Types of Fire Protection Systems Used for Steel Structures

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All structures in Australia require fire protection to keep the occupants safe, as well as providing a means to control and extinguish a blaze should one happen to break out. Without an adequate fire protection system in place, it leaves the building and everyone in it completely vulnerable.

Do steel structures require fire protection systems? And, if so, what type of fire protection system works best for a building predominantly made of steel?

Can Steel Really Be Affected By Fire?

It’s common knowledge that steel is a non-combustible material. However, while it may not burn, it’s not impervious to the tremendous heat a fire can produce. Even a robust steel girder can bend and buckle under the heat of an intense inferno. This can lead to potential partial or complete collapse of sections of the building if the fire is hot enough and burns for long enough.

Passive Fire Protection Coatings

Things like beams and steel girders, especially those that remain exposed, are often coated in substances that help protect their structural integrity should a fire ever break out. These are often referred to as passive fire protection coatings, as they do nothing to help extinguish a blaze, but act as a fire protection barrier for the steel.

Intumescent coatings, for example, are a paint-like mixture that is applied to the primed steel surface. In the event of a fire, as the heat rises, this epoxy coating expands and thickens. In effect, it forms a layer of insulation that protects the steel beam and is particularly useful for protecting joints from being compromised.

Substances such as gypsum plaster is another passive method of fire protection. This plaster can be applied to steel and various other building materials.

Fire stopping boards are another material that is often used as a form of passive fire protection in steel structures. Made from fire-resistant minerals, these boards are placed between steel girders or even around the girders to cover them and protect them from heat.

Active Fire Protection for Steel Structures

While passive fire protection measures play their role in protecting the structural integrity of a steel structure, more proactive fire protection systems also need to be in place for complete protection of the occupants and to help save the building if a fire breaks out.

An early warning system is a must in any type of building, steel or otherwise. This comes in the form of fire alarms, which will sound a warning to any occupants regarding imminent danger due to a fire and that they must evacuate the premises immediately. Fire alarms save lives but what fire suppression methods are used in steel structures to extinguish the flames?

Every building should be equipped with a fire sprinkler system that’s adequate for the size of the structure, as well as the type of combustible materials found inside the building. When it comes to fire sprinkler systems, there are options like:

  • Foam
  • Deluge
  • Water spray

It takes the planning and knowledge of a fire protection specialist to be able to determine which type of sprinkler system works best for a particular building, or certain rooms or areas within that building. A fire sprinkler system not only helps douse the flames to preserve the structure, but it can also create safe passage for people as they evacuate the building.

Of course, no fire protection system would be complete without numerous fire extinguishers being located throughout the building. The most common type of fire extinguisher is a Class A extinguisher, which is used to extinguish fires burning combustible fuels such as paper, fabric and wood but there are other types of fire extinguishers as well, for kitchen fires, chemical fires and so on.

Fire hoses and fire hydrants located in and around the building are also another line of proactive fire protection, enabling firefighters ready access to powerful jets of water to douse the flames once they arrive on the scene.

In Conclusion

Complete fire protection services for steel structures isn’t about one single fix. It’s a combination of passive and active fire protection measures that add up to a complete, efficient and comprehensive fire protection system. For optimum results, always consult with a fire protection specialist.