Fire Separations: A Building Safety Essential

Author: Shawn Young

When a building fire breaks out, it’s critical to put as much distance between evacuees and the heat and smoke as possible. For this reason, building operators and managers benefit from understanding what effective fire separation systems are and what they need to do to ensure their buildings stay up-to-code

Shawn Young, Manager with LRI Engineering Inc., shares insights into this life-saving concept.

What are fire separations, and why are they an important consideration for buildings life safety?

Fire separations are passive fire protection containment systems that are purposely installed within a building to create fire compartments. These compartments are intended to slow the spread of smoke and fire during an emergency allowing occupants enough time to exit a building safely. Ensuring buildings have these systems in place, and knowing where they are, can make all the difference in an emergency situation.

Fire separations vary in fire-resistance ratings and are measured in time from minutes to hours that a structural element can withstand flame and heat during a fire. The ratings depend on the occupancy or area of the building that is being contained.

The Building Code determines the majority of fire separation requirements in a building. It is essential that building owners and managers maintain their buildings fire separations for the safety of their occupants. It is also an often overlooked requirement of the Fire Code (2015 Ontario Fire Code for all privately owned and operated buildings in Ontario).

What are some examples of fire separations?

Fire separations can be floor assemblies, service rooms, corridors, chemical storage, industrial operations, doors, exit stairs, and vertical shafts, including elevators are some examples. It is critical that owners and property managers know where the required fire separations are located in their buildings and ensure they are kept up-to-date.

What are a property operator’s Code obligations when it comes to fire separations?

The Fire Code defines the maintenance requirements for fire separations. Essentially, any damaged fire separation is required to be repaired in order to maintain its integrity. Doors are often an overlooked part of fire separations that need to be maintained. This includes ensuring they are not held open ever, and that the self closing, and latching mechanisms are functional as they are an integral part of the door and its effectiveness. In Ontario, the Fire Protection and Prevention Act 1997 provides examples of fines and other enforcement measures for failure to comply with the Fire Code.

Can the effectiveness of fire separations change over the years?

Renovations and general repair work can potentially affect fire separations by way of damage and, in some cases, complete removal. The requirements for fire separations can be difficult to understand, and most of the time building owners have little idea where they are or how they are required to be constructed. For these reasons, any renovation project should be conducted by way of a building permit complete with designs prepared by professionals with knowledge of fire separations.

What are some considerations that property operators should be making when it comes to fire separations?

First, be informed. Knowledge is paramount in maximizing building occupant safety. Inform yourself of the requirements by law and ensure your operators are all trained and aware of the locations of the required fire separations. Second, ensure that any tenant or contractor understands the overall concept of a fire separation, where they may be, and their responsibilities when it comes to maintaining them. Lastly, it’s important to ensure that any contractors conducting work in your building are aware that they are to repair any holes they make. The best practice is to always use a listed fire-stopping material.

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