This article was posted on Sunday, Mar 01, 2015

Economic losses from fires in apartment buildings can be catastrophic. A new generation of fire coatings can reduce these losses by effectively preventing a fire from spreading.


Fire in apartments can have a devastating impact on both the lives and belongings of tenants, as well as on the economic situation of property owners and managers. Such impacts are drastically increased because of a fire’s ability to spread throughout the building. The fire that starts in one room will often, within minutes, spread to a whole unit, then the units around it, followed by a floor, and then a building wing or entire building.

Fire compartmentation (containing fire to the room of origin) of the buildings is key to limiting damages and economic losses. Currently, compartmentation within a building consists primarily of the requirement for certain walls and floor/ceiling areas to resist fire for a specified duration (per ASTM E-119 standard).  This approach acts as a supplement to sprinkler systems by reducing the number of sprinklers activated (less water damage) and reducing failures due to mechanical breakdowns or water supply.

However, such methods have severe limitations because only a few walls or ceilings are required to be rated as fire resistant and act as a temporary fire “barrier”. Fire is allowed to spread to occur within the perimeter of the specified fire barriers. The results are significant damages before the fire reaches a barrier, as well as potential for the fire to grow so much that it will “flash-over” and spread beyond control (flashover is the catastrophic phenomenon when gases generated by the fire suddenly are ignited to “explode”, driving fire to all interconnected spaces and thus creating a major conflagration which can overwhelm fire resistant barriers and sprinkler systems). By allowing flashover to happen, firefighting becomes more difficult and dangerous, and damages to property and threats to life safety increase significantly. 

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There is a new generation of fire coatings, such as Firefree 88, which have the ability to pass the fire industry’s most stringent fire retardant (room corner test) and fire resistant tests (ASTM E 119 standard).  Such coatings have the ability to reduce smoke development and flame spread, reducing the chance for flashover to occur, thus containing a fire to the room of origin.  With the advent of such coatings the concept for Compartmentation has been taken to a new level of protection never before achieved in the history of Fire Protection.

This newer level of compartmentation involves applying a high performance fire coating to all wall and ceiling areas of every room, hallway, corridor, stairwell etc. as the coating reduces the walls and ceiling as fuel for an ongoing fire, thus making the newly coated walls and ceilings part of the solution, not part of the problem. The delay in smoke development, flame spread and prevention of possible flash-over also provides extra time for occupants to escape and firefighters to attack the fire by containing a fire to the room of origin, limiting any damage from a fire to that specific room.

The advantages of this approach, using high performance coatings such as Firefree 88 for full compartmentation, are obvious, as it:  

  • reduces spread of fire (horizontally and vertically), restricting the fire to the point of origin,
  • reduces damages from the fire, and
  • translates to a reduction in repair costs and increases in revenue, as rentals or commercial space are available sooner for occupancy after a fire 

This approach also provides additional fire protection during an earthquake, in the event of the possible failure of water based fire suppression systems, sprinklers, manual fire hoses, standpipes, fire pump’s electrical service, and / or water supply systems. 

John Simontacchi  is with Firefree Coatings.  For more information, please call 888-990-3388 or visit