Fire Compartment

Last Updated: September 3, 2020

Definition - What does Fire Compartment mean?

A fire compartment is any space within a building or facility that is surrounded by fire barriers on all sides, including the ceiling and floor. As a type of passive fire protection, fire compartments are designed to limit the spread of fires in a facility by preventing fires from spreading beyond the initial compartment that they start in. Many buildings and facilities are entirely subdivided into various fire compartments in order to limit the spread of fire should one break out.

Fire compartments do not entirely prevent the spread of fires into another compartment—the ability of any given fire barrier to withstand exposure to a fire is formally rated to between 30 minutes and four hours.

Safeopedia explains Fire Compartment

In regulatory contexts, the standards for fire compartments are governed by fire protection and building code agencies. These standards and codes may mandate the use fire compartments either directly or indirectly. In the latter case, the standards or code will refer to the use of discrete fire separations (or fire barriers) instead of fire compartments; however, when these fire barrier requirements are implemented, they collectively result in the creation of fire compartments within the building they are placed in.

The creation of fire compartments is a major focus of many national and subnational building codes, such as Canada’s National Building Code, and addresses both residential and occupational buildings. Many areas of the world rely on the International Building Code (IBC) for their fire compartment requirements.

The IBC’s fire compartment requirements vary depending on the type of building. IBC Ch. 6 categorizes occupancies into differing groups (e.g. F1 — Moderately Hazardous Industrial Factory), and breaks each group into separate subgroups based on the fire resistance of the materials that occupancy is constructed with. Per IBC Ch. 5, occupancy subgroups that are low-hazard and feature strong fire resistance are allowed larger-size fire compartments.

In other words, the requirements for fire compartments can be said to depend on the following factors: How the building will be used (considers factors such as the number of people), the fire load of the building (i.e., flammability), the height of the building (taller buildings may pose higher risk), and the availability of active fire suppression measures (e.g., sprinkler systems).

All parts of a fire compartment must be rated for fire resistance, including the walls, windows, doors, and any other relevant feature. ASTM and UL are the two standards organizations that are chiefly responsible for overseeing the fire rating of these materials.

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