Fire safety in commercial buildings is taken very seriously in Australia. Strict regulations are in place to ensure a high standard of protection for the building and its occupants in the case of a fire.
One of the most common and versatile fire protection products is the fire curtain. In conjunction with other passive and active fire protection systems, fire curtains can significantly improve the safety of a commercial building and help create safe passageways for occupants to evacuate.
What are fire curtains?
Fire curtains are a fire safety system designed to help contain fire and smoke and slow the spread of fire to allow occupants a safe evacuation.
Modern commercial buildings often have an open design which can be dangerous in the case of a fire. Fire curtains installed throughout a building will compartmentalise the space when activated, slowing the spread of fire and protecting the building and its occupants.
In everyday circumstances, fire curtains are stored in an unobtrusive headbox. Upon signal from an alarm or local heat detector the fire curtain will be released from the headbox. This creates a fire-resistant barrier between the fire and the escape routes.
Benefits of fire curtains
Fire curtains are often confused with fire shutters, another type of fire safety system designed to reduce the spread of fire and smoke in a building. However, fire curtains have a number of advantages over the more traditional fire shutter.
Unobtrusive appearance – Compared to the chunky, industrial look of fire shutters, fire curtains are virtually invisible in their unactivated state. Hidden fixings, neat lines and a modern design means fire curtains do not detract from the aesthetics of a modern building.
Easy installation – Modern fire curtains can be up to 70% lighter than fire shutters. They require no heavy lifting and can be installed without the need for structural engineering.
Safe operation – Because fire curtains are much lighter in weight than fire shutters, they present very minimal safety hazard to any people that might be below the curtain when it descends.
High performance – Rigorous testing has shown that fire curtains perform in compliance to the National Construction Code (NCC). Unlike fire shutters which can become like a large heater without sprinklers, curtains do not require the use of sprinklers to perform to a high standard.
What are fire curtains made from?
Most modern fire curtains are made from fibreglass fibres which are woven together to create a fabric with high fire safety performance. Fibreglass materials are lightweight and durable. They have high heat resistant properties as well as resistance to shrinking, fading, stretching and decomposing.
Fire curtains are often stitched with metal thread such as stainless-steel thread. This adds strength and increases the temperature resistance.
Vertical fire curtains
Vertical fire curtains are designed to be installed above a gap where compartmentalisation is important. When activated by a fire, this type of fire curtain will descend from ceiling to floor. In most cases, vertical fire curtains can descend using gravity without relying on electricity. Their activation is automatic.
Horizontal fire curtains
Horizontal fire curtains are designed to be installed in areas where horizontal deployment is required. For example, in buildings that have openings in the floor. In some cases, a single horizontal fire curtain may replace the need for multiple vertical curtains. Often, they are designed with slim side guides to ensure the curtain does not derail.
Concertina fire curtains
Concertina fire curtains are designed with several pleats which fold together when stored in the headbox (unlike traditional curtains which are rolled into their storage position). Modern concertina curtain designs do not require electricity or column supports for successful deployment.
Boundary fire curtains
Boundary fire curtains tend to be smaller in size and are typically designed for protecting openings on a boundary wall. I.e., protecting a building when there is a fire in an adjacent building. These fire curtains are activated when a critical ambient temperature is detected.
Fire curtain requirements and ratings
Commercial buildings in Australia are required to meet strict regulations when it comes to fire safety. Along with other fire protection systems, fire curtains are assigned a Fire Resistance Level (FRL) in accordance with the Building Code of Australia (BCA).
The FRL is given as three numbers, for example -/60/60. The first number indicates “structural adequacy” – how well the system can remain structurally sound while resisting the spread of fire. Since fire curtains are not structural building elements, they are not given a number for structural adequacy.
The second number indicates “integrity” – how well the fire curtain can prevent the spread of fire and hot gases. The third number indicates “insulation” – how well the fire curtain can prevent the spread of fire due to heat transfer. An integrity or insulation of 60 means you would not expect the fire curtain to fail for 60 minutes.
Fire curtain maintenance and compliance
Regular maintenance of fire curtains and other fire safety systems is required to ensure compliance. If a fire curtain is found to not meet the requirements in the National Construction Code, it is considered non-compliant.
Regular fire curtain servicing should be completed in accordance with AS1851-2012 as well as the manufacturer’s guidelines. In most cases, fire curtains should be serviced annually or biannually. Maintenance should be carried out by a trained and accredited professional and full report should be kept of all services carried out.
Where to buy fire curtains in Australia?
Australian Fire Control is the leading provider of fire protection systems in Australia. They supply a wide range of high standard fire safety systems including fire curtains, fire doors and curtains.
When choosing your fire curtain supplier, ensure their products meet the relevant Australian standards and have been tested in accordance with the Building Code of Australia. Installation should be carried out by an accredited provider in full accordance with all relevant regulations.