A degree of fire safety infrastructure is needed almost anywhere that a fire could potentially break out with no real ease of escape. In practice, this means that fire safety is required everywhere that can be classed as “indoors”. Whether you find yourself in a school or a bedroom, there is really no way to eradicate the fire hazards that fire safety equipment exists to ameliorate. You would have to be out in the middle of a rainy field.
But fire safety is not the same across the board and is certainly not the same when installed in a business, a place of work, or a home. The law naturally takes a different view of semi-public locations compared to private dwellings but, more than this, the priorities of the homeowner and the business manager are just fundamentally different. A business facilities manager will typically find themself working fire extinguisher prices into the budget and fire drills into the weekly schedule. A homeowner is unlikely to bother about either of these things.
Fire safety is however a common-sense investment (or indeed a legal necessity in many cases) and this has in turn driven a dynamic market for technological innovations that can answer the fire safety needs as they are manifest in homes and places of work today. But what are the different fire safety priorities?
In most places bar heavy industrial sites and warehouses, fire safety infrastructure is generally preferred to be discrete. Nobody wants an office or showroom strewn with unsightly safety signage, hazards warnings, and bright red fire equipment. Similarly, very few public buildings benefit from piercing and shrill fire alarms being set off for regular drills. Fire safety infrastructure is, in general, preferred to be as close to invisible as possible.
Nevertheless, where discretion is valued in many business settings as well as residential locations, it is within the home that it becomes of paramount importance. The home is supposed to be a place of comfort, in which countless shrill fire alarms or cumbersome fire safety equipment is unacceptable; it is also a place where aesthetic concerns are of significant importance. People will tolerate unsightly fire safety infrastructure at their place of work, but next to nobody would willingly invite it into their home. New fire safety technology is making strides towards answering these needs.
All of these concerns play out against a backdrop of constantly evolving fire safety regulation, whether that be legal requirements or simply updates to recommended fire safety rules. New fire safety technology must constantly keep pace with these developments, ensuring that the technology meets the legal requirements when it is employed.
A further consideration is the eco-dimension. As our society becomes more eco-conscious, developers of fire safety technology are prioritising more and more developments that provide eco-friendly fire safety solutions to replace older methods and technology which has proved harmful to the environment. This normally involves using less harmful substances in the composition of fire safety materials such as fire suppressant in the extinguishers or the sealants used in buildings. It may also entail producing fire safety products that are more economical and do not produce as much waste. Examples here would include sprinkler systems designed to use less water and fire extinguishers that use less suppressant to achieve the same effect.
Ultimately, fire safety technology can be broadly divided into that suitable for the workplace, which must toe a legal line as well as protect many more people across a large indoor space, and that geared towards the home, where aesthetic concerns and the value of unobtrusiveness are paramount.
Advanced Smoke/Heat Detection Systems
Smoke and heat detectors have saved many lives, but older models have also long been the bane of homeowners. This is not because they have not worked well or have been ineffective at detecting smoke and heat, but in fact the exact opposite problem – they have been too sensitive.
Smoke and heat detectors have for a long time been unable to distinguish between the smoke and heat produced by a genuinely perilous fire and that produced from the many other smoke sources common around the home. This includes things like smoking a cigarette or simply cooking. In fact, this problem has become so bad at times that users have simply disconnected them, fed up with a shrill blast of noise every time they cook some fish.
The hazards implicit here are obvious, but thankfully technology is finding a way over this obstacle. The latest generation of smoke alarms are now able to detect smoke particle size, rather than the mere presence of smoke itself. Only smoke produced in the manner commonly associated with house fires will set them off.
Environmentally Friendly Fire Sealants
Fire sealants are placed in between the walls of a home and, as such, are a fantastic home fire safety product – because you cannot see them. Yet beyond this aesthetic advantage, sealants are also highly effective at controlling the spread of a fire from room to room. Used in conjunction with fire doors, they can contain fire in one area of the house. The only problem is that the substances used within them can be very environmentally harmful.
The culprit here is the chemical found in sealants known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These react to the materials to which sealant is typically applied and create substances not only harmful to the environment but to human health as well. Thankfully, these VOCs are firmly on their way out.
Places of Work
The Internet of Things and Smart Buildings
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) means the connection and integrated functionality of tools, appliances, and other objects across the internet. Connected in such a way and augmented with a range of data-collecting sensors, the internet of things gives rise to the “smart building”, which is the concept of a building which controls much of its own functions and performs many previous human-controlled tasks automatically.
Smart buildings have an undoubted and exciting role to play in the future of fire safety technology. Their potential is enormous – a smart building could utilise and integrate a system of location-wide sensors to not only locate a fire the moment it happens, but to control the immediate response and pass on data about both the fire and the building to the fire service before they even arrive.
Water Mist Fire Suppression
Sprinklers are a fairly basic addition to a location’s fire safety regulation, especially in places of work, which are highly effective at controlling fire outbreaks. A major drawback to sprinkler systems, however, is that they are not particularly sustainable and use up a great deal of water (often across areas where there is no fire) each time they are set off.
A new generation of water sprinklers now making their way onto the market have swapped the water delivery system for a fine mist, which is at once more effective at controlling fires and in fact uses less water. Combined with a “smart building” system, these new generation sprinklers could be set off in only the parts of the building where there is a fire.