Fire has been one of the major cause for property damage and casualties in human history. In ancient times, fire was extinguished using a bucket full of water on building materials that were often fragile and combustible. Since, this method took a lot of time and damage, innovations were made to make structures fire safe and improve emergency response. These innovations included use of flame retardant materials, structure fire resistance rating and fire insurance policies.
Fire retardants are often a subject of controversy in the consumer market. Some regard fire retardants as effective in stopping fires while others think about the term as a “bluff” in consumer market. Nevertheless, fire retardants in structure interior design plays a huge role not only in product pricing but also fire insurance premiums. Furniture, Couches, bed and upholstery all are considered fire safe if their material is a fire retardant. In fact, many regional and national fire safety laws consider fire flammability requirements in articles of furniture and upholstery. It is not just limited to residential elements but also auto and business. Fire safety is often considered in custom upholstered car and vehicle seats. Businesses like restaurants and factories often use flame retardant sprays on equipment and machines. Though, fire proofing interior elements like flame retardant furniture could be helpful in stopping a spark from leading to a fire (for example, cigarette ash) , it is not the ultimate fire safety standard in North America. Building safety requirements start with its construction more than interior design.
According to the building performance requirements, the structure should be tested for “structural compatibility, integration and safety”. “Heat and airflow should be controlled through building assemblies. Building codes and “zoning ordinances” (1) must be followed. As per the national fire protection association (NFPA 5000 or international codes) the NFPA-70, NFPA 101 and NFPA 13 are important safety codes that must be followed during commercial or residential construction. The NFPA-70 or the national electric code ensures public and building safety as well as its contents from “use of electricity for light, heat and power” (1). NFPA-101 ensures minimum fire safety requirements as well as protection from fire, smoke and gases. This is done through fire alarm systems, extinguishers and emergency response system. NFPA-13 governs installation for fire sprinklers. IBC (International Building Code) has fire resistance rating requirements and classifies different building construction as per these standards. Type one buildings are constructed from non-combustibles like steel and concrete. Type two buildings have a reduced fire resistance rating requirement compared to type one. Type three have “non combustible exterior walls and interior elements” (1) as defined by the code standards. Type four buildings have non-combustible exterior walls and interior elements like solid and laminated wood. Type five protected buildings have structural elements that requires all building elements except “non-bearing interior walls and partitions” (1) to be one – hour fire resistive construction. Type five unprotected buildings have no requirements for fire resistance. Building elements for rating requirements include structural frame, exterior and interior walls, non-bearing walls, floor construction and roof construction. IBC (International building code) specifies area and height of each floor in a building as per occupancy and construction type. This includes size of a building, fire resistance rating and nature of occupancy. The larger the building and more occupants means more fire resistance requirements in order to protect building and contain fire long enough for safe evacuation. Fire walls will need fire resistance rating to prevent spread from one part of the building to another. Also, a safing or non-combustible material must be installed on each floor within column covers and in between wall panels as well as slab edge or spandrel beam as fire spread prevention strategy. The building codes also list requirements for fire resistance for structural frame and curtain wall panels. “Fire door assemblies consisting of fire resistive door frame, and hardware, are required to protect openings in fire rated walls” (1). “Door frame and hardware must have a fire resistance rating similar to that of a door” (1). According to the building codes, the distance of travel to a nearest fire exit must be based on occupancy size, building’s use and degree of fire hazard. They also list the minimum distance between two exits and limit of dead-end corridors. Emergency lighting should be available on all exit paths in case of power failure. And the exit paths must be clearly identified by “illuminated signs” (1). According to NFPA’s life safety code, fire alarm systems should automatically be triggered by fire detection systems which include heat sensors like thermostats and smoke detectors. The safety codes also requires “installation and hard wiring of smoke detectors in residential occupancies as well as hotel/motel units” (1). Fire sprinkler system is often a requirement in “commercial or institutional buildings” (1) as well as “multi-family housing” (1). Structural steel in a fire resistive building is required to have “fire rated assemblies or coatings” as steel can rapidly lose strength in a fire and melt. These coatings are also required for “beams and floor framing systems” (1). Also, floor joists require finish flooring and ceiling to have a fire resistance rating. The same is true for roof rafters that rely on roofing and ceiling materials for its fire resistance rating. “Wood shingles and shakes are flammable unless chemically treated to receive a UL class C rating” (1). Hence, residential and commercial structure safety requirements are important during the construction phase of a structure rather than interior design or renovation with flame retardants.
The type of construction also has an immediate effect on fire insurance rates. Most insurance policies provide financial protection for fire and lighting damage. Some extended coverage also protects from smoke, chemical, water and other damages by firefighters during extinguishing a fire especially when liquid nitrogen is used for maximum impact. Annual fire insurance premiums cover buildings and its contents. However, the type of coverage will depend on the fire rating classification of a building as mentioned above. For example, fire insurance premiums for a high rated building standard is lower than buildings with lower fire resistance rating. Insurance premiums are also dependent on other factors such as location of the building in reference to fire hydrants, emergency facilities like fire truck stations and combustible structures. A structure located near a gas station for example will have a higher insurance premium than one away from the gas station and within the vicinity of emergency response. Combustible materials and equipment in warehouses, factories, restaurants and other business avenues affect fire insurance premiums just as much.
In conclusion, fire is undoubtedly a powerful force of nature. Fire safety standards and emergency response make life much safer today than it was couple hundred years ago. Fire-insurance policies protect individuals financially at home or business. In fact, since fire is not just limited to properties, auto insurance and life insurance policies is a must have coverage for many consumers. Nevertheless, it is said, “Prevention is better than cure”. This prevention of fire damage include adequate fire protection systems like remote monitoring and stove guard systems. Innovations in science and technology passed on to consumer products and consumer protection systems are a contributing factor in reducing fire related damages and casualties. Also, avoiding indoor smoking and promoting utilization of smoking areas can stop one’s place of residence, workplace or business avenue from becoming a statistic figure!
(1) – Francis D.K. Ching. “Building Construction Illustrated”. 2014. Published by Wiley.