Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings

Fabric fire protection solutions offer effective protection against the uncontrolled spread of fire and smoke. At the same time, they enable a great degree of flexibility in their installation and design – not least because of the range of available variants which has now grown more and more diverse. 

Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings
Fig. 1: Fixed smoke curtains with pipe openings (top), automatic gathered smoke curtains installed in sight (middle), invisible installation of an automatic smoke curtain in the suspended ceiling (bottom) (Source: Stöbich)

By Olaf Grunenberg. When fire breaks out in large building complexes, the protection of human life has the highest priority. Beyond that, the main aim is to limit material and structural damage. Partitioning buildings into individual fire compartments structurally separates neighbouring areas from one another and at the same time creates safe escape and emergency routes. In the event of a fire, any necessary openings in the walls and ceilings must be closed creating smoke barriers.

Protection against the uncontrolled spread of smoke

In the event of a fire, the extent of the damage caused by smoke is significantly greater than the damage caused by the flames themselves. Smoke curtains limit the uncontrolled spread of combustion gases within a building and are thus an important component of smoke extraction concepts or for systems designed to keep areas free of smoke. The smoke is guided by the smoke curtain and channelled outside using natural or mechanical smoke and heat extractors.
The simplest design takes the form of fixed smoke curtains that can be installed with unlimited width and even allow for partitioning around continuous pipes or lines. In contrast, automatic smoke curtains only drop in the case of an alarm to a room height defined in the smoke protection concept. Their design is dependent on both functional and also aesthetic requirements:

  • Can the smoke curtain be visible in its waiting position or is a discreet installation important?
  • Does the enclosed space go around a corner or form a curve?
  • Does the smoke curtain need to close up to the bottom and need to be passable in unison?

Fortunately, today’s smoke curtains offer a suitable solution to each of those questions. For example, basic gathered smoke curtains offer an inexpensive solution for industrial applications when aesthetic considerations or side leakages due to the nature of the curtain do not play a major role. They are fitted below the ceiling in a space-saving manner, yet remain in sight.
In contrast, automatic smoke curtains that employ traditional roll-out technology can be installed almost invisibly in suspended ceilings. They can also be optionally installed at the side and only drop in the case of an alarm in their defined fire alarm location.
In order to meet special design requirements for a smoke extraction concept, modern smoke curtains can have round, elliptical or polygonal system configurations. Systems that run around curves or corners are also installed in suspended ceilings and thus remain hidden from view.

Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings
Fig. 2: Automatic smoke curtains in a wide variety of designs offer effective protection against the uncontrolled spread of smoke. (Source: Stöbich)

In contrast to smoke curtains designed to guide the smoke, fabric smoke barriers provide smoke-proof seals for relevant wall openings in accordance with DIN EN 1634-3. This means they provide much more effective protection in order to efficiently partition neighbouring building sections. Smoke barriers can withstand the high pressures that may occur in the event of a fire, fulfil significantly stricter regulations in relation to their permissible leakage and at the same time prevent flames passing through in the event of a full-scale fire.
Common applications include car parks, shopping centres, furniture stores or counter closures in medical or care facilities, as well as to seal lift shafts.

The article was published in FeuerTRUTZ International, issue 1.2017 (January 2017).
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Fabric fire protection for façade

Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings
Fig. 3: Fire curtains for façade openings can be installed externally and internally. (Source: Stöbich)

There is an increased danger of flashover at the corners of buildings. Therefore, it is only permissible to have heat-insulating, fixed glazing or to completely dispense with the installation of any windows at all within a safety area of 5 m. In these cases, the installation of fire curtains for façade openings in areas at risk of fire are an alternative to the installation of expensive fire resistant glass.
These curtain systems are specially designed for exposure to weathering and use temperature-controlled heating elements to ensure reliable closing even at low temperatures. If the installation of an exterior curtain is not possible, wall openings can also be sealed internally in the event of a fire by interior fire curtains.

Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings
Fig. 4: Fire curtains for façade openings can be installed externally and internally. (Source: Stöbich)

Fire curtains for wall and ceiling openings

Interior fire curtains close off wall or ceiling openings in the event of a fire. Their design and the use of a variety of fabrics enable an increasingly broad spectrum of applications, as well as different classifications and time classes. Modern curtain systems thus no longer just achieve the safety goals of a simple partition. Special coatings and production processes are being increasingly utilised to develop fabrics to reduce radiant heat in the event of a fire, i.e. for European classification EW (partition, limit radiation).
Their housings and guide rails can be integrated almost invisibly into the structure of the building and thus offer a lot of creative freedom.

Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings
Fig. 5: A combination of a thermal insulating fire curtain and a highspeed door. The fire curtain only closes in the event of an alarm. A standard high-speed door reduces cooling losses, prevents draughts and enables operational processes to continue undisturbed. (Source: Stöbich)

Peak performance in the area of fabric fire protection curtains is offered by thermal insulation systems. The safety goal EI (partition, thermal insulation under the influence of fire) can be achieved either using sophisticated ventilation mechanisms or by combining the latest fabrics with heat reducing insulation materials. Areas of application thus range from highly demanding architectural installation as an invisible fire curtain totally without guide rails right through to a combination of thermally insulating fire curtains and a high-speed door.
The enhanced performance offered by a door and curtain is a particularly sensible solution for an industrial building because the pairing of fire protection and high-speed function not only provides safety in the event of a fire but also reduces heating and cooling losses while optimising the operating processes and material flows.

Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings
Fig. 6: Horizontal fire curtains can close off ceiling openings up to 10 m x 20 m (two-part design). (Source: Stöbich)

As there is no accumulation of heat between the curtain and the door in the event of a fire, the high-speed doors are not subject to any additional fire protection requirements. So-called connector modules also enable the docking of doors from different manufacturers.
Fire curtains for ceiling openings enable the technical separation of individual levels of a building for fire protection purposes without placing a great strain on the building’s structural loads. The latest generation of these systems completely dispense with the suspension cables used on earlier versions. Horizontally closing systems can today already enclose openings of up to 10 m x 20 m, which enables their use in atriums or lightwells.

Fabric partitioning in the event of a fire

Fabric Fire Protection for Large Buildings
Fig. 7: Fire curtains with folding technology around corners enable building sections to be partitioned without additional structural supports. (Source: Stöbich)

Fire curtains with fabric folding technologies enable partitioning in the event of a fire without additional structural supports. The advantage here is that there is no need for solid columns or corner pillars. Areas of application can be found both in shopping centres or administrative buildings and also in industrial sectors such as fire protection solutions for conveyor systems (e.g. vertical conveyors). Where a walled vertical shaft was required for this purpose in the past, these systems make it possible to partition multiple building levels and at the same time maintain an unobstructed view of the conveying process. This is a solution that is particularly suitable for existing buildings where conveyor lines need to be reorganised or converted to handle other conveyed goods (e.g. bodywork conveyors in the automobile industry).

Summary

Fabric fire protection systems are being offered for an increasingly broader spectrum of applications and cover more and more difficult structural requirements due to their diversity of design. The biggest advantage is mostly their almost invisible installation. Yet from a technical standpoint, curtain systems offer significant advantages such as their low weight and consequently their low structural loading of the building, their small housing dimensions and impressive system sizes. 

Author

Olaf Grunenberg: Technical Editor at Stöbich Brandschutz GmbH

The article was published in FeuerTRUTZ International, issue 1.2017 (January 2017).
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