The Difference Between Active and Passive Fire Protection

The difference between active and passive fire protection

There are two aspects to any fire protection system. These are Active Fire Protection and Passive Fire Protection. Active Fire Protection and Passive Fire Protection work holistically with each other when there’s a fire and one cannot substitute for the other.

The purpose of the Active Fire Protection system is to help suppress and extinguish the fire. Components of the active fire protection system include both manually operated products such as fire extinguishers and automatically operated products such as sprinklers.

The purpose of the Passive Fire Protection system is to contain the fire and prevent it from rapidly spreading, allowing for damage to be minimised and for people to safely evacuate the building.This is referred to in building design and regulations as compartmentalisation.

Compartmentalising a building is achieved through fire doors, floors and fire walls. These prevent the spreading of fire and smoke across rooms. As well as a means of preventing the spread of fire and smoke, Fire Doors also provide a means of escape for people.

Common methods of Active Fire Protection

Active fire protection can be divided into two broad categories, which are fire detection and fire suppression. As the names suggest, detection systems aim to alert personnel to the existence of a fire. Suppression systems seek to extinguish the fire quickly.

Fire detection systems include but are not limited to, smoke alarms and door release systems. Measures of fire suppression include sprinkler systems (manual or automatic), fire extinguishers, preventive foam standpipe systems, and even non-toxic gaseous agents which are capable of extinguishing the flames.

Oxygen reduction is a solution that does not exactly fit in either detection or suppression. Oxygen reduction systems are installed as a preventive measure. They work by decreasing the oxygen content in any given space where there is a probable fire hazard. Without oxygen the fire cannot ignite at all. Given its obvious advantages, oxygen reduction systems are rapidly gaining popularity.

Aspects of Passive Fire Protection within building design

There are three key aspects of passive fire protection.

Structural fire protection

Structural fire protection pertains to protecting crucial structural parts of a building from the effect of a fire. This is achieved using a range of fire resistant materials, which include reactive coatings such as intumescent paints, non-reactive coatings which include cementitious sprays and fire boarding systems..


Walls, floors and doors all form key elements of fire compartmentation within a building. It is essential that these elements are designed and installed to meet the required levels of fire protection whilst ensuring there are no breaches in the compartmentation through services or maintenance works. As previously mentioned these elements contain the spread of a fire and allow for a building’s occupants to escape.

Penetration Sealing Firestopping products and systems are used to prevent fire from spreading through penetrations that are present in the buildings compartmentation. Firestopping products include:

  • Intumescent sealants
  • Mortars
  • Ablative coated mineral batts Intumescent Pillows
  • Intumescent pipe wraps
  • Pipe collars
  • Expanding joint strips
  • Intumescent sleeves
  • Pass-through devices
  • Cavity barriers

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