When designing a building, architects need to take many things into account. The way a building looks is one of the primary concerns, for certain. Just as important, though, is making it safe for the occupants and for those that are nearby. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the passive fire protection systems installed in buildings.
What are Fire Protection Systems?
When discussing fire protection systems, there are two types:
Active fire protection systems – Active fire protection systems (AFP) are those that require an action to function, such as fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, and fire/smoke alarms. When you call the fire department to come, that is also considered active fire protection.
Passive fire protection systems – Passive fire protection systems (PFP) are those that are fundamental elements of the building, built right into its structure. These would be things such as fire and smoke-rated walls and floors. In order to maintain its fire-rated integrity, it is best not to penetrate these with any ductwork. However, when it is necessary to do so, utilizing a fire damper or smoke damper will help to maintain its fire rating.
3 Types of Dampers that Aid in Fire Protection
There are three types of dampers that can assist in maintaining your building’s fire rating when ductwork is needed to breach your fire-rated walls, partitions, or barriers. They are:
- Combination fire and smoke
Fire dampers – Fire dampers are constructed with a fusible link which, when exposed to a specific set temperature, will melt, causing the damper’s blades to close. This will close off the duct and prevent flames from moving further into the ductwork, restricting the fire to its present location.
Smoke dampers – Smoke dampers, unlike fire dampers, can be made to either open or close in the presence of smoke. Some are made to be placed internally in the building’s architecture. These are designed to close when activated, whether by sensing smoke or by other means, such as a smoke detector or another automatic system. In this way, they prevent the passage of smoke and toxic gases.
Smoke dampers can also be placed on the outer walls of a building, and these are made to open in the case of a smoke event. This is to assist in venting smoke and toxic gases out of the building and away from the occupants, giving them time to escape the building and get to safety.
Combination fire and smoke dampers – When you’re looking for the safest of both worlds for fire prevention, you will want to look at the combination fire and smoke damper. This combination damper will be triggered by either heat or smoke detection. Unlike fire dampers, these do not have a fusible link. Instead, their closure operates with an electronic release which allows it to close more slowly, which will help prevent pressure problems within the HVAC system.
What is a Fusible Link?
Fusible links are UL-approved, heat-detecting devices that are soldered together and used to restrain the blades of a fire damper until a set temperature is reached. Generally, they are set to melt, thereby releasing the blades and closing the damper at 165 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when the fire dampers are placed in higher heat environments, such as kitchens or laundromats, the temperature will be set higher, to 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 285 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Fire Dampers Are Used in Different Systems?
There are two types of fire dampers depending on what type of HVAC system your building’s architecture has. They are:
Dynamic fire damper – A dynamic fire damper is meant to operate under pressure with the fans still operating.
Static fire damper – A static fire damper operates with the airflow off.
Additionally, the fire damper your HVAC specialist selects will be dependent on other factors, such as the size of the ducting that your fire damper will be installed into and the shape, whether circular or rectangular.
What Maintenance is Required for Fire Dampers?
Installing your fire dampers, smoke dampers, and fire and smoke dampers is only the first step in ensuring your building is fire safe. You need to ensure that your fire dampers are tested and inspected one year after being installed. After that, they should be tested and inspected every four years unless your building is a hospital. Hospitals only need to be tested every six years.
Many HVAC companies offer contract plans that will set you up on a schedule to have them do the maintenance at the correct time. Then, when they do the installation, speak to the contractor about this and see if you can get on their calendar. This will give you a sense of security that you will have your fire protection plan taken care of.
However, if your HVAC company does not offer a maintenance plan, the responsibility will then fall to you. In that case, many times, companies will assign an employee to be the “fire safety officer” and maintain logs that will keep the company apprised of the maintenance and care of all fire safety issues.
It is of utmost importance to document the following:
- The date of the maintenance
- The name of the technician who performed the maintenance
- The company the technician works for
- All aspects of the inspection, such as which products were inspected and their location
- Any findings or issues that must be addressed
- Any paperwork documenting the inspection and maintenance
The fire safety officer should ensure that these logs are kept in a safe location and that copies are made in case of emergency. Depending on your industry, you may need additional testing. If so, schedule these in advance to ensure you meet all critical deadlines and get any questions you have answered.
New buildings are always exciting, and planning a fire protection plan is one way to make sure the building is as safe as possible. Fire dampers, part of the passive fire protection system, will maintain a fire-rated wall or ceiling’s fire-safe integrity and protect the current and future occupants. If you have any questions about fire dampers, smoke dampers, or combination fire and smoke dampers, don’t hesitate to contact Lloyd Industries. And if you need installation help, look to our list of vetted HVAC professionals!