical because it limits where the fire can spread, while also complementing automatic sprinkler systems.

Fire partitions are an area of passive fire protection design that plays a significant role in minimising the spread of fire damage and increasing occupant safety. Typically framed using cold-formed steel studs and tracks, these partitions, when properly installed with firestops, can provide the necessary protection.


A critical component of any fire-rated wall assembly is the specified fire-stopping materials used to seal openings and joints. When installed properly, these products work in combination with the other components of the assembly to prevent the spread of fire, smoke and gasses through interior wall systems.

Traditional materials used in passive firestop systems include sealants, sprays, mechanical devices, intumescent materials and foam blocks or pillows. However, total fire protection cannot be achieved with the use of a singular product. Therefore, a systematic approach must be used when designing and specifying materials for constructing fire-rated wall assemblies. As such, it is not uncommon for general contractors to take responsibility for installing the firestop with their team of sub-contractors.  

There are six primary types of openings or joints associated with fire and smoke resistive rated assemblies to which tested firestopping systems may be applied.

Fire-resistant Joints – Joints between fire-rated construction components (e.g. head-of-wall, wall- to-wall, wall-to-floor, wall-to-ceiling

Penetrations – Openings containing mechanical, electrical, structural, security, piping or wiring

Opening Protectives – A device for protecting an opening from the passage of flame, smoke, or hot gases

Ducts and Air Transfer Openings – Where a duct or air transfer opening penetrates a fire-resistance-rated assembly

Shaft Enclosures – When a shaft enclosure is chosen for the protection of an opening or penetration in a horizontal assembly, the shaft provides the protection from floor-to-floor fire migration

Vertical Openings – Vertical openings for floor fire doors and access doors

It is recommended that contractors only use products with fire-resistance properties and performance verified by an accredited third-party testing agency.


Selection of fire protection materials and methods is an important decision that should be carefully considered early in the design stage. While passive fire protection can successfully prevent the spread of fire, redundancy is key for total fire protection. New technologies, such as integrated firestop systems, save contractors time and money and help ensure the confinement of smoke and fire throughout commercial buildings. When combined with active fire protection systems, such as sprinklers, alarms and detection systems and occupant education, these materials offer a safer, more balanced approach to protecting a building and its occupants.

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