Even if you have heard of fire curtains and smoke barriers, it is easy to become confused by the technical specifications and terminology that surround them. In this article, we hope to explain in simple language what a fire curtain is and most importantly, why they are needed.
Put simply, a fire curtain is a specially constructed curtain that descends from the ceiling to block an opening and stop fire and smoke spreading between two areas. In larger structures, several fire curtains are used which divide the building into ‘fire compartments’ when there is a fire.
This is called ‘compartmentation’ and is a fundamental element of passive fire protection in buildings. It helps to:
- Provide time for people to escape
- Protect escape routes
- Allow time people for fire fighting services to arrive
- Protect property
Structure of a Fire Curtain
A fire curtain is similar to a metal roller shutter in that it descends vertically as it un-rolls from a ‘top box’, however because a fire curtain is made of a woven fibre glass material, it is much more flexible and compact.
This means a curtain can be more closely fitted within a space and therefore provides much better compartmentation.
The compact construction of fire curtains makes them an ideal choice for lobbies, hatches and stairwells where there is limited space. When included in the design stage of a building, they can be recessed into walls and ceilings leaving a thin slit as the only indication that the curtain is there.
There are several types of fire curtain:
- Automatic Fire curtains – Most non-static fire curtains are in fact automatic. They are linked to the fire alarm system so they automatically descend when there is a fire.
- Static Fire Curtains – Also called fixed fire curtains, these curtains are permanently in place and are used to provide compartmentation in open spaces such as warehouses or lofts.
- Insulated Fire Curtains – These curtains provide extra insulation and allow people to pass by much closer to the curtain without being effected by the heat of the fire on the other side.
Certification and Standards
All fire curtains must be rigorously tested and certified. These standards ensure that the integrity of a curtain will remain for a certain minimum length of time and that they will continue to work in the extreme conditions of a fire.
British Standards introduced in 2014 stipulate that all fire and smoke curtains must be fitted with a gravity fail safe system. This ensures that a curtain will still descend even if there is no mains power or backup power from a battery.