Fire Compartmentation for Commercial Buildings: How Does It Work

Fire compartmentation is a crucial element when it comes to the safety of physical structures, regardless of whether they are office complexes or warehouses. Compartmentation is a practice that involves apportioning large sections of a structure into smaller spaces or rooms.

While it’s mainly intended for use in large commercial buildings, single-story structures and smaller facilities can also benefit from this practice. It’s worth considering it, especially if there are many occupants.

If considering making renovations to your building or have a new structure under construction, you should consider consulting with a fire door maintenance company. The company will go through the designs with you and establish ways to make it safer and ease evacuation efforts.

What Makes Compartmentation So Important?

Did you know that it only takes a few seconds for a flame to grow big and spread to adjacent structures? Compartmentation helps to keep the raging flames contained in a single location, thereby ensuring that smoke and fire will not spread to adjacent buildings.

The inclusion of fire-resistant compartments in a commercial structure guarantees that fire can easily be suppressed. Depending on the cause and the response time, it can take around thirty minutes to have it fully contained.

When creating a fire-safe compartment, several elements ought to be considered. Failure to include some of them can reduce the efficacy of the compartment. Elements to consider include:

Fire Doors

If a fire door is accidentally opened, the entire structure automatically becomes a fire risk. Regardless of whether the remaining parts of the structure have appropriate fire suppression measures in place, a door that’s wedged open will assist the fire to spread.

It’s why UK regulations are against wedging open fire doors. Property managers need to ensure the doors are checked regularly to confirm they are all up to standards. The characteristics of a good fire door include:

  • They have intumescent seal allowing them to swell with heat
  • Self-closing
  • No gaps around them when the doors get closed
  • Certified frame and door

Building Structure

The only way to compartmentalize a fire is to ensure the structure is in great condition. Pay special attention to any work being done on the floors or walls, e.g., drilling, that is likely to affect its integrity.

Any damage noted needs to be repaired immediately and all holes sealed off. For the building structure:

  • Cavity barriers should be placed in the roof voids
  • The walls and floors should be made from materials that are resistant to fire, e.g., gypsum boards, bricks, stucco, or concrete.

Smoke and Fire Dampers

Air conditioning systems should all have a fire damper. The fire dampers should be installed to help in closing off any gaps likely to be present in the structure, thereby sustaining compartmentation in the event of a fire outbreak.

The smoke and fire dampers should be checked and serviced on an ongoing basis. Maintenance and tune-up frequency is dependent on the existing environmental conditions. The characteristics of the smoke and fire dampers are:

  • Intumescent: Immediately reacts to heat, resulting in swelling, which then blocks all openings.
  • Mechanical: they should have a pivot system similar to the one used in a curtain system


For buildings that are still in the design stages, it’s recommended to have an architect check them for fire safety and compartmentation. Building owners looking to renovate existing buildings should consider installing fire and smoke curtains. These are a necessity and not a luxury as they protect the occupants from smoke and fire exposure.

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