Considering that one of steel’s most defining characteristics is its fire resistant properties, notably when compared with other materials used in construction, most notably wood, you could be forgiven for imagining that steel framed buildings need not worry too much about fire protection. Unfortunately, reduced flammability is only that…reduced. Steel buildings still need great planning when it comes to protecting them from fire.
While it may be less vulnerable to fire damage, steel is still not immune from damage from heat and once damage is done the results can be catastrophic. When temperatures get up to just under 600 degrees Celsius, steel will lose around 50% of its weight bearing capacity. After this kind of compromise of structural integrity there is far greater risk of severe damage and even building collapse. This is before you even mention the risk to the people and potentially valuable equipment inside the building. There is, therefore a very real need to ensure that proper fire protection is considered even for steel buildings. It is never too late to have an assessment of your steel framed building by an expert to see what kind of active and passive fire protection you can add to help protect the building, its contents and occupants. If you plan on doing any part of the assessment yourself make sure that when working at height, up ladders or scissor lifts, you have undertaken the relevant training from an IPAF accredited centre. This also goes for any maintenance of existing fire protection products.
Of course, the ideal is to start planning for fire protection prior to construction. This gives you the maximum chances of getting the very best fire protection in place and will also save money and hassle going forward. While international codes do insist on building frames being able to withstand a minimum of two hours of fire temperatures there are also other measures that may be obligatory depending on the type and size of building.
- Intumescent spray films. This is a great product and aesthetically it is superb as it can be panted to match the building after application. Also, in the event of fire, the coating chars, releasing hydrates, thus cooling the surface, while the charring reduces surface conductivity, stopping fire spread.
- Endothermic. This includes mineral wool and ceramic fibres that are mixed in with building materials.
- This is a harder wearing coating for inside the building’s construction. It is like that used in isolation blankets and is effective well to over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. These mineral blankets can be covered in wire mesh and are often used in areas of the building that are out of sight, like maintenance rooms or utility areas.
Of course alongside such protection, there are other fire protection strategies needed such as:
- Installation of appropriate fire resistant doors opening in direction of travel
- Sprinkler systems, fire alarms and extinguishers
- Escape routes
- Drills and training