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Passive Fire Protection: How to find the fire separations?

In my last Passive Fire Protection LinkedIN post, I raised a question: How is it that buildings subject to annual BWOF inspections can continue to have massive, life threatening passive fire Protection issues?

Well, after talking to a lot of IQPs over the last several months about the challenges they face in this area, I was a little shocked to learn that commonly they turn up to a building and just don’t know where all the fire separations are and so don't know where they should be checking. This is far from being their fault if there is no information available on site or on the Council property file.

In a recent post I discussed a "fire separation" between a vertical services riser and a double scissor stair, in a multi-level, unsprinklered building which presented a very high life safety risk to its occupants. This was easily observed behind an unlocked door, but would the IQP for the building even know to look here without a set of drawings or a fire report?! It may explain why this issue had been missed for so long.....

I also postulated in this post that there clearly needs to be some discussion and education with those issuing BWOFs as well as building owners. Do they know where the key fire separations in the building are? Are these being inspected regularly? What guidelines can they follow to formulate a regime of inspections that is effective but economical? Are they going to wait for a Dangerous Building Notice (or worse?!) before doing anything about their passive fire protection problem?

This is the first of a series of posts that we're working on to open a discussion around these issues and hopefully bring some clarity and guidance:


So, where do we start to look? Where are the Fire Separations?

To look for potentially life-threatening passive fire problems you need to know where to look. You need to know which wall or ceiling is meant to be fire-rated and which is not? Sure, some pink plasterboard can give you a hint, but even this can fade to grey over time...


So, here’s a short list of building elements that you can almost guarantee should be fire-rated (this list is offered as a guide only and final confirmation should be sought from a Fire Engineer or other Consented building documentation):


  • Walls around stairwells

  • Walls between apartments, separate dwellings & households, hotel rooms

  • Walls between these sleeping spaces and shared corridors

  • All floors/ceilings of multi-storey buildings

  • Walls around lift shafts

  • If there’s a fire door in the wall, the wall probably needs a fire rating too (look above the door if there is a suspended ceiling)

  • Walls around service risers (where the services are obviously not firestopped at each floor level)

  • Walls on property/title boundaries

  • Walls around transformers and gas burning plant

  • Gravity load-bearing walls of a multi-storey building below the topmost floor (i.e. those holding up floors)


Common location of Fire Separations
Common location of Fire Separations

Once the fire separations are identified, any openings, gaps or penetrations should be fire-rated to achieve the same rating of the separation, some examples are:

  • Doors (which then become Fire doors)

  • Ducts (which then require a fire-rated damper)

  • Vents (which then requires a fire-rated grill)

  • Other Service penetrations (pipes, cables, conduits, trays, structural elements, etc)

  • Gaps and Holes (which then require proper fire-rated systems)

As far as the importance of these contributing towards life safety, and therefore the level of risk presented by poor firestopping, some rank higher than others and should be given more attention, but I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Rob Holland BE MEngSt(Fire) CMEng CPEng PMSFPE

Senior Fire Engineer / Director


Nelligan Consulting Engineers has a great Fire Engineering team, including an in-house passive fire protection consultant team with expertise and knowledge to assist you with your project at various stages to ensure the installation is appropriately specified, compliant, cost-effective, and with minimal delays.


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