Active and Passive Fire Protection: What’s The Difference?

Fire safety is a critical consideration for any building, whether it’s a residential home or a towering commercial complex. When it comes to protecting against fires, there are two main approaches: Active fire protection and passive fire protection. While the names might suggest one is more action-oriented and the other more laid back, the reality is more nuanced.

So, let’s dive into the world of fire safety and explore the key differences between active and passive fire protection, and why they both matter.

What’s active fire protection?

Active fire protection systems are designed to detect and extinguish fires as quickly as possible. These systems typically involve some form of action, such as using water, foam, or gas to put out a fire once it has started. Examples of active fire protection systems include fire sprinklers, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers.

When should you take active fire protection measures?

The time that you use active fire safety methods is one of the key differences between active and passive fire protection. Hence its name, these active protection systems take direct physical action. Meaning, they’re typically used in response to a fire event to detect and extinguish the fire.

What’s passive fire protection?

Passive fire protection systems are designed to put up a tough fight against the spread of fire or smoke, giving people enough time to get out safely. Examples are fire-resistant walls, doors, floors, and fireproof coatings. Each of these passive fire protection systems is typically integrated into the design of a building. As a result, they silently work together behind the scenes to keep everyone safe. 

While active fire protection systems are essential for responding quickly to fires, passive systems work to prevent a spark fire from turning into a full-blown disaster. By slowing the spread of fire and smoke, these systems can not only give occupants more time to evacuate, but they can also minimize damage to the building.

When are these systems installed?

As we mentioned above, a big difference between active and passive fire protection measures is the time that they’re executed. If we think of a fire as a sunburn, a passive safety measure would be putting on sunscreen, while an active safety measure would be putting on aloe vera once the sunburn begins. With this in mind, passive fire safety systems are commonly installed during the construction phase of a building– i.e., before a spark ignites.

The specific requirements for passive fire protection systems may vary depending on the type of building and the local building codes and regulations. For example, commercial buildings and high-rise buildings may have more stringent requirements for passive fire protection systems due to the higher risk of fire and the increased difficulty in evacuation.

Maintenance checks for passive fire systems

Once you install a passive fire safety system, you can’t simply walk away and never check on it again. Just like how you need to reapply sunscreen to avoid a burn, you need to conduct regular maintenance checks on your passive fire safety systems to avoid a fire. This includes regular checks of fire doors, fire-resistant walls and ceilings, and other fire-resistant materials to ensure that they are still effective in preventing the spread of fire and smoke. 

Also, any repairs or modifications to a building must be done with consideration for the passive fire protection systems to ensure that they’re not compromised.

Take a closer look at fire protection

To further understand these two categories of fire protection measures, we’ll dive into examples for each one.

Active and passive fire protection examples

Active systems


Fire sprinkler systems are arguably the most well-known out of all the types of active fire protection systems. They’re designed to automatically detect a fire and release water or other extinguishing agents to put it out. Likewise, sprinklers are commonly used in commercial and residential buildings.

types of active fire protection systemAlarms

Fire alarms are another common active fire protection system. Designed to detect the presence of a fire, they alert occupants of a building to evacuate. In the event of a fire, these alarms are triggered by smoke detectors, heat detectors, or other sensors.


Fire extinguishers are portable devices that are used to extinguish small fires. They contain a compressed gas that propels an extinguishing agent, such as water or foam, onto the fire.

Passive systems

Fire doors

Fire doors are designed to prevent the spread of fire between rooms or areas of a building. They’re made of fire-resistant materials and are equipped with intumescent seals that expand when exposed to heat to provide additional protection.

Fireproof coatings

Another difference between active and passive fire protection is that passive measures can be made into coatings. Fireproof coatings can be applied to walls, floors, and other surfaces to improve their fire resistance. These coatings are designed to provide an additional layer of protection against flames and heat, which can help prevent a fire from spreading and causing more damage.

Additionally, fireproof coatings can be made from a variety of materials, including cementitious materials, intumescent paints, and epoxy coatings. 

Fire-resistant walls and floors

Fire-resistant walls and floors are an integral part in passive fire protection systems. Building walls and floors can be constructed using fire-resistant materials, such as concrete or steel, to prevent the spread of fire. Materials such as concrete, steel, brick, and gypsum board are often used to create walls and floors with high fire resistance. 

Of all these materials, concrete is the one that’s most commonly used for fire-resistant construction. This is because it has a high melting point and can withstand exposure to high temperatures for an extended period. As a result, concrete’s an ideal material for walls and floors in commercial and industrial buildings.

Fire dampers

Fire dampers are typically installed at strategic points throughout the HVAC system, such as where ducts pass through walls or floors. They’re designed to automatically close when exposed to high temperatures, preventing the spread of fire and smoke through the ductwork. By closing off the ducts, fire dampers can help to contain a fire and prevent it from spreading to other parts of the building.

Where can you these protection systems?

These systems can be found in a variety of locations, from commercial and industrial buildings to residential homes and apartments. Some systems, like fire alarms and extinguishers, are readily visible to the public, while others, like fire-rated walls, are less noticeable but just as important.

So, let’s talk about where both of these protection systems can be found.

Active fire protection services

Active fire protection systems are used in a wide range of settings to help detect and extinguish fires. The most common places you’ll find active fire protection systems include residential and commercial buildings and healthcare, educational, and industrial facilities. 

While it’s common to find passive systems in these locations too, a difference between active and passive fire protection is that active fire safety tools are more commonly found in transportation systems. An example would be fire extinguishers kept on metro buses.

Passive fire protection systems

Passive fire protection systems are essential for buildings where the risk of fire is high. Thus, they’re typically found in factories, warehouses, and manufacturing plants. These buildings are at a higher risk of fire due to the use of machinery, chemicals, and other flammable materials. 

Likewise, hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings require passive fire protection systems as they’re occupied by large numbers of people. This makes evacuation more challenging in the event of a fire.

Take control of your safety

At the end of the day, fire safety is everyone’s responsibility. We all have a role to play in protecting ourselves and those around us should a disaster ever strike. This said, both active and passive fire protection systems play critical roles in keeping people safe and preventing property damage in the event of a fire.