The subject of fire safety in residential buildings has never been so prevalent in the nation’s collective mind, and it seems the mainstream media has decided to leap upon just one important aspect of keeping these buildings protected: sprinkler systems.
To a degree, they’re right to do so. Sprinkler suppress fires, they limit their growth and they greatly slow spread of heat throughout a building.
But in reality, it’s smoke that kills people more often flames.
A hot, toxic, choking cloud of smoke can travel faster through a building than any fire, completely obscuring escape routes as it does so.
Managing the smoke is the responsibility of smoke control systems – a subset of the fire safety industry that’s far less well understood by the public at large than the likes of sprinklers or alarms.
A requirement of Approved Document B and governed by many standards and legislations, smoke control systems ventilate smoke from a fire in a manner that reduces its spread, extends escape routes and times, and makes it easier for fire fighters to get closer to the blaze.
Residential buildings, for example, should be fitted with vertical smoke shafts which evacuate hot smoke from the roof either via the smoke’s natural buoyancy or using powered extraction fans (enabling a narrower shaft, taking up less real estate). Control systems linked to smoke detectors intelligently close the shaft off to floors where no fire is detected, but open the shaft on the fire floor a damper to ensure smoke exists quickly, away from escape routes such as stairwells.
These systems are a vital part of the fire safety picture, making residential buildings safer than those equipped with sprinkler systems alone, and they may also add benefits in terms of natural daily ventilation.
That’s why so many in the industry are lobbying to promote the understanding of vital, life-saving smoke control systems, ensuring they’re not ignored or left behind in the high-profile push to make buildings safer.