Encyclopedia of Security and Emergency Management

Living Edition
| Editors: Lauren R. Shapiro, Marie-Helen Maras

Fire: Prevention, Protection, and Life Safety

  • Joshua ReichertEmail author
Living reference work entry

Latest version View entry history

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-69891-5_79-2


Fire mitigation 


Fire protection is the methods and actions to reduce and mitigate the effects and damage caused by a fire event.

Fire prevention is the methods and actions taken to reduce the likelihood of a fire event.

Life safety is the primary goal in fire protection utilizing a method or system to protect the life of occupants.


The United States and mankind in general have always had a fire problem. What was and has always been one of the most important tools to the human race can quickly become one of the deadliest. Humans learned to harness fire for many uses such as to cook food and stay warm. But just as fire has good applications, it has its bad sides as it burns down buildings and cities, destroys forests, and takes lives when out of control.

Fire protection has been seen as early as 300 B.C. by the Romans as a slave fire department. By A.D. 26 a full-time fire department in Rome was flourishing and was charged with enforcing fire prevention safeguards and punishing any person that did not follow the safeguards or was responsible for a fire event (Robertson 2005).

Many attempts to mitigate the impact of fires have also been seen throughout time. The Great London Fire of 1666 destroyed approximately 13,200 houses, 87 churches, and 50 livery halls over an area of 436 acres (Cote 2004). The primary construction material in London at the time was wood and straw. However, this fire enforced a need to prevent the spread of fire from one building to another, which lead to the way London looks today, with majority of construction being brick and stone.

Today, fire protection is the application of fire prevention and fire mitigation to provide life safety, property conservation, and environmental protection. The fire protection field consists of, but is not limited to, fire fighters, fire marshals, fire prevention officers, fire protection engineers, fire protection specialists, fire investigators, etc. The best ways to achieve adequate fire protection are to provide fire prevention and, if a fire does occur, mitigate the impact of the fire as much as possible. Many best practices and strategies are incorporated into providing adequate fire prevention and fire mitigation.

Fire Prevention

Fire prevention has many levels associated with it. Prevention starts before products are even released to distributors or retailers by testing regulated by government agencies. However, not all fire events can be prevented, and for that reason, fire education is provided as a secondary fire prevention method.

Consumer Product Fire Prevention

In recognition of the fact that manufacturers and distributors should not be allowed to release products to a consumer without consideration to the safety of the product, laws such as the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA), Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA), etc. were enacted to give regulatory power to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The CPSC is an independent federal regulatory agency formed in 1972. It is the mission of the CPSC to protect the public against unreasonable risks of injury or death from consumer products through education, safety standards activities regulations, and enforcement. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard (United States Consumer Product Safety Commission n.d.).

In order to educate the public and consumers of potential harm or ensure consumers of safety products, the CPSC releases technical reports. These reports are not always written and published by the CPSC as they may release technical reports conducted by other entities within the government, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Further education is provided by the CPSC in the form of Residential Fire Loss Estimates. This provides the public such as consumers, manufacturers, distributors, and even fire departments with the ability to identify fire trends and allow the public to adjust accordingly.

The CPSC enforces consumer product safety under given laws/acts regulating different products or substances utilizing federal regulations. These regulations are named the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is published by the Federal Register by the executive department and agencies of the federal government of the United States. The CFR is divided into 50 titles covering a broad range of subjects. Both fire prevention and fire protection areas can be found located in different Titles of the CFR.

Fire Prevention Programs

Despite federal regulations, fires still occur in all types of locations with potential for harm. The next line of defense to prevent these fires are fire prevention programs. One of the most recognizable and longest lasting fire prevention program is that of Smokey Bear.

In 1944, the US Forest Service and the Ad Council agreed that a fictional bear would be the symbol for their joint effort to promote forest fire prevention. By 1947, and to this day, Smokey Bear’s slogan, “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!” is still widely known (Office of Communication 2014).

Other national organizations also provide fire prevention programs. Every year in October, the nation recognizes Fire Prevention Week and is considered the longest running public health observance. Fire Prevention Week was first enacted in 1925 by President Calvin Coolidge in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has been the official sponsor of Fire Prevention Week since its enactment. Every year, NFPA promotes a different fire prevention theme to the public (NFPA n.d.).

Local fire departments, paid, volunteer, and combination, are all known to provide fire prevention programs to their community. Many fire departments around the country have a Fire Prevention Officer charged with such programs. It is possible for fire departments to use both local and national statistics to determine trouble areas to focus on for fire prevention or for fire departments to focus on the highest risk demographic of their community. It is common for fire departments to offer fire prevention demonstrations for the community and programs for younger children. Fire departments also have authority to conduct facility inspections to ensure code compliance, which is also a form of fire prevention.

Employers are also in charge of providing a workplace safe from recognizable fire hazards. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) was created in 1970 when President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970 (Occupational Safety & Health Administration n.d.). OSHA regulates employers through standards and enforces violations of said standards. OSHA requires employers to provide fire prevention measures such as, but not limited to, safeguards to fire hazards, training to workers on potential fire hazards, and fire safety plans.

Fire Protection

Fire protection is a large industry around the world with many different parties involved. Two methods are used to provide adequate fire protection. The first method is fire prevention, if a fire never occurs, then adequate fire protection has been achieved. Fire prevention can be provided by eliminating a hazard of a product or process, educating all involved parties on the fire hazard, or providing administrative or engineering controls to the fire hazard. If fire prevention is unsuccessful, the second method to adequate fire protection is needed, and that is to mitigate the impact of the fire event. Mitigating the effects of the fire can be done by limiting how large the fire can grow and by containing the fire to one location until the fire can be suppression.

Active Fire Protection

Active fire protection is the first line of fire protection in the event of a fire and typically comes in two forms: fire detection and fire suppression.

If a fire is to occur, it is essential to notify occupants as soon as possible to ensure adequate life safety. To do so, automatic fire detection is installed. Detector devices can be spot type detectors that only notify the local area or can be linked to a panel to notify a facility in the case of detection. Many types of automatic fire detection devices are available for use and include, but are not limited to ionization smoke detectors, photoelectric smoke detectors, combination smoke detectors, heat detectors, beam detectors, and air sampling detection.
  • Ionization smoke detectors – these smoke detectors contain a small amount of radioactive material between two electrically charged plates. If smoke is present, it disrupts the current of ions between the two plates and activating the alarm. This type of smoke detector is generally more responsive to flaming fires.

  • Photoelectric smoke detectors – these smoke detectors utilize a light source that is aimed into a sensing chamber at an angle away from the sensor. When smoke enters the sensing chamber, it reflects the light source into the sensor activating the alarm. This type of smoke detector is generally more responsible to smoldering fires.

  • Combination ionization/photoelectric detectors – this is a combination of functionality between ionization smoke detectors and photoelectric smoke detectors to cover a spectrum of fire scenarios. This allows a smoke detector to have the sensitivity of each time of smoke detector for both flaming and smoldering combustion.

  • Heat detectors – two types of heat detectors are common for use: rate-of-rise detectors and fixed temperature detectors. A rate-of-rise detector activates if the temperature increases too quickly over a specified period of time. A fixed temperature detector activates if a specified temperature is reached. These detectors have good application in facilities where ionization and photoelectric detectors may be prone to false alarms such as facilities that accumulate dust.

  • Beam detectors – these types of detector devices are good for use in large spaces such as atriums and warehouses. To use, a transmitter is located at one end of the coverage area and is pointed at the receiver at the other end of the coverage area. If anything happens to disrupt the transmitted beam, the detector activates.

  • Air sampling – air sampling smoke detector is a series of pipes (usually CPVC) with small holes at intervals of the pipe. The pipe directs back to an air sampling unit which pull air from the pipes to sample what is returned to the unit for smoke. If smoke is identified by the air sampling unit, activation occurs.

Fire suppression is also another common type of active fire protection. Suppression can provide two functions in a fire event, fire detection (if other detection means are not present or malfunctions) and suppression/containment of the fire event. Many types of fire suppression agents are in use today including, but not limited to, water, water mist, FM200, foam, wet chemical, dry chemical, NOVAC 1230, and carbon dioxide.

Passive Fire Protection

In fire protection, it is also important to contain the fire to one location and protect the structure to prevent structural damage; this is achieved through passive fire protection. Many structures and products can be used to achieve adequate passive fire protection. When the purpose is to compartmentalize a fire and prevent it from spreading to other parts of a building, this can be achieved with components such as fire walls, fire barriers, fire partitions, fire doors, and fire curtains and shutters.
  • Fire walls, barriers, and partitions – fire walls are structures built from the base of a building to the roof. Fire wall ratings can range from 3 h to 4 h. Fire barriers differ from fire walls as they only extend from floor to floor or floor to roof including any concealed spaces. Fire barrier ratings can range from 2 h to 3 h. Fire partitions in all respects are similar to fire barriers but have a fire resistance rating of 1 h to 2 h. Fire walls, barriers, and partitions must be constructed of materials that have been tested and rated in accordance with ASTM D 119, ISO 834-1, EN 1363-1, or AS/NZ 1530 (XL Catlin n.d.).

  • Fire doors – fire door assemblies must be tested in accordance with NFPA 252, UL 10B, BS 476: Part 20, or EN 1634-1. Fire doors must be installed and maintained in accordance with NFPA 80 and GAP.2.2.2 (XL Catlin n.d.).

  • Fire curtains and shutters – fire curtains and shutters are based on the same principle, a type of fire or smoke separator that can be stored in a hidden place that will deploy in the event of a fire and activation of the fire protection system. Fire curtains are usually made of a more flexible material, while fire shutters are made of a more rigid material, leading to fire shutters having a higher fire and smoke resistance rating. Each fire or smoke resistance rating will be dependent on the testing to have been performed on a product by an approved laboratory.

Manual Suppression

The final line of defense in fire protection is using humans to manually suppress a fire. It is likely manual suppression by an occupant of a building could occur before a fire suppression system activates but is not likely. It is more expected to see manual suppression in structures with no automatic suppression.

Fire extinguishers are one available tool to be utilized in manual suppression activities. Fire extinguishers range in sizes anywhere from 5lbs of chemical to extinguishers on carts to be moved to a fire for manual suppression. The extinguishing agents within fire extinguishers also vary depending on the recognized fire hazards in that location. Fire extinguishers follow a hazard classification system to determine the type of extinguisher to use for a given fire event.
  • Class A: Class A fuels are ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, cardboard, cloth, etc.

  • Class B: Class B fuels are flammable liquids and gases such as gasoline, propane, etc.

  • Class C: Class C fuels are live electrical equipment such as printers, computers, etc.

  • Class D: Class D fuels are combustible metals such as magnesium, lithium, etc.

  • Class K: Class K fuels are cooking oils and fats common to a kitchen setting.

Fire extinguishers will be labeled with these different classifications to signify their appropriateness for a type of fire. Depending on the extinguishing agent in the fire extinguisher will determine the classification of fire it is available to extinguish. Some extinguishing agents will be capable of extinguishing more than one classification of fire and will be labeled as so (e.g., ABC fire extinguisher).

If a fire grows to a point where manual suppression by occupants or workers is no longer a safe option, the next manual suppression option is by trained fire personnel (fire departments or fire brigades). Firefighters engage to two types of manual suppression activities, interior and exterior fire attacks. For an interior fire attack, firefighters wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and enter the structure with a fire attack hose line. Firefighters will move throughout the structure to find the fire and extinguish the fire with water and in some cases foam. If the trained fire personnel determine a structure is no longer safe for an interior fire attack, they will deploy larger hose lines and begin an exterior attack in an attempt to extinguish and contain the fire from further spread to other buildings.

Life Safety

Fire prevention and fire protection are all focused around providing adequate life safety to residents, workers, visitors, customers, etc. Life safety is the primary goal of all aspects of fire protection from the fire prevention professional, to the firefighter, to the investigators. Life safety has been such an important goal to the fire protection field that NFPA has named an entire code after the fact, NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. This code is one of the most widely adopted and used code, not just within the United States, but also around the world. This code covers both fire prevention and fire protection features and activities.


The fire protection field is a large industry with many different concentrations and focuses. The hazards presented to the fire protection field are always changing and evolving as mankind moves to the future with new technologies. The fire protection field will always need to adapt and research new methods and technologies to address the endless changing hazards presented. This will always be done with the focus of life safety as the primary goal. The fire community will always firstly attempt to prevent any fire. This is usually the cheapest and easiest fire management strategy to ensure life safety. If prevention of a fire event is unachievable, then the fire community has many fire protection methods and activities available to protect human life.



  1. Cote, A. (2004). Fundamentals of fire protection. Quincy: National Fire Protection Association.Google Scholar
  2. NFPA. (n.d.). About fire prevention week. Retrieved from National Fire Protection Association: https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Campaigns/Fire-Prevention-Week/About-Fire-Prevention-Week
  3. Occupational Safety & Health Administration. (n.d.). OSHA at 30: Three decades of progress in occupantional safety and health. Retrieved from United States Department of Labor: https://www.osha.gov/as/opa/osha-at-30.html
  4. Office of Communication. (2014, August 4). The story of Smokey Bear. Retrieved from U.S. Forest Service: https://www.fs.fed.us/blogs/story-smokey-bear
  5. Robertson, J. (2005). Introduction to fire prevention (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  6. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.cpsc.gov
  7. XL Catlin. (n.d.). Fire walls, fire barriers and fire partitions. Retrieved from XL Catlin: https://xlcatlin.com/-/media/gaps/221____0.pdf.

Further Reading

  1. Cote, A. E. Fundamentals of fire protection. Quincy: National Fire Protection Association.Google Scholar
  2. Robertson, J. C., & Love M. T. Robertson’s introduction to fire prevention. Upper Saddle Ridge: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  3. Klinoff, R. Introduction to fire protection. Clifton Park: Delmar Learning.Google Scholar
  4. Gagnon, R. M. Design of special hazard and fire alarm systems. Clifton Park: Delmar Learning.Google Scholar
  5. NFPA 101. Life safety code. Quincy: National Fire Protection Association.Google Scholar
  6. NFPA 221. Standard for high challenge fire walls, fire walls, and fire barrier walls. Quincy: National Fire Protection Association.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fire Protection and Paramedicine SciencesEastern Kentucky UniversityRichmondUSA