How Fire Walls Will Perform in the Event of a Worst Case Scenario

Star sprinkler alarm

There are a wide variety of different tools that are available to construction contractors, homeowners, property managers and other types of people to help stave off the devastating effects of a fire. During the construction process of a building, these resources are typically installed in the inner workings of the building itself to help them be as effective as possible. A sprinkler system that is heat activated is one strong step in the direction of safety, for example. If the temperature in a specific area or room gets too hot, sprinklers will go off in an attempt to contain and eliminate a fire while it's still in its nascent stages.

Another one of these invaluable resources is called a fire wall. By understanding exactly how fire walls will perform in the event of a worst case scenario and how they operate in general, you will start to see just how important these really are - especially when it comes to apartment buildings and other residential situations where people will be living in close proximity to one another.

What Fire Walls Do

Fire AlarmFire walls are designed to separate a building into distinct areas to help not put out a fire after it starts, but to prevent a fire from spreading to the rest of the building. Fire walls of these types are commonly considered to be part of a building's fire protection system and are best used in accordance with other measures.

When a fire begins in a single apartment unit, for example, the fire wall can prevent that fire from growing to the point where it spreads to other nearby units. Other aspects of the building's passive fire systems like sprinklers will then work to contain that fire and eliminate it as effectively and as safely as possible.

How Fire Walls Work

There are two main types of fire walls that are commonly used in various applications. These are traditional fire walls and fire barrier walls. Traditional fire walls are designed to separate one section of a building from the other and are made of fire tested material that will not catch fire during a catastrophic event. Because these walls themselves can stand up to prolonged periods of heat, the fire will not be able to grow to the level of intensity one would expect in a situation where the building would suffer a total loss.

Traditional fire walls are commonly designed to be load baring or self sufficient, which means that they are a part of the design of the building itself.

The other main type of fire wall is called a fire barrier wall, which is also sometimes referred to as a partition. In this situation, the wall is still fire rated and can withstand both the heat and force of a nearby fire, but it is not structurally load baring. These types of fire walls commonly don't extend into the upper floors of a building like traditional fire walls, which can themselves extend all the way to the roof in certain situations.

The Worst Case Scenario

A group of firefighters battling a blaze.

The worst case scenario for anyone associated with a particular building - from the tenants who live in individual units to the property manager and everyone between - is a fire. Fires can quickly spread and get out of hand, claiming many innocent lives in the process and (depending on the severity) can even cause a total loss as far as the building is concerned.

In the event that a fire breaks out in a particular apartment, naturally the fire would grow in intensity as it spread. Because the individual apartment unit would be essentially encased in fire walls, that fire would not be able to spread to shared walls with other apartment units like it normally would. Fire fighters and other first responders would have a far longer period of time, and thus increased chances, of containing and eliminating that fire (along with help from sprinklers and other fire suppressing systems) before the damage extends past the individual unit where the fire began.

Without fire walls, the fire would quickly spread to surrounding units and the chances of it claiming the entire building become higher by the second as seen in this video below.

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Photo credit: Lance Catedral / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The National Guard / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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Wallboard Supply Company is a third generation, family run business that has been serving New England's building needs since 1970. Bob Filion started the company with a commitment to provide quality drywall and finishing products with unmatched customer service. The company has grown over the years, expanding its' product range, but never wavering from its' core values.