When fire breaks out in a commercial location, the potential for loss of property and life can be catastrophic. Automatic fire shutters are one important line of defense against a business disaster involving fire.
Fire shutters are a type of rolling, steel door installed in buildings to control the spread of fire and smoke during a building fire. Some types of businesses are required by local regulations to install fire shutters, and for other businesses installing fire shutters is an option with many benefits making it worth the investment.
Fires in businesses can be devastating. Many business do not recover after a major fire, and installing adequate fire protection can be the difference between business success and failure. Installation of some fire protection devices, like alarms, door locks, and sprinklers can lower insurance premiums significantly. Some policies also give discounts for installation of fire shutters. While fire shutters may or may not make a business eligible for a reduction in insurance premiums, these safety devices are still often worth the investment for other reasons.
Fire shutters, doors, and curtains can be manually activated or hooked to a fire detection system and alarm so that closing is automatic. Automatic fire shutters provide the additional protection of functioning even when the business is closed and no one is there.
When Fire Shutters are Required by Building Codes
Building codes vary by location while still adhering to overall regulations defined in the National Building Code. Building department staff, architects, and fire door installation companies are the best sources of information for what is required by building codes in a specific location.
In many places, fire shutters are required by regulations in lunch rooms and concessions stands with pass-through counters separating kitchens and food preparation areas from other parts of the building. Unfortunately, the risk of fire in a construction situation like this is much higher than the risk of fire in other types of commercial locations, and this has brought about an increase of building codes mandating the use of fire shutters on these types of counters.
Counter fire shutters provide a barrier for smoke and flames, compartmentalizing the fire and reducing losses and danger to people in the building. The flexible, steel shutters remain rolled up in a tubular housing above the counter opening, unless there is a fire. Guide rails and the closing mechanism are housed on the sides of the opening. When fire, smoke, or excessive heat is detected, the shutter closes with the automatic fire-door closing system.
Fire door closing systems are separate from the shutter or door itself. Closing door systems use different mechanisms for closing the shutter and have motors of different ratings, depending on the weight and size of the shutter. Counter-type fire shutters come in virtually any size up to 30 feet in width and 30 feet in height.
Fire shutters of all types are UL tested and rated and provide fire protection for one-half hour, three-quarter hours, one hour, four hours, or five hours of fire resistance. Which rating is needed is determined by the fire rating of the surrounding walls where the shutter is installed.
Fire shutters which are required by local building and fire codes may need to be regularly inspected and certified by a fire marshal to remain in compliance. If fire shutters qualify a business for a discount on insurance premiums, the insurer many also require periodic inspections and maintenance schedules to be completed.
Benefits of Optional Fire Shutters
Even when not required by building codes or fire marshal regulations, many business owners choose to install fire shutters anyway. Some of the benefits include:
- Reducing the loss of inventory and equipment in the event of a fire. Fire doors contain flames and damaging smoke and keep them from spreading. Fires can start anywhere in a building and often spread rapidly. Some of the most common sources of ignition of fires in businesses include electric wall heaters, lunchroom appliances, smoking areas, electrical panels, generator and boiler rooms, and areas where hazardous materials are stored. By quickly walling off a fire from the rest of the building, loss of property and damage to the building can be significantly reduced in the event of a fire. This makes recovery from a fire faster, easier, and less expensive for the business.
- Safety for employees. Many injuries and deaths from fires are caused by smoke inhalation. Smoke can prevent people from being able to exit the building, even though the flames have not yet reached them. Fire shutters prevent the spread of smoke, giving employees and customers a greater chance of exiting the building safely. Some types of fire shutters first close to just above head-level when a fire is first detected. This helps limit the spread of smoke while still allowing for easy passage of people. After a designated amount of time, the door closes completely, sealing off rooms within the building. Other fire shutter closing systems activate the shutter to close completely at the first sign of a fire.
- Theft protection. Dual purpose fire shutters provide protection in the event of fire and are also easily operated for theft protection. Often installed on storefront windows to protect against smash-and-grab thefts, dual fire-theft shutters are also used on rear entrances, loading docks, and inside buildings and warehouses to limit access to certain areas of the business. Cast iron and stamped steel end-locks for securing the shutter with a padlock when it is closed are standard on most models. Dual purpose fire-theft shutters create a physical and visual barrier against thieves: Most would-be burglars are deterred from attempting a break-in when security shutters are visible.
- Fire shutters can be attractive and sleek in design and can even contribute to the overall aesthetic look of a business. The shutters themselves and the roller and motor housings can all be finished in attractive colors and surface textures, making them blend in or accent the surrounding décor. Grey, tan, brown, white, and unpainted stainless steel are the most common standard colors, but custom colors of blue, red, green, and even wood grain patterns are also available on powder coated finishes, depending on the manufacturer.
Other than occasional cleaning of the shutter and lubrication of moving parts, fire shutters require little to no maintenance and are reliable and durable for many years of service.
Automatic Fire Shutters and Overall Fire Protection
Fire shutters can be an important part of an overall fire protection plan for a business along with fire alarm systems, sprinklers, smoke extraction fans, fire doors, fire curtains, and permanent fire walls in crucial locations. The best design for a fire protection system can only be determined with an on-site evaluation by a professional fire protection expert, a fire marshal, architect, or fire shutter installation company.
Installing automatic fire shutters is an investment that can protect a business from the devastating loss of furnishings, equipment, and inventory caused by a fire. Employees and customers are also safer in buildings equipped with these protective devices. Dual purpose shutters bring the additional benefit of protecting against theft, and a wide range of finishes and colors make fire shutters an attractive option for protecting a business.
Looking to install a security gate for your New York based business? Get in touch with New York Gates at 718-614-0616.