What are the Limitations of an Active Fire Curtain?

Updated: Apr 21

Active Fire Curtains are examples of Active Fire Protection measures and are increasingly being applied in projects that want to utilise, flexible, open plan spaces, or protect lift shafts, or exposed atria.


However, Active Fire Curtains are not suitable for all projects that need fire protection, and sometimes more traditional methods work best.


So, when is it best to leave the Fire Curtains for another project?

Compartmentation Principles

To ensure fire safety, buildings need to maintain compartmentation principles. This limits, and potentially stops fire spread from one area to another, to allow for

  • safer emergency egress from a burning building, and

  • limited potential damage spread.


The concept of compartmentation means that the building is divided up into manageable areas of risk to prevent the spread of smoke and fire, to allow occupants to escape and to provide safe access for fire-fighters. [1]


This is normally achieved through passive measures such as fire-resisting walls and floors, including fire doors, fire-resistant glazing, and ductwork, to ensure that fire cannot pass behind and along pipework. To class it as fire-resistant, the walls, doors, glazing etc, must remain intact and disallow the movement of flames, smoke, or hot gases for the duration of time specified by Approved Document B, which is generally between 30-120-minutes.

Why would I use an Active Fire Curtain?

The introduction of Active Fire Curtains however removes the need for these bulky, and often space limiting, passive features.


Active Fire Curtains can be fitted around pre-existing features, into a false ceiling which allows compartmentation to be maintained during a fire. This allows for space to be manipulated day-to-day, and for completely open floor plans to remain. This is increasingly popular with offices, community centres, and warehousing, as it gives users the flexibility to use space, or store stock, in potentially limitless orientations, while being able to maintain the whole space within their eye-line.


As such, Active Fire Curtain systems are the best option for:

  • projects that require open-plan or ever-changing floorspaces.

  • Retrofitting, due to the unobtrusive installation process means curtains can be designed around existing features and can be fitted sympathetically, so they do not interrupt the style and flow of the space.

  • Clients who do not wish to see fire protection. If the aesthetics of a space are important, Fire Curtains can be fitted inside a false ceiling, so it is only visible once deployed in event of a fire.

  • Uniquely- shaped spaces, for example, freestanding staircases or welcome desks inside an atrium, could be protected, regardless of shape, by an encapsulating concertina Fire Curtain.


When is a Fire Curtain not suitable?

For some projects, Active Fire Curtains are not the best form of Active Fire Protection. This may be because of aesthetic reasons, or due to specific project requirements.


Some examples of when Fire Curtains are not the best option are outlined below.

Fitting into existing plasterboard wall and door layouts, as they are designed to replace these.

If you wish to retain the layout that utilises a decorative doorway, for example, any in the image below, Fire Curtains can be applied in the ceiling to descend and cover these in event of a fire,[2]ensuring compartmentation is retained.


Traditional flat arch doorways however can be removed completely, to be replaced by an open plan design and automatic Fire Curtains, that maintain compartmentation principles, and limit fire and smoke spread during a fire.

Areas that utilise lots of sharp machinery or objects, as these may pierce the fabric.

While they are constructed from fibreglass and hand-stitched with stainless steel, Kevlar-coated seams, Fire Curtains are, of course, still made of fabric, so are at risk of ripping or tearing if used in a high-risk area. If torn, the Fire Curtain fabric must be replaced, and this can incur call out and repair fees.


Areas particularly at risk of puncture, from sharp tools or objects, could consider a Fire Shutter, which has the same benefits, and usage as a Fire Curtain, with increased rigidity and sturdiness.

A grey Adexon-FRS60 Fire Shutter

Staff Image.

Projects that require structural gaps, or anti-space, for example for ventilation or movement purposes.

We recently received a call from an individual wanting to put a Passive Fire Curtain, a Fire Curtain that is always deployed and remains stationary, into the loft space between theirs, and their neighbour’s property. However, due to the presence of bats in the loft, a small gap, about the size of a letterbox was required to be installed so the bats could pass through the curtain to the entrance and exit of the roof itself.


This was not achievable for a Fire Curtain as by putting a hole in the fabric, we are leaving a gap for fire and smoke to pass through, completely negating the safety benefits of an Active compartmentalisation product.


So, if your project requires a bat door or a similar small mammalian escape hatch, Active Fire Curtains are probably not the solution for you.

A small Brown Bat sat on a glove

Image from Pexels.com, courtesy of HitchHike.

Covering external doorways. Fire Curtains can stop fire but would be easy pickings for a potential intruder.

As we explored with sharp, pointed machinery, Active Fire Curtains would be reasonably easy to cut or tear with the right equipment, so they should be utilised for fire protection alone. If you require more hardwearing boundary protection, then a Fire Door would be more suitable. A Fire Shutter may not be utilised to meet fire safety requirements, they are required to close automatically, and in current regulations, automatic closing is not permitted for high-security shutters.[3]


A grey Adexon-FRS60 Fire Shutter

Staff Image.

So now you know when you cannot effectively utilise an Active Fire Curtain in your project, or when alternatives such as a Fire Door, or Fire Shutters might be best.


Despite these limitations, however, Active Fire Curtains can provide unrivalled layout options, an uninterrupted eyeline throughout your space, and a modern, minimalist finish, letting your décor or the people in the room do the talking when employed in the correct circumstances.


When would a Fire Curtain have been wrong for your project? What did you use instead? Tell us in the comments.

_____________________________________________________________________________

[1] ASFP, ‘Black Book: Active Fire Curtains 1st Edition 2020, page 9.

[2] Image from Home Stratosphere.com, ‘30 Types of Architectural Arches (with Illustrated Diagrams)’ <https://www.homestratosphere.com/types-of-eco-friendly-homes/> 28.01.2022

[3] Sandsshutters.net, ‘Fire Shutters vs Fire Curtains: Quick Guide,’ <https://www.sandsshutters.net/fire-shutters-vs-fire curtains/#:~:text=Fire%20shutters%20are%20slatted%20steel,activation%20of%20a%20fire%20alarm> 28.01.2022

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