How Do Fire Curtains Work?

Fire curtains should always be a top consideration when designing or remodeling a commercial building.

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According to FEMA and the U.S. Fire Administration, from 2014 to 2016, an estimated 100,300 nonresidential building fires were reported to U.S. fire departments each year and caused an estimated 90 deaths; 1,350 injuries; and $2.4 billion in property losses per year. It’s also worth noting that 59 percent of these fires extended beyond the area where the fire started.

This is why including a fire curtain system in your building design is important, as it helps ensure the safety of your building and its occupants. Let’s learn more about fire curtains, how they work and what you need to know about fire curtain installation.

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What Are Fire Curtains?

When a fire protection system is activated, fire curtains are designed to create protection barriers where no walls are present. Hidden from view until they are deployed, they can be installed anywhere in a building and are commonly seen in places like schools, offices, retail buildings, hospitals, residential buildings, airports and hotels.

These curtained barriers can be created to seal off openings of all sizes, preventing fire and smoke from traveling to other areas. Having a fire and smoke barrier in place is especially important when planning for egress routes, creating access points for fire and rescue teams, and protecting valuable equipment and other building contents.

While fire curtains perform much like a smoke curtain or draft curtain, they are different in that they are specifically designed to withstand fire exposure and extremely high temperatures.

Fire curtains must meet or exceed the UL 10D requirement for fire protection. This test measures performance ratings based on fire exposure and determines the curtain’s suitability for use in structures where building codes require fire protection for specific durations.

How Are Fire Curtains Used?

From spaces as small as dumbwaiters and pass-through containers to large, expansive areas like atriums and theater stages, there are different types of curtains available to provide your building with the fire and smoke protection it needs. Let’s review these types of fire curtains and learn more about their uses.

1. Horizontal Fire Curtains

These curtains deploy horizontally to separate floors and prevent smoke from entering other areas of the building. They are becoming increasingly popular in commercial buildings due to the recent architectural and design trends that focus on creating larger open spaces.

Designers can compartmentalize large spaces while reducing or eliminating the need for mechanical smoke evacuation systems. These curtains can be placed at upper levels that open to the atrium creating a makeshift partition that blocks the upper level(s) from smoke or fire in an emergency.

Horizontal fire curtains, like the Smoke Guard M3000, are ideal for areas like atriums where they are installed between flooring decks and automatically deployed upon a signal from the smoke control system.

These curtains are also ideal for use in I-3 facilities like jails, prisons and detention centers that have areas in which occupants are confined and where smoke and fire can spread quickly. While these buildings are already somewhat segmented, residents and employees would benefit greatly from an added layer of smoke and fire protection so they could have more time to properly evacuate confined occupants who cannot easily relocate without creating security issues.

2. Vertical Fire Curtains

Vertically deploying fire curtains are installed into a ceiling and can be used with mechanical smoke and fire containment systems. These curtains are ideal for sealing off multi-level atriums, as well as creating a reservoir for smoke on the atrium’s upper floors. They also work very well in other areas with large openings like grand staircases and escalators.

Smoke Guard’s Model 4000 is an ideal option for architects and designers. This fire curtain meets required performance standards and can be installed into a ceiling without using corner posts or columns, making it an easy option for both new construction and renovations.

3. Flexible Fire Curtains

Medical centers have several unique needs including secure access points, the ability to push gurneys through doors and the capability to quarantine areas of infectious diseases and research labs. Traditional fire doors may not always be the answer for buildings like hospitals: These facilities must maintain the flow of traffic, even in emergency situations, and need unobtrusive fire protection.

Designed to deploy from walls or ceilings, flexible fire curtains help maintain clear hallways and cannot be propped open with furniture or door stops like traditional fire doors. This makes them a safe option for these buildings. They are also a great supplement to a fire management system that includes exhaust fans and sprinklers.

Proper Maintenance

It’s critically important to check and test fire curtains at regular intervals and always ensure that building owners and operations teams understand what needs to be done to keep fire curtains up to code, both in terms of what they need to do and what needs to be completed by a professional.

  1. Always make sure the area around a fire curtain is clear of obstructions. Fire curtains are only effective if they are able to seal off an area from floor to ceiling.
  2. Test deployment regularly. Be familiar with your local fire and building codes and know when they require regular testing intervals. We recommend testing a minimum of every six months.
  3. Inspect for damage and wear. Visually inspect the fire curtain’s deployment track and check for blockages. Once the curtain is deployed, check for wear and damage.

Keep documentation of your maintenance. Always keep written records that show the date, time, type of inspection, the inspector’s name and their findings.

Make Fire Curtains Part of Your Fire Protection System

Having the right type of fire and smoke protection in place helps contain damage, keep occupants safer and minimizes your building’s downtime and need for repairs after a fire.

Click here to contact SG Specialties to help choose the right fire curtains for your needs. Or if you just simply want to know more about how to enhance fire and smoke safety, check out our extensive blog.