Building fire safety comprises a "package" which incorporates construction methods, mechanical and electrical devices, management practice and organised human response tailored to reduce the impact of fire upon the occupants, the building, its contents, the attending fire fighters and any neighbouring property. In the context of building fire safety, fire impact is considered to be any threat to life and property caused by heat or smoke and may include adverse environmental impact from toxic products stored on the premises.

Building fire safety cannot be defined as a "single system", it relies upon a group of "sub systems" to form a complete "package". More often than not, if one of the "sub systems" is removed, the whole "package" will collapse and the occupants within the building will face an unacceptable risk in the event of outbreak of fire. For simplicity, the "package" can be broken down into nine principle "sub systems", comprising:

  • occupant training and education
  • means of escape from the building
  • ignition potential
  • fire load
  • compartmentation and structural fire resistance

Occupant Training and Education

An essential part of any building fire safety system (probably the most important part) is training and education of the occupants in matters of fire safety. Every conceivable device that technology can devise can be placed in a building but if the occupants are ignorant of what a fire alarm sounds like, what are safe and unsafe work practices or where the exits are, then the devices will not achieve a fire safe building.

Means of Escape from the Building

This is an essential part of the fire safety system. A safe, illuminated, well identified way out of the building is required in order that the building occupants can escape a fire (or other) emergency. Often more than one escape route is required so that occupants have an alternative exit if one cannot be reached because of smoke or fire. These exits must be kept clear and operable at all times. The BCA covers the number, type and location of fire exits.

Compartmentation and Structural Fire Resistance

If the fire is contained within a room or space (known as a compartment) by the nature of its construction, its impact on other parts of the building will be minimised. Naturally the people in the compartment will need to get out before the fire effects them. A room of solid brick with no windows and a sturdy door would be a good fire compartment, because it would be difficult for the heat and smoke to escape. A room constructed of glass would be a poor fire and smoke compartment because, as the fire grows, heat would shatter the glass thus letting heat and smoke out and the fire to spread.

Compartmentation is a called a "PASSIVE" system (ie. just by being there it inhibits the spread of fire). It relies upon structural stability under fire conditions; the ability to withstand the effects of fire without collapse.