Active vs. Passive Fire Protection

By Jackie Berens

Active vs. Passive Fire Protection

When your wife says “I’m fine…” How to put out fires (because your relationship is about to go up in flames)

As a husband, the last thing you want to hear is your wife passive-aggressively saying “I’m fine…” You know exactly what that means- it’s time to put out a figurative fire because your relationship is about to go up in flames. As a building owner, the flames you need to avoid aren’t quite as figurative. 

In order to fight very real fires that can occur in your building, you need to implement proper fire protection systems. Both active and passive fire protection systems are necessary to keep your building, and more importantly, your people safe from harm. 

What is passive fire protection?

The word ‘passive’ has a connotation that the object in question is something that is not expected to produce results. Your wife’s passive-aggressive comments beg to differ, and so do your passive fire protection systems.  In fact, passive fire protection (pfp) can be equally, if not more, effective than active fire protection. 

Passive fire protection systems are stationary materials designed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. These systems help keep the fire in its original area, therefore, stopping it from spreading throughout the building. The combination of active and passive fire protection systems can help put out fires faster and stop additional damage from occurring. 

These fire protection systems are typically built into your building. When looking to renovate or build on a property, there is a lot of careful planning needed to ensure your building has these passive fire protection systems in place. Our team can help your team design and plan your construction in order to ensure building safety. For example, using cinder block walls as opposed to traditional wood-frame walls help to reduce the spread of flames. 

However, passive systems can still be added after construction. Structures like smoke baffles, fire doors, and fire-resistant glass partitions can be installed after construction has been completed. 

The objective of a passive fire protection system is to hold the smoke and flames in one contained area. They can also be used to channel the flames out of the building. When you have passive fire protection systems in place, fires that do occur are easier to extinguish. 

What is active fire protection?

With an active fire protection (afp) system, some kind of action is taking place. Whether it is manual or automatic, these systems deploy once fire, smoke, or heat is detected. These systems are designed to help combat the fire, and help put it out. 

Most buildings are equipped with a few active systems that can be deployed onsite during a fire.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors activate when there is smoke in the building. These detectors typically utilize noise and light to alert occupants in the building of the potential fire. 

Fire Extinguishers

Are manually operated active fire protection measures. These help occupants put out small fires within the building. 

Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler systems are active fire protection systems that automatically activate to help put out the fire while building occupants move to safety. These systems trigger when the heat from the fire causes the sprinkler head to open. There are various types of fire sprinkler systems that can be beneficial for your business. 

Understanding your unique business needs is exactly what we do at VFS. Our in-house teams help with construction services, special hazard needs, inspection maintenance, and preventative maintenance. We are your partner in success. 

Ventilation Systems

Ventilation systems help direct smoke out of the building and away from the occupants. 

These active fire protection systems are typically installed based on certain legal criteria such as occupancy and building size. Higher than average risk areas, such as areas with flames or cooking implements might require additional active systems for added protection. 

How do passive and active fire protection measures work together?

A combined effort of passive and active systems is essential to the safety of your building and its occupants. Active systems effectively help occupants evacuate or fight the flames, these systems typically have a greater likelihood of error. 

Passive systems should be installed throughout the building as a way to support active systems. A great example of passive and active systems working together is smoke curtains. These passive fire protection systems help direct smoke toward vents, where smoke can leave the building. Passive systems can also help force flames and smoke to remain in one area.

New buildings should implement these passive fire protection systems into the design and build phase of construction. Our Design/Build team at VFS can help ensure your building is protected from harm when it is finished. Older buildings, which do not have these passive systems built-in, can be retrofitted with smoke curtains and panels as an added layer of protection. 

Active and passive fire protection systems together can prevent expensive damages, catastrophic injuries, and potential loss of life. Implementing both systems into your building is essential to the safety of your building. 

At VFS, we believe in helping your company meet the needs of your unique building. Every building is different, every building needs different protection systems in place. Our teams think creatively to come up with solutions that ensure your building remains safe from harm. Reach out to us today to see how we can help your business today! 

Your 2021 Fire protection checklist

By Jackie Berens

Your 2021 Fire Protection Checklist

It’s a new year… you’ve already skipped the gym don’t skip on your fire protection. Here’s a checklist to help

We’re four days into the new year, if you haven’t already ditched your resolutions, you’re amazing. We’re not going to lie… we snuck a piece of chocolate cake after dinner last night. While a piece of chocolate cake, or a day off of the gym won’t seriously harm your wellbeing, there is one resolution you can’t forget about- fire protection for your building.

This year, it’s time to make fire protection a top priority. That being said, we’ve come up with a few items that should be on the top of your mind if you’re committed to fire safety. 

First, ensure your building has a clear path of egress/ exit. 

Identifying the ‘means of egress’ from your building is essential to keeping your employees safe from harm. Properly designed exits provide a safe path of escape from a fire or other emergency environments. The design of the exit should permit all occupants to reach a safe place before they are endangered by fire, smoke, or heat. The goal of an effective means of egress is to get everyone out of hazardous areas in the shortest amount of time possible.

A few components make up the means of egress, including exit access, exit, and exit discharge.

  • Exit access is the travel path or area between where a person is located and an exit.
  • Exit is the portion of the means of egress that is separated by construction or equipment from other areas of the building. Components of an exit include walls, floors, doors, etc. An exit may include vertical or horizontal means of travel, like stairways, ramps, and passageways. It is important to note that elevators are not accepted as exits!
  • Exit discharge is the portion of a means of egress between the end of the exit and a public way or other safe places.

As a building manager or owner, it is important that you self-inspect these means of egress. In doing this, you need to make sure each component is easily identifiable, visible, accessible, and unobstructed. The door must operate in the direction of the exit so people won’t be trapped inside. 

Next, check your electrical wiring and power cords.

NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) ensures all wiring and electrical installations comply with regulations. Building owners and managers do not need to be an expert in electrical code, however there are a few things you should be on the lookout for to be cautious!

The first thing you should do to ensure your electrical wiring is safe is to ensure all electrical boxes, switches, and outlets have their covers in place. Also, be sure to check that extension cords are in good condition and free of any cuts or splices. Extension cords should never be a substitute for permanent wiring, they are only permitted to be used with temporary equipment. 

Surge protectors must be connected directly to an outlet and, like extension cords, cannot be attached to the structure, extend through walls or the ceilings, be run under doors, or be covered by floor coverings.

The last item to check in the electrical wiring category is electrical panel boxes. Electrical panel boxes and main building disconnect must be identified and accessible for fire department personnel. All panels and breakers must be labeled and open spaces should have proper covers in place. 

Good housekeeping is essential– no we’re not talking about dusting and mopping. 

In the ‘fire safety’ sense, housekeeping refers to the general condition of the building and the items stored within it. Be sure you properly dispose of flammables, combustibles, trash, and debris, and ensure these items do not accumulate. Flammables and combustible liquids must be stored in approved containers and cabinets and should be clearly labeled to avoid accidental ignition. 

Electrical, boiler and HVAC rooms cannot be used for storage and must remain clear of items that are not essential to the operation of the equipment within them. 

Ensure fire sprinkler systems run effectively in between inspections

Fire sprinkler systems must meet NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-based Fire Protection Systems requirements. These standards require that different parts of the sprinkler systems receive inspections in quarterly, semi-annual, annual, and five-year intervals. 

The inspections are performed by the fire protection contractors and other qualified personnel. As a building owner or manager, you do not have to directly handle any of the actual inspections. However, as a building owner, there are a few things you can do to ensure these inspections run efficiently and effectively, starting with scheduling the inspection appointments when due!

Once you receive an inspection, you must maintain the report and other documentation, as well as ensure all problems found are repaired as soon as possible. 

A building owner or manager can utilize a simple visual inspection to ensure these systems run effectively between inspections. First, ensure that no items are stored within 18” of any sprinkler head. Next, ensure all sprinkler heads are free of paint and corrosion and nothing is attached to them. If you come across violations of these requirements during your visual inspections, the issues should be reported and remedied immediately. 

Fire alarm maintenance and inspections

Under NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code all fire alarm systems must be inspected, tested, and maintained at semi-annual, annual, and even quarterly intervals. Like sprinkler systems, these inspections are done by trained and certified inspection personnel. Fire alarm system experts are trained in the inspection, maintenance, and testing of a particular brand of fire alarm systems. 

As a building owner, your responsibility is to maintain all reports and correct any deficiencies noted. Building owners and managers can also make sure the fire alarm panel is accessible, the location is labeled, and all documentation is maintained and available. Manual pull stations should be visible and accessible. All alerts should be reported to the alarm company so that any issues can be addressed quickly. 

Lastly, look at your fire extinguisher. 

NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers illustrates the requirements to select, place, test, and maintain fire extinguishers. A trained and certified expert must perform annual inspection and maintenance. Additionally, building owners are responsible for inspecting all extinguishers once a month.

The inspection requires that extinguishers are visible and accessible. They must also be free of rust, damage, and the gauge read in the “green” operation level. Additionally, all extinguishers must mount on the wall. The weight of the extinguisher determines the appropriate height of placement: 40 lbs or less may be installed at 5 feet above the floor. Any heavier should sit at a maximum height of 3 ½ feet. The base must be at least 4 inches above the floor. 

As you look to ensure your fire safety in your building for the new year, start by utilizing this checklist! Ensuring you remain prepared for the unexpected is the first step to ensuring the safety of your people and your building’s safety.

Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays

By Jackie Berens

Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays

When you light it up on NYE, make sure it’s not an actual fire hazard!

It’s almost the New Year, and you know what that means… it’s time to light it up! But be careful, as 2020 has shown us, you can never be too careful with your health and safety. In other words, don’t go out of 2020 with a literal bang.

Figuratively, yes light it up, go out with a bang, and forget about the past 365 days! But keep in mind a few fire safety precautions as you do it. We’re a fire prevention company, what else would we be talking about going into the New Year?

Your smoke detector may be annoying, but there’s a reason. 

We understand the ringing from a smoke detector is the last thing you need during the holidays. However, smoke detectors have a purpose and that is to keep you safe. Be sure your smoke detectors are up-to-date and have working batteries. 

Just like the airport, unattended baggage- in this case, pots and pans- should be subject to removal. 

The holiday season brings about quite a few family dinners and get-togethers that are centered around a meal. With aunts, uncles, or even just your immediate family, the kitchen can get a bit chaotic during the holiday season. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and distracted, and potentially forget about a pan on the stove or a simmering pot. 

The majority of kitchen fires begin with unattended pots and pans. While you’re cooking it’s important to remain present and aware of your surroundings. Another useful tip is to keep the clutter away as much as possible. 

Rockin’ around an open flame just isn’t as catchy…

The glow of your Christmas tree is beautiful, we agree, however, be sure you take precautions to ensure your safety. Be sure your tree remains hydrated and away from any heat source. According to the NFPA, 25% of the Christmas tree fires that occur do so because the tree was too close to a heat source, like a candle or space heater.  Christmas trees are one of the most common fire hazards during the holidays.

Yes, we know it is cold, yes, the ambiance of your fireplace is perfect, but please be careful. 

According to the NFPA, heating equipment is the second-greatest cause of home fires each year. We understand that heating your home is important, you need to stay warm and cozy during these cold months, however you also need to stay safe. The last thing you want is to be standing out in the freezing cold while the fire department hoses down your house!

When using a space heater, ensure it is at least 3 feet from items that might burn, including decor, upholstery, and your Christmas tree.

As far as your fireplace goes, be sure your damper is open, a protective screen is in play, and your gifts and other items remain far away. Fireplaces can crackle and release embers that could spark into something bigger and more dangerous.

Overpacking your outlet is not like overpacking for your holiday vacation… it’s worse.  

While there are plenty of things that need to be plugged in during the holiday season, it’s important to be careful not to overcrowd outlets. Electrical shorts and malfunctions are one of the leading causes of devastating electrical fires. 

As you string your lights and plug more decor into an outlet, be sure the outlet’s total load does not exceed 15 amps. While it may be tempting to have your house shining at all times during the holidays, be sure you turn off your decor when you leave the house and when you go to bed. 

Be aware of indoor and outdoor decor

As you decorate for each respective holiday, it’s important to test all lights and cords and replace anything faulty before you use them. Ensure all candles are placed out of reach of children and away from flammable objects, be sure to extinguish them before you leave the room and go to sleep. 

As far as outdoor decor goes, be sure to only use extension cords and light displays intended for outdoor use. Those cords should be kept away from both snow and standing water to avoid damage to the insulation. Be sure the cords are not pinched in doors, windows, or placed under furniture. Keep in mind, metal ladders conduct electricity, opt for a wood or fiberglass ladder instead. 

The last thing you need in 2020 is to lose a finger, be careful with your fireworks. 

You may want to celebrate the start of 2021 with fireworks, understandable, it’s tradition, but be aware of the potential safety hazards that fireworks come with. When used inappropriately, fireworks can present a few added risks. 

According to the NFPA, 10% of fireworks fires occur during the period from December 30- January 3, with a peak on New Years Day.

Be sure if you do set off fireworks on your own, you check local laws prior, you choose a location away from buildings and trees, and your spectators stand well away from the actual site. Keep water or a fire extinguisher close by in case of emergency. As we Californians know, if you’re experiencing a drought in your area, it is recommended that you cancel the show. 

While all of these safety precautions may seem daunting as you work to tackle the holidays, they are extremely important to your safety. From our team at VFS, we wish you happy and safe holidays!

5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency

By Jackie Berens

5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency

Stop, drop, and roll, that’s all we need to know about fires right? Not exactly… While that advice is extremely important when you catch on fire, during a fire you need to know exactly what to do, and what not to do. Here are a few tips!

One of the biggest mistakes people make in structural fires is opening various doors without checking for an alternate escape route.

While yes, fleeing the scene is an important instinct during a fire, sometimes opening a door can cause more damage than good.  Fires require oxygen to spread. When you open a door (especially one that is warm) the fire receives that oxygen, therefore exposing you to dangerous heat levels and toxic carbon monoxide gas. 

Before you open a door to exit, check for alternate routes where flames have not spread. If you are on the first level of the building, a window can also act as a great exit plan. 

What if the fire started or spread in the room you’re in?

If the fire is in the room you’re in, and you need to open a door to exit the danger, please do! However, be sure you close the door behind you to ensure you give a barrier to the fire. Opening the door will invite the fire to spread and potentially follow you out. In an effort to contain the fire, close the door behind you! 

While the elevator may seem like the quickest way out, if there’s a fire it could put you in real danger! 

If there’s a fire in your building, avoid the elevators at all costs. The stairs are the safest, best option during a fire. During a fire, elevators can malfunction, disable, or experience various electrical issues. When you are in a high-rise or larger building locate the emergency exits and stairwells to ensure you remain safe. 

Fire extinguishers are great, but you need to know how to use them!

Fire extinguishers can save you during a fire. With fire extinguishers, it is important to understand how to use them. The most common mistake with fire extinguishers is that you aim too high on top of the flames. In order to be most effective, the fire extinguisher needs to be pointed at the base. 

When using a fire extinguisher, pull the pin, aim at the base of the flames, squeeze the trigger, and sweep from side to side. As a business owner, it’s important to check fire extinguishers for expiration. Fire extinguishers should be replaced every few years. 

Don’t break the windows

Fire-related deaths are typically caused by smoke inhalation rather than the heat of the fire itself. With that being said, breaking windows during a fire allows the fire to gain more access to oxygen, helping the fire grow, and decreasing your ability to escape. When you keep the windows closed you are starving the fire. 

Do not return to the building for your belongings. 

As you’re told when you’re in elementary school, leave all your belongings and allow the first responders to fight the fire. You might think you have time to grab a few things, but fire can move quicker than you expect. 

It’s important to understand what you need to do, and not do in case of a fire. We understand it can be challenging to not panic when a fire occurs. The best thing you can do is leave it in a safe way, and allow the first responders to take care of it.

5 movie myths about fire that may surprise you

By Jackie Berens

5 Fire Safety Movie Myths that May Surprise You

The Only Thing that Should Burn is a Disco Inferno

We’ve all seen the scene in The Incredibles when a small amount of smoke from a self-destructing note causes the entire sprinkler system to go off and douse the family. Movies are designed to bring impossibility to reality for viewers. With alien invasions, transforming cars, and flying humans that’s just fine. But one movie effect that is misconceived too frequently is fire safety, and it can be dangerous. 

Sprinkler systems don’t drench you.

One of the most blatant false portrayals of fire protection systems is the use of fire sprinklers. Countless movies have shown us characters getting doused with water after a tiny amount of smoke is near a single sprinkler. 

Sorry to disappoint, but the scene in Die Hard when John McLean sets off all the sprinklers with a lighter is not feasible outside of the big screen. Hollywood dramatics make our perception of fire protection systems skewed.

In reality, each sprinkler head is triggered individually. As the heat spreads throughout a building, more sprinkler heads are activated. While deluge systems do exist, they are not as common and are typically used in very specific applications such as power plants, aircraft hangers, and chemical plants. 

A little smoke doesn’t trigger your sprinkler system

Smoke actually does not trigger a sprinkler system to turn on. Despite what The Incredibles depicts, sprinkler systems detect heat in a building and activate based on the heat temperature within the room. In Changing Lanes we see a similar movie myth, Ben Affleck lights a piece of paper on fire and holds it under a sprinkler head, triggering all the sprinkler heads in the office building. As this might add to the theatrics of a Hollywood flick it is not the mechanical truth of a fire sprinkler system.

Pulling the fire alarm does not discharge water.

Remember the scene in Mean Girls when the principal hits the fire alarm pull station with a baseball bat and all the sprinkler heads go off? Yeah… that’s not true either. Activating a pull station doesn’t trigger the sprinklers to dispel water, it sends a signal to the main fire alarm panel which activates the alarm and notifies occupants to get out of the building. 

If every time a fire alarm pull station was activated, even accidentally (which happens quite frequently especially in educational environments) and the sprinklers went off, it would cause an immense amount of property damage. Here’s how it REALLY works: when pulling a fire alarm pull station, the alarm sends a signal to the fire alarm panel and activates the alarm to notify occupants to leave. 

You can use the wrong type of fire extinguisher. 

Firefighters use dry chemical extinguishers or hose lines to extinguish fires, like the car fire in Terminator 3. The firefighters in Terminator 3 use carbon dioxide fire extinguishers to try to put out the car fire, which, in reality, could have made it worse. In real fire situations, the wrong type of fire extinguisher could spread the fire or not put out the flames. Here’s a quick recap of the different types of fire extinguishers and their uses: 

  • Class A: freely burning, combustible solid materials such as wood or paper
  • Class B: flammable liquid or gas
  • Class C: energized electrical fire (energized electrical source serves as the ignitor of a class A or B fire – if electrical source is removed, it is no longer a class C fire)
  • Class D: metallic fire (titanium, zirconium, magnesium, sodium)
  • Class K: cooking fires – animal or vegetable oils or fats

Using the elevator after the fire alarm or sprinkler goes off won’t work.

A fire breaks out on the 13th floor, the main character jumps into the elevator to get away. If this was actually possible, it would be extremely dangerous. When fire protection systems activate, the elevators will be removed from normal service and recalled to a specific landing. This action prevents the possibility of occupants being delivered to a smoke or flame-filled area. 

Understanding what fire protection services can do for you is an important part of your building safety. While most of the movie scenes are extremely entertaining, they don’t give you an accurate representation of what you should do when a fire occurs. As you start considering your fire prevention tactics, begin with implementing the proper fire safety measures in your building.

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Active vs. Passive Fire Protection
Active vs. Passive Fire Protection
Your 2021 Fire protection checklist
Your 2021 Fire Protection Checklist
Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays
Top 7 Fire Hazards Around the Holidays
5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency
5 Things Not to do During a Fire Emergency
5 movie myths about fire that may surprise you
5 Fire Safety Movie Myths that May Surprise You