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Fire Curtains

An Introduction to Fire Curtains and the Benefits of Fire Curtains

October 2, 2012

Throughout the ages and well into the modern world, the one inescapable disaster that wields the most power equally over everyone is fire. As fires take hold, it is the smoke — not the fire itself — that claims the most lives. It is nearly impossible to endure the noxious gases as they are emitted, building up into a superheated dense blanket of fumes. 

There has been no shortage of great conflagrations that stand as evidence to the fact that fire is nothing to be dismissed or trifled with. Despite the lessons from the past, no amount of effort made to cut combustible exposure will completely eliminate the threat of fire, a power unto itself that knows no bounds in its drive to kill and maim the innocent. 

Nevertheless, both companies and individuals in the UK have taken responsibility to ensure that fires do not occur. Due to their actions, there has been a steady decline in serious fires in recent years. Compliancy with legislation and health and safety regulations has largely contributed to non-residential sectors, such as hospitals, hotels, schools, factories and other work places showing a reduction in casualties. Attributed to this effort is ever improving fire protection technology, and in particular, the improvements made in the manufacture of fire curtains.

What are Fire Curtains?

Fire curtains are not a new concept; it may even have been the incident of a serious fire in 1887 at the Theatre Royal in Exeter that forced theatre owners to realise the great potential for disaster in their buildings. It was the tragic loss of life in examples of theatre fires that prompted the necessity for fire curtains. When a backstage blaze occurs, patrons must have an opportunity to safely evacuate before the overwhelming smoke can claim so many victims. So great is this danger that yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre is the only unprotected speech in America. 

A departure from the standard steel fire shutters used to create a temporary barrier between people and property and the ensuing fire, fire curtains introduce a greatly improved alternative. Simply, a fire curtain is a motorised, roller-blind placed inside a galvanised steel housing. This fire-rated fabric, when not in use remains retracted, but in the event of a fire, it descends to provide the protective barrier. Vertical guides along the sides successfully create a seal. They are less obtrusive than fire-rated glass or roller shutters, lower in cost and only require minimal structural support. 

As quickly as the world advances in the use of materials to manufacture everyday fabrics, furniture, paint, appliances, flooring, and a virtually endless list of items that would be found in homes, offices, entertainment venues, a multitude of working environments and more, the risk of exposure to noxious fumes from fire increases rather than decreases. In spite of the fact that this country is blessed with a fire brigade that quickly comes upon a scene to effectively extinguish a blaze, as with all emergencies, the first few moments are the most critical to survival.

This is exactly where the safety net of fire curtains is crucial to the survival of persons and property in a building that may become engulfed in flames. In a day and age of growing fears of terrorist threats, safety concerns, fire and other disasters, fire curtains are the best solution. As large buildings with wide open areas have become the trend for businesses and service operations, evacuation routes can be safely established in coordination with fire marshals to place fire curtain protection where the greatest fleeing footfall occurs. Hospital critical dependency units where patient evacuation is more difficult presents another opportunity for well-placed fire curtains. 

How Do Fire Curtains Operate?

Through automatic activation, smoke and fire curtains are deployed upon receiving the signal from a smoke or fire detector. Should there be a loss of power, they also have a fail-safe option that allows them to fall to a predetermined level under the influence of gravity. The curtain fabric forms a seal with the building, resisting powerful positive or negative pressures produced by fire. A bottom bar can either form a seal with a flat floor or be fitted to accommodate uneven floors.

The control panels are simple to operate and maintain with features that include obstruction sensors, audio/visual warnings and retract buttons. They are all operated with a battery back-up as standard. Building designers, in fact, require the implementation of fire curtains as a replacement of partition walls typically spanning large openings. Using the curtains to create compartments is instrumental in assisting ventilators to efficiently extract the buoyant, hot smoke as it rises. Smoke that is free to circulate throughout a building will cool and return to ground levels where it presents a danger to those trying to escape.

Easy to Install

One of the greatest advantages in the installation of fire curtains is the ability to retro-fit them to existing structures. Fire prevention consultants can assist in determining the best possible positioning for their most effective use. A discreet fit may be achieved in order to avoid any undue concerns for the public. Finally, it is also possible to create bespoke fire curtains suitable for the most complex smoke control system in spite of the building type. 

The use of fire curtains protects buildings from smoke damage or flames that would otherwise get out of control. Compared to sprinkler systems, fire curtains will not produce a deluge that can cause further property damage. Ultimately, it all comes down to the ability to have a two to four-hour window of time before fire crews arrive in which occupants are able to evacuate to safety.

Author – Kevin Fitzgibbon

Blaze Fire Technology Fire Curtains