Fire is incredibly dangerous, especially in an enclosed space like an office building or residential home. But it is not just the heat and burns from the fire that can kill people. The smoke generated from the fire is responsible for many of the deaths in building fires as well, and smoke inhalation injuries are very common in survivors.
This is why it is important to have an effective passive fire protection system in place to contain the smoke as best as possible. Passive fire protection focuses on preventing and suppressing the spread of smoke and fire. It is always in effect, making it very useful as it doesn't require human input to activate.
What is smoke inhalation and why is it dangerous?
Smoke inhalation occurs when a person breathes in smoke particles into their lungs and respiratory tract. Exposure to smoke poses a series of dangers, both in the short and long term. The immediate effects of smoke inhalation include coughing and difficulty breathing.
Can you die from smoke inhalation? Yes, suffocation is a far more common cause of death in smoke inhalation victims than burns and thermal injury.
Smoke inhalation also exposes people to dangerous gases, most commonly carbon monoxide and other particulate matter. Not only does this cause problems of its own (with symptoms including headaches and reduced alertness) but it also reduces the oxygen levels entering your body as their place is taken by the carbon monoxide.
Smoke inhalation can have severe long-term consequences, including an increased risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory problems for those affected. Additionally, smoke can cause eye irritation and impair vision, making safe evacuation challenging, even in a smaller-scale emergency such as a house fire.
How far does smoke travel during a fire?
Smoke is generally able to move much quicker than fire inside a building. It is not restricted to surfaces and will easily move on high-temperature air currents and through small spaces. This adds to the danger it poses and the likelihood of a smoke inhalation injury occurring.
While smoke will eventually dissipate into the atmosphere, this can take a while, as evidenced by some of the bushfire after-effects we see in our country. This is unlikely to occur in a building or house fire, due to smoke being more contained. At the end of the day, smoke can only travel as far as it is allowed to. A comprehensive passive fire protection system will significantly reduce the amount of smoke in an area during an evacuation.
Can smoke travel through walls and other structures?
Yes. Cracks in doors, ventilation systems, stairwells and any gaps in walls provide an easy way for smoke to infiltrate other rooms in a building. Smoke is also very effective in travelling in the upper airways due to it rising on the hot air currents. This is why smoke baffles are an incredibly important piece of passive fire protection and should not be overlooked.
What is a smoke baffle and how does it work?
A smoke baffle is a glass or fire-rated curtain protruding downwards from the ceiling of a building/floor. They trap the smoke that rises to the ceiling and work to prevent it from spreading to other areas of the building.
The two kinds of smoke baffles are glass and curtain. Given that they are usually away from direct contact with fire, the differences are mainly aesthetic. A curtain smoke baffle can be set up to be hidden when not in operation and drop down during a fire, and a glass baffle allows visibility through it when it's not clogged up with a large amount of smoke.
Smoke baffles won't affect the functionality of smoke detectors in an area as they stop smoke from reaching higher areas than the current ceiling, rather than stopping it from reaching the ceiling itself.
Having smoke detectors connected in a system is a crucial practice in larger buildings that should not be overlooked. It not only enhances the overall safety of the building but also ensures that potential fire threats are detected promptly and efficiently.
The importance of smoke baffles in passive fire protection
Smoke baffles are incredibly important for fire protection in multi-storey buildings. Without them smoke can very easily spread to the upper levels, especially if they are mezzanine levels or have some other type of cutout in the floor. Two-storey or three-storey houses can also benefit from smoke baffles during a house fire.
One clear advantage of having smoke baffles in place in larger buildings is that it can prevent toxic smoke from immediately impacting the upper floors, resulting in a safer evacuation for occupants. Moreover, containing smoke within a specific area can improve visibility, making it easier for personnel to evacuate the building quickly and safely. Additionally, this measure reduces the risk of severe smoke inhalation injuries occurring and improves overall safety in the surrounding area.
How Australian Fire Control can help protect your building from smoke and fire damage
Smoke baffles are not the sort of thing you want to DIY. It is important to have your fire protection systems installed by a qualified professional who'll get it right. The last thing you want is to find a flaw in your fire protection system during an evacuation.
So if you need some of the best quality Australian made smoke baffles installed, or you just want some bespoke advice on fire safety for your building, get in touch with Australian Fire Control today.