Fire curtains: What you need to know

Posted by Conor Logan on 23/07/20 10:00

Of late, there have been some high-profile news stories focusing on the fire safety of commercial buildings. During a fire, heat can cause parts of the building to collapse which can lead to secondary fires. This makes it difficult for victims to escape from the building and challenging for the emergency services to fight the fire. This is why buildings are designed with limited compartment sizes, so that there is a barrier, through the use of fire rated walls, floors and ceilings, to prevent fire spread throughout the building (amongst other fire safety provisions) – this is a branch of what is generally known as passive fire protection. Different building types have different limitations. Where the building owner, developer or designer would like to relax these limitations and have a more open plan building design, fire curtains can be used as an active form of passive fire protection – allowing unrestricted vision and movement across the space during normal building use, but dropping to floor level to seal the room off in the event of a fire to contain the heat, flames and smoke to a limited compartment, much the same as a wall or fire door would.

FM1 Fire Curtain fullwidth

In this post, we share what you need to know about fire curtains so that you can ensure that they provide protection if an emergency arises.

What is a fire curtain?

A fire curtain is a flexible fire rated barrier that is held out of sight in a headbox until needed. When activated by a fire alarm system, a fire curtain automatically drops down, between guide channels to seal the space where a wall and door would normally have been.

The compartmentation provided by these fire-resistant curtains helps to:

  • Give people more time to escape from the building

  • Protect the escape routes from being damaged by heat, fire or smoke

  • Prevent the development and spread of the fire

  • Protect the building from damage

Fire curtains can be perfectly integrated into the building’s design so that when they are rolled up, they are virtually invisible.

Where are fire curtains installed?

There are more options when it comes to installing fire curtains as opposed to fire doors. For example, a fire curtain could be fitted in an open planned space. This allows open planned buildings to still meet the required fire safety regulations.

They are commonly installed around lobbies and staircases, which tend to be essential escape routes during the event of a fire. When placed in these locations, fire curtains seal off an area allowing occupants out and the fire services personnel in.

Fire curtain servicing

BS 8524 is the British Standard for Active Fire Curtain Assemblies. It requires thorough testing of the fire curtain product, including (but not limited to) the right fire performance, life cycle testing, can withstand impact and descends at a controlled rate to avoid injury/damage. This means that the owner can have confidence that the product will do the job it was designed to do when it is installed.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safty) Order, and BS 8524, also requires that fire curtain be tested and maintained, ensuring the tested performance is delivered throughout their lifetime. Servicing, planned inspections, testing and maintenance should be performed by a ‘competent person who is able to check and confirm that barrier assemblies are operating and performing effectively, when required.’ These inspections must be logged and conducted in alignment with the manufacturer’s instructions.

There are some checks that must be conducted by a competent engineer. However, the BS 8524 recommends that the Responsible Person on-site conducts some smaller checks frequently. These checks may include:

  • Checking that there are no obstructions that could potentially stop the fire curtain from deploying 

  • Ensuring that any changes to the building’s layout could have implications on the fire protection features within the building 

  • Frequently deploying the fire curtain in test mode

  • Visually inspect the fire curtains for signs of damage

  • Reporting operational failures or difficulties to your fire curtain servicing provider.

Furthermore, the BS 8524 suggests that all maintenance staff should be fully trained by the manufacturer.

Colt is fully compliant with BS 8524

Following an exhaustive phase of rigorous testing, Colt has been independently certified by the IFC Certification Ltd (IFCC SDP11-02) to British Standard BS 8524, Parts 1 & 2.

Part 1 is the specification for the product which specifies a thorough and exhaustive regime of testing for the product itself, Part 2 is a Code of Practice covering application, installation and maintenance.

Tips for installing smoke and fire curtains

  1. Avoid installing fire safety curtains too early during the construction process. Doing so could result in damage from site work.

  2. Ensure rollers are aligned perfectly horizontal. If it is not, there’s a risk that the curtain fabric will drift and or crease, leading to premature failure.

  3. Avoid carrying out full commissioning before final power is switched on otherwise battery life may be compromised

  4. Be sure to measure the clear height under the curtain and the designed drop of the curtain prior to manufacture.

  5. Ensure the space above the curtain is stopped with fire rated materials with an identical rating as the curtain itself. If ducts pass over the top, these should either have dampers to maintain fire resistance or they should be fire rated.

  6. Ensure that the control system has dual supplies.

  7. Check that the gaps between curtains are not excessive – unlike smoke curtains to EN 12101-1 which act as a barrier to smoke only, no gaps are permitted.

  8. Use a curtain bottom bar that is suitable for the type of ceiling the curtain is being installed on.

Gypsum type ceilings can be subtly uneven and these imperfections will show up with a straight bottom bar, therefore use a recessed or self-levelling bottom bar in this instance.

Likewise, floors can be uneven, so when using fire curtains to stop fires spreading, make sure that the curtain can compensate for uneven floors.

Colt fire curtains

  • FM-1 automatic fire curtain. FM-1 fire curtains have been tested as fire barriers for either 60, 120 or 180 minutes resistance, in accordance with EN 1634-1. They have E60-C, E120-C and E180-C ratings in accordance with EN 13501-2, thereby achieving an integrity rating for either 60, 120 or 180 minutes. This product is now CE marked to EN 16034, ensuring compliance with the Construction Products Regulation.

  • FMB automatic Fire Curtain – fully compliant with BS 8524-1 for 60, 120 or 180 minutes.

  • Fire Protective Curtain FPC – compliant with UL10D, classified for either 60 or 180 minutes.

The correct installation and maintenance of fire protective curtains can help you to keep your building safe. They stop fire, heat and smoke from spreading. This makes it easier for people to escape safely.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you have any questions about fire curtains or would like to discuss a project, get in touch!

Conor LoganConor Logan CEng FIMechE FCIBSE is Technical Director of Colt UK. Conor designs innovative smoke control and HVAC systems, represents Colt on many UK and EU standards committees and was Chairman of the Smoke Control Association for over 9 years.

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Topics: Fire Containment, Fire Safety