Fire and Smoke Control


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Fire is one of the greatest inventions of man. If handled with care, fire plays a fundamental role both in industries and for domestic use. However, if a fire goes out of control, it is likely to cause damage to property, personal injuries, and in some instances death. To fight fire, it needs a level of mastery and experience in the field. Therefore, fighting fire incidences requires mastery of skills and related knowledge as well as from others who have experienced such cases. Therefore, it is of much importance to learn from the case study and get insights that will help in gaining knowledge from other people’s experiences. It is imperative for firefighters, civilians, and builders to work together in averting any danger that may be brought by fires, especially in public places (Akhil 4). It is the duty of the firefighters to assess and responds to fire incidences that relate to building construction with minimal or no damage or loss of life.

Restaurant Fire – Colorado

On 2008 February 22nd at around 2 pm, a fire was reported in a commercial building, downtown Durango in the state of Colorado. The city firefighters responded promptly and began to put out the fire, however, before the incident was contained, nine firefighters were injured following an explosion that occurred in their line of duty (NIOSH 5). They were rushed to the hospital where some were admitted with serious injuries while others were treated and discharged. Luckily, no casualty was reported from the incident.

The fire incident involved two buildings. The first building housed a bakery, and the other had a restaurant. The two buildings were a one-storey, had basements and they were said to have been constructed in the 90s. The building that housed the restaurant had been further divided, and each sub-division had an owner.  The buildings were so close that the bakery had an extension of the roof and did not provide fire separation (NIOSH 7). The explosion that occurred is said to have been caused by the ignition of gases that have been accumulating between the spaces found in the building.

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After investigations, the fire is said to have come from the restaurant where the kitchen construction had not met the flame requirements thus leading to ignition of the wooden frames. Since there were no fire separations, the fire spread very quickly. The flames then ignited the next building. From this incident, there was a buildup of gases, which exploded, injuring several firefighters (NIOSH 6). Thus, it is important to put into consideration the gas builds up, especially in old buildings that may be poorly ventilated. The fire flames spread quickly from part of the building which was constructed using wood. The wooden structure then spread fire to the next building. Given the building was old and had not met any of the building construction criteria, including ventilation to prevent fire incidences; this caused the fire to spread faster.

Several emergency criteria could have significantly lowered the severity of the fire incident. Firstly, there would have been several building modifications to allow smoke and other gases to escape to avoid explosions. Additionally, there would have been proper fire separations to avoid the quick spread of the flames that ignited the other building. Lastly, the buildings would have been fitted with self-firefighting equipment such as sprinklers, which would have played a significant role in fighting the spread of the fire.

Principles of Smoke Movement in Atrium

In recent times, atriums have become a common element in construction of offices, residential homes, and commercial buildings. They are usually attractive with naturally lit spaces combined with a controlled environment.  However, due to their size and height, atriums pose a great challenge from fire protection and mitigation (Lougheed 2). The height of the atriums significantly reduces the effectiveness of fire suppression mechanisms such as automatic sprinklers. Due to the lack of floor-to-floor separations, there are limited chances of smoke or fire spreading to other floors and areas in the building. Search and rescue operations face a great challenge since they are vulnerable to smoke that spreads very fast, especially in buildings where the smoke management systems are inadequate (Lougheed 2). Fires in atriums pose a great danger to the occupants because of smoke mitigation.

A high percentage of fire-related deaths are caused by toxic gasses as well as inhaling of smoke rather than those related to burns. According to fire-safety engineering, smoke is a combination liquid particles, airborne solids, and gases that are produced when materials burn and the air becomes entrained.

Dangers Associated with Smoke in Buildings

  1. Reduction of oxygen, which may lead to suffocation rendering a person unconscious or even death.
  2. Poor visibility. Lack of visibility is one the major hazards in atrium fires as they hinder rescue and evacuation efforts. Thus, it is important to put visibility into consideration when designing a smoke management system.
  3. High temperatures. Dangerous heat is hazardous to humans; especially those immersed in smoke and are exposed to its radiations.
  4. Toxic gases. When materials burn, they release gases, some of which are dangerous to people if inhaled. Carbon monoxide is the most common and other narcotic gases, which render a person unconscious.

Visibility is crucial in the search, rescue, and evacuation process as people will be able to see and walk out through the emergency exits. Smoke may make the occupants to become disoriented thus losing their way. Toxic gases may not prevent people from escaping, and if they are unable to escape, there is a high chance that the rescuers will spot them and come to their aid. To ensure visibility, the residents of the building should move to places where there is no or less smoke concentration, as this will increase their chances of escaping or being rescued. Other effects of the smoke hazards, i.e. the high temperatures, low oxygen levels, and toxic gases may seriously affect the people who are near the fire or its source or those who are engulfed by the smoke (Lougheed 3). Long exposure to smoke and toxic gases increase the chances of incapacitation or in the worst cases death.

In the picture, the smoke is seen rising from the fire, and the building seems to have good floor-to-floor separation, which plays a significant role in preventing a high concentration of smoke from entering the other floors. Additionally, the design of the mall atrium is in a way that allows the smoke to concentrate on the ceiling of the atrium where it can escape to the atmosphere thus doing no harm to the occupants. The building is designed in a way that allows the air to blow the smoke away from other floors and limits its production (Lougheed 3). The smoke flow leaves and maintains a tenable environment in the escape routes a situation that may give people a higher chance of escaping unhurt.

Due to the less smoke concentration on the ground and the subsequent floors, the visibility level is quite clear, which increases the chances of evacuation and less property damage. The picture clearly demonstrates how the smoke can rise up the building without blowing to other floors. The occupants of the building have a high chance of escaping, and the firefighters can easily put out the fire thus reducing further damage. The design of the building plays a significant role in safe removal of post-fire smoke.

Smoke Management Measures

Smoke from a fire in an atrium or a partition along the atrium has the capability of spreading to other parts of the building, which may be occupied. Therefore, this poses a great danger to the occupants and may make the evacuation process complicated. Considering this threat, it is, therefore, important to design smoke management systems (Chew and Liew 70). In fact, to manage smoke in cases of fire in atriums, there are various engineering approaches that may be employed in isolation or combined. The approaches are designed to lower the production of smoke, mitigate its effects on the people, and if possible modify the flow of the smoke (COLT 4).

Some of the most effective measures include use of non-combustible materials in construction and installing automatic sprinklers. The sprinklers have been proven one of the most effective ways of suppressing fires, especially in rooms, which have low ceiling height (Chew and Liew 74). However, in situations of an atrium, the height of the space is quite high that makes the smoke to cool as it rises thus making it impossible to activate the automatic sprinklers. As a result of the disadvantage, there is a high chance of smoke spreading in the atrium and other spaces before the sprinklers can be activated.

Worth noting is that there is very little data on the fires that have been sprinkled in atriums thus making it difficult to conclude the best approach in which sprinklers can be employed. Additionally, there have been suggestions to use automatic sprinklers that can also be turned on manually. Indeed, to prevent smoke accumulation around the ceiling, there should be opening, which can mechanically exhaust the smoke and reduce its spread in the building (Fang, Nielsen, and Henrik 8). In addition, activation of the venting systems can either be done manually or using heat and smoke detectors thus reducing the amount of smoke that would accumulate and spread.

The engineers should implement built in approaches that will manage and limit movement of smoke in and within the building. For example, the escape sections can be barricaded to separate them from the atrium thus lowering the danger to the occupants (Simon 37).

Smoke Management Systems

Construction Requirements

It is significant for engineers and builders to follow the set requirements to reduce the chances of smoke. The most important one is to use non-combustible building materials.

Protected Floor Space

The spaces should be constructed in a way that it will be able to handle the huge flow of people escaping from the fire and at the same time allow rescuers to move in. It should be designed in such a way that people do not have to enter or go through the interconnected floors.

Drafts Stops

They should be installed on every floor to block smoke, thus creating a reservoir that will allow smoke detection thus activating sprinklers

Mechanical Exhaust System

The system will allow the smoke from the interconnected floors to be removed promptly. By doing so, there will be increased visibility, thus easy rescuing (Fang, Nielsen, and Henrik 8).

The above smoke management necessities ensure that the building designers have the main objectives of protecting the lives of the people as well as property. The approaches are mostly designed to reduce the smoke production and to suppress any that may be produced. By implementing some or all the above measures in atriums, they will play a significant role in reducing the devastating effects brought about by fire and smoke.

Fire and Smoke Protection systems used in Shopping Malls

To ensure the safety of mall occupants and shoppers, the designers have come up with several ways that can prevent fire and smoke from spreading further. Firstly, the installation of smoke ventilators, especially along the escape routes will allow people to evacuate quickly. The vent also prevents smoke from accumulating, thus allowing free flow of air. Secondly, the use of channeling screens that decrease the width of the smoke plume thus reduces the massive smoke flow (COLT 6). The channeling can be achieved by use of automatic fire curtain drop down. Therefore, to effectively control fire and smoke in the mall, it is important to consider floor-to-floor mechanism approach.

Thirdly, there is the use of the air inlet mechanism, where air is forced through to the source of the fire far from the smoke reservoir. The method is effective as it drives smoke out of the building, hence protecting its occupants. Fourthly, there is the use of powered extracts that are normally installed on the roof of the building and once activated smoke is sucked out of the mall reducing smoke accumulation. In addition, the use of fire alarms plays a significant role in fire controls since they allow quick response from the firefighters and safety officers. The alarms alert the occupants in the mall, and they may be able to vacate the premises before the fire and smoke overwhelms them (Simon 38). Once the occupants vacate the mall, it becomes easier for the firefighters to control the fire and save life and property easily.

Moreover, there is the use of smoke barriers where large spaces are divided by the use of permanent screen or fire curtains, which drop upon smoke detection. The barriers prevent the smoke from the flowing to other areas or rooms inside the mall. Fire spread can be controlled using the marked water reels that are strategically placed in malls and can be used to suppress the fire thus minimizing the damage. In addition, there is the use of handheld fire extinguishers, which are effective in controlling fire that is not huge and out of control. Lastly, the engineers have recommended the use of non-combustible building materials that will discourage the rapid spread of fire.

Therefore, it is important for malls and other large building with multiple occupants to implement some of these systems to control the spread of fire and smoke. Smoke control has been said to be a crucial part in averting fire-related dangers since it has been realized that most people usually succumb to smoke and toxic gases. If malls and other buildings implement some of these systems, then firefighting control would be effective.


Fire plays a critical role in the current world. However, if not handled with care, it can be disastrous and may cause injuries, property damage, and loss of life. There are accidental fires that occur mostly in public places where a building has multiple occupants and has a sophisticated design. In such buildings, it becomes difficult for people to escape and in many cases, it results in injuries and sometimes deaths. As it has been noted in the discussion, it is important to implement certain criteria that will enable people to escape in case a building catches fire. It has been noted from the discussion that most fire-related deaths are actually not caused by burns, but they occur due to smoke or poisonous gas inhalation. In fire incident, smoke is the leading cause of death as it causes poor visibility leading disorientation of a person. In fact, smoke significantly lowers the oxygen levels in the air, consequently making the air toxic, making the involved parties unconscious thus inability to escape. Nevertheless, there are various ways in which malls and buildings that have multiple occupants can fight the spread of fire and reduce the smoke accumulation. One of the most effective ways is the use of automatic sprinkler, which have proven effective for fire suppression. Although the sprinklers are effective, they have a disadvantage, especially in atriums where the ceiling of the building is quite high. In this case, as the smoke rises, the heat and smoke sensors become inactive since the air cools as it rises. Therefore, the automatic sprinklers may fail to respond. However, some of the fire and smoke suppressors discussed above can overcome the issue.

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