It is essential that, for any commercially functioning buildings it uses, your company has a fire strategy. This is a general plan which cites best practice for ensuring the building occupants’ safety from fire, should a fire indeed break out. However, the “what” of fire safety best practices is only one component of the fire strategy, which also needs to specify “how” you will pursue those practices. This “how” will be covered by your use of the right fire safety products.
Exactly which such products your business should use will depend on the nature and layout of the building. The fire safety equipment and products from which you can choose include fire extinguishers, fire alarms and fire shutters. At K & D Systems, the available range of fire safety products includes fire curtains. If you are unsure what exactly constitutes an automatic fire curtain, this article is aimed at clearing confusion and explaining benefits of this particular type of product.
Who are K & D Systems?
The UK-based company K & D Systems is otherwise known as K & D Fire & Smoke Protection Systems or K & D Systems – The Fire Curtains & Smoke Curtains Specialists. The company is thoroughly experienced in manufacturing and fitting a range of fire safety products, including fire curtains, smoke curtains and fire shutters, for leading UK businesses from various sectors.
K & D Systems is largely based in the Tyne and Wear city of Sunderland, where the firm has its main office and a plant where all of its manufacturing takes place. However, the company also has offices in the UK cities of Newcastle, London, Birmingham and Edinburgh – and, indeed, offers its services everywhere throughout the UK and Ireland.
Even despite this broad coverage area, K & D Systems continues to install products of high quality and produce them over a 3-day turnaround time, subject to particular restrictions. The high quality of the company’s service can be strongly attributed to various factors, including the firm’s continual investment in research and development and more than 30 years of fitting experience. Furthermore, all of K & D’s fire curtains are both independently tested and fully certified.
What is a fire curtain?
The term “fire curtain” has often been used in this article, perhaps to your frequent confusion. After all, while the term might look simple and to-the-point on the surface, it can often be wrapped in technical specifications and terminology with the potential to easily bewilder. However, one purpose of this article is to strip away much of the typically confusing language to leave a definition of fire curtain – and, later in the piece, one of “automatic fire curtain” – that is easy to understand.
A fire curtain can be succinctly described as a curtain that, when in operation, descends from the ceiling as a manner of blocking an opening and, therefore, the spread of fire and smoke. With this fire curtain falling into place, fire and smoke could be left to spread between two areas. Potential adverse consequences of leaving this spreading unhindered go without saying.
This helps to explain why, in particularly large buildings, multiple fire curtains are provided as a means of “compartmentalisation”. This is where, as the fire curtains fall, they separate the building into several “fire compartments” meant to foster passive fire protection.
With these sections trapping and containing the fire, the building’s occupants could be given more time to escape through routes in a property which are both now better protected. In this way, the fire curtains can also help to buy more time for fire-fighting services to turn up on the scene before the structure is extensively damaged or lives are lost.
In this context, the word “curtain” can mislead; it may be more helpful to think of a fire curtain as a type of roller shutter. Indeed, like a metal roller shutter, it is usually left rolled up in a “top box”, from which the sheeting will unroll as it descends vertically. A fire curtain does, however, differ in comprising not metal, but instead a woven fibreglass material that is significantly more flexible.
Due to the compact form of fire curtains, they can be fitted even in the limited space of lobbies, hatches and stairwells without significantly sacrificing the overall aesthetic. In fact, once a fire curtain has been installed into the recess of a wall or ceiling, only a thin slit could betray any immediate visual evidence that the fire curtain has been fitted in the space.
What makes a fire curtain “automatic”?
Fire curtains are available in several types. These include static fire curtains. Otherwise known as fixed fire curtains, these are so-called as they are secured permanently into place. Such open spaces as warehouses and lofts are often chosen as locations for static fire curtains.
A manual fire curtain is referred to as such because it is rolled up and un-rolled as necessary through manual operation. The Twin Skin 2.0 Manual Fire and Smoke Curtain available from K & D Systems is one example of such a fire curtain. There is a key point of differentiation here with what is known as the automatic fire curtain. How would a fire curtain come into effect automatically?
This can happen if the curtain is linked to the fire alarm system, as this would enable the curtain to automatically descend when a fire is sensed in the building. Indeed, the majority of non-static fire curtains can be categorised as automatic.
K & D Systems offers a Twin Skin automatic fire curtain which can use as many as two alarm inputs for initiating closing. You can take these inputs from sources including your local fire alarm panel, smoke detectors or a volt-free contact.
Following the alarm input, the curtain can close itself immediately as local warning systems are set off. Alternatively, you could opt for the curtain to delay its closure until a given time period, or partially close and then halt for a specific period of time before entirely shutting.
When would you legally need a fire curtain?
In answering this question, we should refer back to your company’s need for a fire strategy, as outlined at the start of this article. This necessity is legally enshrined by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. You should, however, be careful not to confuse a fire strategy with a fire assessment. The latter is conducted by local housing authorities in adherence to the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Therefore, in what specific situations would a fire strategy be legally needed?
Your business would need a fire strategy if the company works in any complex build or commercially functioning building. While the fire strategy need only be a general plan, it should touch on the best practices for implementing fire safety in the building in case a fire breaks out there. Still, you might wonder what constitutes a “complex” building.
This term could be used for builds featuring distinct but interconnected building segments and facilities. Good examples of complex buildings for which a fire strategy would be applicable include hotels, shopping centres and hospitals, all of which could benefit from the fitting of fire curtains.
You could take account of automatic fire curtains when drawing up a document report detailing the building’s strategy. In this report, include not only detailed and to-scale evacuation drawings but also clear information about the appropriate evacuation routes in the building. As use of these routes could be eased by the building’s inclusion of fire safety features, you should also mention those and their specifications – as well as, possibly, how those features should be used.
The last of those subjects would only warrant mention if those fire safety features do not deploy automatically. It would be a different situation in the case of automatic fire curtains, and this hints at the convenient simplicity of their use. Nonetheless, we would warn against any nonchalance in your preparation and maintenance of the fire strategy.
This is not only because your local fire and rescue authority will examine and comment upon your fire strategy. It is also due to the 2014 introduction of British Standards requiring all fire curtains to be installed with a gravity fail-safe system. When fitted in place, this system will preserve the curtain’s ability to descend – and, thus, potentially spare both structural damage and lives – even should mains power or battery-provided backup power fail or be otherwise absent.
Fortunately, K & D Systems have the expertise to install a gravity fail-safe system alongside an automatic fire curtain, allowing your business to benefit from a comprehensive fire safety solution. K & D Systems also rigorously tests and certifies each automatic fire curtain that it provides. The testing and certification are intended to indicate that, for a specific minimum length of time, the curtain will be preserved in its integrity and remain working even in extremely fiery conditions.
What practical purposes could an automatic fire curtain serve for you?
For all that can be said in favour of fire curtains, you have to remember that your main aim should be to comprehensively tighten fire safety in the building in a legally sound manner. In this light, the installation of fire curtains would simply be a means to an end – or, more to the point, could be one of several means pointing to ultimately the same end, that of properly ensuring fire safety.
In other words, you should not be too quick to rule out the idea of fitting fire shutters. This, too, is a responsibility which K & D Systems can professionally handle on your behalf. This is before we bring up the subject of other fire safety measures, such as providing fire extinguishers and sprinklers. In which situations should your thoughts turn mainly to fire curtains, of all of these safety items?
This is not a straightforward question to answer, as it depends on the nature of the building as well as how effectively other solutions could be used – whether they would require you to tinker with the building’s existing design or leave it intact.
However, an automatic fire curtain can serve especially well in an open plan setting, which is becoming increasingly common in new buildings. In an open plan layout, you could readily appreciate a measure that ensures fire safety without being obtrusive. The considerable flexibility of automatic fire curtains enables them to be tucked away into the ceiling when not required.
Fire shutters, meanwhile, can provide “compartmentalisation” like fire curtains, albeit more robustly. As for fire extinguishers and sprinklers, keep in mind that, while they may suffice for particular buildings, retrofitting them into an existing building could prove beyond practical possibility.
How should your automatic fire curtain be maintained?
Once an automatic fire curtain is fitted in your company’s building, it would be your responsibility – as the building occupier – to ensure that this curtain stays fully operational. Otherwise, you could be leaving the building’s occupants perilously vulnerable to risks of fire. Furthermore, you would be violating fire regulations and insurance requirements pertaining to your building.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 includes recommendations for how to maintain fire curtains, and compels the building occupier to do so through following the manufacturers’ instructions. Under BS 8524-2, the Order outlines recommendations for fire curtain servicing; keep in mind that infringing these terms could result in you facing prosecution.
Fortunately, for each automatic fire curtain that K & D Systems provides and fits, the Sunderland-based company agrees on a maintenance programme which includes guaranteed backup and support as well as online telephone advice and support.