Imagine you're in an unfamiliar building. You can't see the flames, but you know there's a fire somewhere. An alarm is sounding, and there is smoke everywhere. It's beginning to make you cough, and your eyes sting. You're a little disorientated, too: are you heading to safety?
A truly frightening situation. But one entirely preventable. And just as not all fires are the same, there is more than one way you can prevent a fire from spreading, too.
Fire Roller Shutters and Fire Curtains are two highly effective, yet different, methods of controlling a fire's spread.
Here, we explain just how they differ.
One obvious difference is in their construction.
Fire roller shutters have slatted galvanised steel in their construction. What gauge of steel is used depends on the width of the opening it's for. A single doorway, for example, can have steel made of a lighter gauge than a much wider opening would require. Here, heavier gauge slats are needed to increase the strength and integrity of the shutter.
Fitted into metal guides on either side of an opening or doorway, the shutters – as their name suggests – roll down automatically in the event of a fire to form a secure and fire-resisting barrier. Activation is by way of a magnetic release triggered by the fire alarm system.
With fire roller shutters installed, it's possible to compartmentalise a building should the worst ever happen. Once activated, they confine any fire to the area it started. And so limiting the damage smoke and flames would otherwise cause if allowed to spread throughout the building.
Another vital benefit of compartmentalisation is that it creates safe evacuation routes for those inside a building. Holding back smoke and flames buys valuable time for everyone to escape.
All fire roller shutters are rated in terms of the fire protection it offers. This is known as the Fire Resistance Level, with ratings of 1, 2 and 4 hours duration.
Fire curtains also share some of the same properties as a fire roller shutter. But there are one or two important differences, too.
Fire curtains are typically made from a woven fibreglass material rather than steel. Being a lighter and more flexible material, means a fire curtain can be used to cover much wider openings than is possible with a roller shutter.
This flexibility and weight difference also means they take up much less space. Making it easier to conceal within a ceiling, for example - you'll only know it's there once it's been released. Fire roller shutter fittings, on the other hand, are bulkier and so more obvious.
Alarm systems are also the trigger for fire curtains. And use the same type of magnetic release.
Another important difference with fire curtains is that they are a better at preventing the spread of smoke. With fire roller shutters, smoke can sometimes leak through the slats. Smoke often contains highly toxic particles and so being able to prevent its spread is as important as containing any flames.
In some buildings with more than one floor, fire curtains are fitted so that each floor level can be separated in the event of a fire. In addition to being activated by an alarm system, these fire curtains can also be set in place to provide overnight protection when the building is empty.
Like fire roller shutters, fire curtains are also rated. And have the same Fire Resistance Levels ranging from 1 to 4 hours. Although constructed differently, their design still provides protection from fire and smoke for long enough to enable people to escape before the emergency services arrive.
Constructed from steel, fire roller shutters provide a strong physical barrier to any fire. But this means they can't be broken through without specialist cutting equipment. And so can impede both access and escape. With fire curtains it's possible to pull a curtain out of its metal guide-rail to allow escape or for the Fire Brigade to gain access.
Both do exactly what they're designed to do: prevent the spread of fire and smoke as well as provide safe escape routes for those inside a building.
As for which is best for you, the level of fire risk is obviously a factor. But the overriding factor is what the fire regulations demand for your premises. Fire curtains may be perfectly acceptable. But for high-risk areas, fire roller shutters are probably going to be the only option. And sometimes it's a case of having both.
Fire roller shutters not only form a strong barrier against fire they also offer some additional security from their galvanised steel construction. Something fire curtains can't do.
In open-plan offices, for example, fire curtains are going to be more ascetically pleasing to the eye than a steel roller shutter. And probably perfectly acceptable for such an environment. But where there is a risk of a fire causing an explosion, then steel roller shutters are going to contain – or at least limit – its effect far better than a fire curtain will.
To know exactly what you need and where you need it, only a professional can advise you.
Perhaps you're considering Fire Roller Shutters or Fire Curtains as a part of your Fire Protection strategy? If you're based in Essex, London or the South East, we can help.
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