In their efforts to assess and balance the various aesthetic, technical, and functionality requirements of commercial projects, architects are duty-bound to place the safety of future occupants above all else. The appropriate application of fire and smoke control solutions is critical to this endeavour.
Fire represents a real and present threat to all commercial buildings, regardless of type. Every corporate office, retail outlet, hospitality centre, sports facility, government building, community hall, medical centre, and educational institution is at risk and must comply with all relevant regulations and codes.
However, building fire safety is not a simple, one-size-fits-all proposition. Rather, it involves a series of sub-systems associated with training and education, fire service response, ignition potential, fire load, escape routes, passive fire protection, fire-fighting systems, detection and alarm systems, smoke management systems, digital fire apps, sprinklers, fire curtains, and so forth.
EBSA - The CPS-M smoke control panel
For various structural and thermal reasons, when fires do break out, natural extraction systems are not always enough to adequately remove smoke from the building in question. Examples of commercial buildings where this can be the case include shopping centres, underground car parks, and multi-storey buildings.
In these instances, motor-driven fans or ventilators – known collectively as mechanical smoke extraction (MSE) systems – should be installed. In fact, in some cases, the installation of MSEs can be stipulated in building permits. To operate effectively, MSEs require a control system such as the CPS-M smoke control panel from Brisbane-based louvre and window automation supplier, EBSA.
Certified to ISO21927, the CPS-M smoke control panel is a crucial (yet often unspecified) component of any building where operable façade elements are used as part of the fire system.
Purpose-built, the CPS-M is designed to interface between Building Management Systems, the local Fire Service, operable façade elements and mechanical dampers and fans. As a digital system, it has freely configurable inputs and outputs and is therefore very flexible. It incorporates several failsafe measures such as monitoring of input supply voltage and monitoring of 72-hour failsafe battery backup. While it can be used for natural ventilation control it is hard coded so that, in the event of fire, smoke control functions always receive top priority.
A product of German manufacturer D+H Mechatronic, the CPS-M smoke control panels are assembled in Brisbane by EBSA. Locally, they have been installed in several high-profile projects, including the Williamtown RAAF base, Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre, Carrara Indoor Sports Centre, and PEGS School Melbourne.
Promat - Cafco Sprays and Promatect
Available from fire protection equipment supplier Promat, Cafco Sprays and Promatect board enable specifiers to increase the fire resistance of existing materials – such as concrete, masonry walls, or concrete slabs – in existing buildings.
This can be necessary in cases where an older building changes use and, in so doing, triggers a requirement to increase its fire resistance level (FRL). This is especially the case in CBDs where older buildings are often refurbished for a new use.
Both excellent insulators, Cafco Sprays and Promatect both work by slowing the transfer of heat through the wall or slab. Because they are significantly thinner and lighter than the equivalent amount of concrete or masonry that would be required to do the job, they are much more practical. Performing this type of retrofit is far easier than attempting to add extra concrete.
The Cafco spray material can be applied without removal of any services or fixtures to the wall or slab. In applications where aesthetics is a consideration, the board material can be easily painted or covered with additional linings.
The material and equipment needed to apply the products is small and lightweight, making it an easy task compared to pumping concrete. And because the board products can be pre-cut offsite, installation is simply a matter of a straight fix to the walls or slabs.
CSR Bradford - Acoustigard glasswool fibre insulation
The use of non-combustible façade components is a critical way to prevent the vertical spread of fire in high rise buildings. This applies not just to cladding and other externally facing materials but also to things like insulation.
Engineered to reduce sound transmission in walls and ceilings, CSR Bradford’s Acoustigard glasswool fibre insulation is also certified as a thermal insulation for non-combustible external walls. It represents a standardised solution for fire, acoustic and thermal insulation in high rise commercial applications.
It should be noted that internal walls in commercial and multi-res buildings are also often required to provide fire and acoustic separation. The use of non-combustible insulation, such as Acoustigard, within separating walls provides not just acoustic performance but also a reduction in the risk of noxious gasses spreading in the event of a fire. In other words, it increases the chance of survival for evacuating occupants and first responders.
Matilda Veneer - Fireply X range
Changes to the Building Code of Australia (BCA) in 2019 made the specification of real wood products in many areas of Class 2-9 buildings increasingly challenging. They effectively diminished the choices for specifiers looking to use natural timber.
Matilda Veneer's introduction of the Fireply X range of pre-finished plywood panels addresses this challenge and restores some excellent timber choices. A natural successor to Matilda Fireply, an unperforated, unfinished, oversized version that has been available for approximately four years, Fireply X ensures the finishing of these panels is in line with all proper use recommendations and that the finished panels meet aesthetic and performance expectations.
Unlike Fireply X, most fire-retardant plywood products are treated post-production (which limits its fire resistance) or treated with intumescent paint or lacquer to provide fire resistance. This requires regular maintenance and negatively impacts their appearance and durability.
In contrast, Fireply X is treated by veneer impregnation prior to plywood production. As such, the whole product is fire retardant, not just the exterior. This means trimming can be done on site without negative impact on the product’s fire rating.
Panels are supplied cut-to-size at either 2400mm x 1200mm or 2390mm x 1190mm (which allows for express joints) to reduce cutting on site and allow for quick and simple installation without the risk of non-compliance or voiding warranties.
Manufactured by a company of the same name, Speedpanel is a lightweight, user-friendly wall system for fire and acoustic protection. It was developed in the mid-90s as an alternative to the standard solutions of that time, which were mainly heavyweight concrete or masonry walls that were not needed for the structure of the building, but because of their weight, required large and expensive foundations and structural supports.
A modular wall system, Speedpanel comprises a steel outer shell filled with a lightweight, aerated concrete inner core. The Speedpanel system consists of individual panels that click together in a ‘tongue and groove’ fashion.
It is available in 78mm, 64mm and 51mm panels to suit a wide variety of acoustic and fire wall applications, including commercial ones. Specifically, it is suitable for shafts and risers, intertenancy and corridors, car parks, plant rooms, stair walls, ceilings, and bulkheads, as well as external and facade substrate.
Importantly, Speedpanel systems are tested, certified and may provide up to a -/240/240 FRL. They remove costly structures in high-rise and commercial projects and ensure that fire safety is a top priority.
They have been successfully used in several noteworthy commercial projects, including Melbourne’s Eureka Tower, International Towers Sydney, Sydney’s Star City Casino, and the Sunshine Coast University Hospital in Queensland.
As the Chadstone Shopping Centre redevelopment, which took place in south-east Melbourne in 2016 illustrates, logistics and supply considerations are critical to fire safety compliance.
Gandel and Vicinity Group engaged Probuild to complete the project, which would see the centre regain its status as the largest of its type in Australia. Probuild subsequently subcontracted the internal walls and ceilings job to Arc Plastering, a company that specialises in large commercial projects.
It was decided that Arc Plastering would use 115,000m² of USG Boral lining products including Fiberock and Sheetrock plasterboards and compounds to complete the project. Like all USG Boral fire rated wall and ceiling products and systems, these products meet NCC requirements for suitable fire resistance.
The difficulty in this case was that Arc had not previously used USG Boral products. Nevertheless, with the assistance of USG Boral they took on the job.
Demonstrating that building compliance and fire safety must always be prioritised as key considerations during the design and construction phase, the two companies held daily meetings to ensure runs of specialised plasterboard met building code regulations for fire safety and were available in sufficient quantities. In this way, they were able to ensure that they met the project’s Christmas deadline.
Caption: Phillip Island Visitor Centre (Penguin Parade)/ Supplied.