While most construction-based professionals understand that passive fire protection (PFP) is integral to building safety, there are still many common myths about fireproofing within the industry. This article was created to demystify many of them and provide accurate information about fireproofing systems so that industry professionals can make more informed decisions about fire safety in building design, construction, and maintenance.

Myth 1: Passive Fire Protection is the same as Active Fire Protection

Defining passive and active fire protection

Active fire protection is about detecting, stopping and escaping a fire, while passive fire protection relates to containing and preventing it from spreading.

Active Fire Protection

Active fire protection requires some type of action to be taken to detect and stop or contain a fire. This usually involves a person or system taking action, including manually using fire extinguishers and automatic smoke detectors that trigger alarms and sprinklers. Active fire protection products include fire hoses, portable fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, smoke ventilation, fire alarm systems and emergency evacuation voice communication systems.

Passive Fire Protection

The objective of passive fire protection is to prevent the spread of a fire throughout a building using a fireproofing method called compartmentation. Its role is paramount in safeguarding people, as well as limiting damage to buildings and their contents from fire and smoke. The term ‘passive fire protection’ refers to the fact that this approach to fireproofing does not require human intervention in the event of a fire. Passive fire protection products are used together to create a fireproofing system, which is then installed into a building. These products include – fire retardant board, vermiculite, intumescent paint and fire collars, amongst many others.

Although the most effective approach to fireproofing includes both active and passive fire protection systems, the two approaches differ significantly in their objectives and subsequent installation.

“One of the biggest misconceptions I see in the industry is people thinking that because they have sprinklers – everything else is covered. In the event of a fire, so much can go wrong – including the water pump blowing up and active fire being unavailable. Passive fire will stop the spread of gas and fire and ensure that it stays within the compartment it was started (for a guaranteed period), without water damage.” – Jye Bohm, PROFINISH Director

Myth 2: Once Installed, Passive Fire Protection Requires No Maintenance

Despite including the term ‘passive’ – passive fire protection cannot be installed and not maintained. All fireproofing requires regular testing and ongoing maintenance to ensure the fireproofing systems remain effective. Regular maintenance –

Over time, passive fire protection elements can degrade due to environmental factors and wear and tear. Regular inspections allow for identifying any issues, such as cracks, gaps, or deterioration, that may compromise the integrity of these elements. Maintenance also preserves the fire resistance ratings that every fire system must meet, by ensuring that the elements remain intact and functional.

Finally, building codes and regulations require the installation and maintenance of passive fire protection measures to meet safety standards. Regular inspections and maintenance ensure legal compliance with these requirements, reducing the risk of penalties or legal issues resulting from non-compliance.

Guidelines for maintenance schedules

To ensure consistent maintenance of fireproofing systems, maintenance schedules should be established. While local Building Codes and Standards outline specific criteria for assessing the condition of fire-rated assemblies, the manufacturers of passive fire protection products also provide guidelines for their installation, inspection, and maintenance. These recommendations usually include information on the expected service life of the products, recommended inspection intervals, and maintenance procedures to ensure optimal performance.

Myth 3: All Fire-Resistant Materials are Equal

Many think all fire-resistant materials are interchangeable and offer the same outcome. In reality, fireproofing is significantly more intricate than that. Each fireproofing material has been designed for a specific purpose.

Using materials that do not meet the required fire resistance ratings will result in inadequate protection against fire –

  • Some fireproofing materials may lack durability, especially when exposed to environmental factors such as moisture, humidity, or UV radiation. Over time, these materials may degrade or deteriorate, diminishing their ability to provide reliable fire protection.
  • Utilising the incorrect materials also introduces an issue with the compatibility between fireproofing materials within a fireproofing system.
  • Choosing incompatible materials may also result in poor adhesion, delamination, or detachment of the material from the intended surface, compromising the effectiveness of the entire fire protection system and the building itself.

Myth 4: Passive Fire Protection is Only Necessary in High-Risk Areas

Passive fire protection (PFP) is often misunderstood as only necessary in specific areas of buildings, but in reality, its importance extends throughout all types of structures. Since fireproofing plays a critical role in safeguarding lives and ensuring the structural integrity of buildings in the event of a fire, one can see how important its presence is in buildings of every kind.

Fireproofing not only contains fire within its area of origin and prevents its rapid spread to adjacent spaces, but it also plays a vital role in maintaining the structural stability of buildings during a fire. Fire-resistant materials protect structural elements like steel columns, beams, and concrete slabs from the effects of heat, preventing premature collapse and structural failure, as well as the damage that would entail.

Legal responsibilities

Outside of the obvious safety benefits of fire protection in any building, fireproofing is required by law. The building codes and standards established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Code Council (ICC), Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) and Australian Standard document AS1851 include the inspection and maintenance of passive fire protection systems as a legal requirement.

Myth 5: Passive Fire Protection is Too Expensive

In many cases, the value of fire protection is underestimated. It is often perceived as a significant and often unnecessary expense. Because of this, many project managers try to cut corners by doing the bare minimum and assuming that it will suffice. This approach is not only dangerous but will mean that the fireproofing that has been installed will not meet compliance requirements, and the building will not receive its Occupancy permit.

While passive fire protection systems may involve an initial investment, there are significant long-term savings and benefits regarding safety and insurance –

Reduced Property Damage

Although the size of a building plays a significant role in determining the cost of fire protection, buildings usually require a fire protection budget of between 2-5% of the total construction budget. This number pales compared to the costs associated with the material used to create the building, its value, and its assets.

Lower Insurance Premiums

Insurance providers also recognise the importance of passive fire protection. Insurers view buildings equipped with robust PFP systems more favourably, leading to lower insurance premiums.

Trust the experts 

Clarity around passive fire protection dispels false assumptions, allowing more informed decisions, resources to be more appropriately allocated, and minimising the risks of non-compliance penalties or safety hazards.

With years of experience in the fire protection industry, PROFINISH offers accurate, current and knowledgeable expertise on any passive fireproofing issue. Download the PROFINISH capability statement (at the foot of the page) to experience our depth of knowledge and expertise in fire safety for yourself. Then, get in touch with a member of our team to assist you in your next fireproofing solution.