This is a formal way of describing the three essential components of protecting life and property from fire: detection, suppression, and non-combustible construction. As we will see, the first two are active systems and the third is a passive system. In combination, the three parts equal balanced design, which offers the best protection in the event of a fire.

Detection simply means an alarm system. Thus, it is active, warning people of danger and giving them a chance to get out. It can be smoke or fire alarms, and battery operated versions have been available to the public for a long time. Hard-wired systems may be installed in multi-family buildings. One risk here is that batteries don’t get checked frequently or electrical service gets interrupted, so the system can become disabled. Another risk is that the occupants have limited mobility, like young children or the elderly or disabled persons who require assistance getting around.

Suppression comes in the form of a sprinkler system, also an active component of fire protection. While this provides a means to put out fires before they grow too large, there are potential problems with system operation. Water supplies might be interrupted or sprinkler heads may malfunction.

Non-combustible construction is the third leg of balanced design, the only one that is passive. As long as it’s in place, it becomes mobilized in the event of a fire. It simply requires choosing a non-combustible material like masonry or concrete for members like support walls, separation walls between units, or floor/ceiling systems. Whether the construction contains the fire completely or delays its spread, it offers an important time cushion for occupants to escape and for firefighters to combat the blaze before structural integrity of the building is compromised.