Updated: Feb 16
Rather than working at odds with one another, active and passive fire protection both have their places in the home and workspace and must work together to ensure the safety of everyone.
For most of the 20th Century, most fire protection measures, such as fire doors, fire resistant walls, fire resistant glazing, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems have been the on-the-market, go-to products. The newest member of the fire protection team is the fire curtain, which carefully sits in both the active and passive category.
But what are Active and Passive fire protection measures, and how does categorising the products benefit us?
Passive Fire Protection (PFP) measures, as defined by the ASFP Black Book, uses ‘compartmentation to restrict the spread of fire and smoke, protect escape routes and provide access for fire fighters,’ while Active Fire Protection (AFP) measures include ‘fire detection and alarm measures to alert and evacuate building inhabitants, suppression systems to extinguish or restrict the growth of the fire and smoke control systems.’
By separating fire protection measures into active or passive, we can appreciate how fire safety measures in the workplace, and some homes, needs to follow a two-pronged approach, and how fire protection can be undertaken by using a multi-approach method. By ensuring this multi-approach, you can ensure that your space is properly, and appropriately, protected from the devastating effects of fire.
Active Fire Protection (AFP) Measures
AFP measures involve activation which allow the component to begin to perform, for example in a smoke detector, the machine will pick up smoke particles and will then sound the alarm loudly for all to hear. This will then trigger a variety of responses from fire protection tools, be they fire doors, the sprinkler system, or even the illumination of emergency lighting.
The AFP category could then be split down again into manual or automatic, for example a sprinkler system which starts automatically, or a foam fire extinguisher that is manually deployed by a human agent.
Whether automatic or manual, active fire measures begin from the triggering of an alarm or warning, and all work to directly extinguish, suppress, or contain a fire that is already ignited, or restrict fire spreading.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 overtly discusses the use of ‘fire-fighting equipment with fire-detectors and alarms,’ putting the onus of fire safety on the owner, occupier, or management company linked to the building and ensures that if a fire were to break out, the fire is more likely to be suppressed or extinguished before it can cause too much damage.
Passive Fire Protection (PFP) Measures
Passive Fire protection refers to fire safety measures that are usually hidden away in very structure of the buildings we live and work in, for example in the building expectations that ‘walls and/or floors [have] fire-resisting construction’ as outlined in BS 9999: 2017. These ‘structural measures’ minimise the risk of fire spreading through buildings, and helps limit the risk of early collapse, as they can provide integral building support. This gives people longer to evacuate, emergency services have longer to secure the building, and limits the damage inflicted upon the building itself, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Fire-proofing structures such as walls, ceilings, and floors, and utilising fire-resistant doors, and glazing allows for more effective compartmentation, which as we know, prevents the damage, and spread of sometimes deadly fires. This could be to other rooms, or more dangerous fuel sources, for example keeping a fire that started in a room filled with old files and papers away from the electronics-filled office next door. Similarly, it can make it easier to distinguish the original fire if it is contained in one space alone.
Contrastingly to AFP, PFPs do not need to be “activated” by an emergency alarm, they are always in use, and ready, if they are maintained correctly. They also do not need any human involvement (except for during installation and maintenance) for them to carry out their job.
Fire Curtains: The Active, Passive solution
Fire curtains are fire-resistant rolls of fabric, fitted to walls, doorways, over windows, atria, or between floors, for example, in buildings to help compartmentalise the building and impede the spread of fire, and smoke (depending on the specification used). These solutions require no human involvement to utilise them in the event of a fire but are released either by a fire or smoke alarm signal, or by a gravity fail-safe, reminiscent of the definition of an AFP.
Fire curtains for this reason, are example of a product that is both highly specialised but can fit in both categories of active and passive fire protection, depending on its usage within the property.
In some older terraces of houses, roof spaces can be shared between party walls, and as this is a costly fix, some install loft curtains to compartmentalise the loft space and install and protect a boundary with the neighbour. This type of application of a fire curtain would be truly passive, as the curtain does not descend at the call of a smoke or fire alarm, it stays fixed into place after installation.
However, Adexon® Fire Curtains, vertical, horizontal, or concertina, are installed to deploy at the call of a fire or smoke alarm and remain in place for the duration of a fire; meaning that they are defined as an Active Fire Protection measure.
Prevention is Better than Cure.
The best fire protection, either in a residential or business setting, is certainly a combination of active and passive solutions. While both solutions will work independently of each other, AFPs will work overtly to try to extinguish the fire while PFPs will protect quietly to allow safe access in and out of the building and minimise physical damage to the buildings structure and beyond.
Both measures are essential to protecting the lives of the inhabitants, and the building itself, and work most effectively together, alongside routine, and competent maintenance, to provide you with the confidence you are looking for in your fire protection products.
 Associate for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP), ‘Black Book: Active Fire Curtains,’ 1st Edition 2020, page 35.
 UK Statutory Instruments, ‘The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005,’ part 2: Fire Safety Duties, 13:1 A&B, <https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1541/part/2/made> 11.10.2021
 The British Standards Institution, BS 9999: 2017, page 56.
 CLM fireproofing, ‘What are active and passive fire protection systems?’ <https://clmfireproofing.com/what-are-active-and-passive-fire-protection-systems/ > 11.10.2021
Cover image from Pexels.com, courtesy of Oluwaseun Duncan