Definition of Fire Safety

Updated April 17, 2017

Fire safety is a group of equipment and/or behaviour designed to both reduce the risk of starting a fire and reduce the risk of injury in the event of a fire. Additional fire safety measures are designed to protect private property and even structural integrity. Conversely, objects that have the opposite effect--i.e., increase the risk of both fire and injury--are known as fire hazards.


A wide variety of home and commercial fire safety devices, plans and procedures are available to consumers and employers. They include: Maximum occupancy: An occupancy limit imposed on all commercial and some private buildings Fire exits/exit signs: Making sure a building has an adequate number of properly placed exits, and posting the locations of and routes to these exits in visible areas around the building Fire extinguishers: Placing devices designed to extinguish fires in visible places throughout a building Fire alarms: Alarm system designed to alert the inhabitants of a building of a fire Structural fireproofing: Fire-retardant insulation, usually foam Fire drills: Evacuation of all occupants of a building for practice


Maximum occupancy: These laws are designed to allow the population of a building to escape in the case of a fire. Fire exits/exit signs: An adequate number of fire exits make sure that the occupants of a building can exit the building in a timely manner in the case of a fire, and that no part of the building is too far away from an exit. Posting these exits, and routes to them, ensures that people know to go to them in an emergency. Fire extinguishers: A fire extinguisher can put out a small to mid-sized fire, limiting the damage caused by that fire and potentially saving property and lives. Fire alarm: A fire alarm can sense (most commonly) the presence of smoke caused by a fire, which triggers the warning alarm. Structural fireproofing: This can drastically increases both a building's chances of surviving a fire and the amount of time occupants have to exit the building before the building collapses. Fire drills: Fire drills can familiarise people with the locations of fire exits and routes, and reinforce a calm exit in case of a fire.


An object or behaviour that causes an increase in either the likelihood of a fire or injury due to fire, or that diminishes responders' capability of responding to a fire, is called a fire hazard. Some fire hazards are regulated by law, including disregarding occupancy laws, obstructing fire exits or routes and improper fuel storage. Others are not, like making sure not to overload an electrical system or not blocking heating vents with flammable material, and are up to the individuals residing in a building. Other fire hazards include keeping sources of fire within reach of children and improper storage of flammable material, such as alcohol or cleaning solution.


Fire codes, or fire prevention/fire safety codes, are created on a state or local level and enforced by municipal fire brigades. Fire codes are part of an overall building code, which every building must meet to be cleared to occupation. Fire inspection is also done on a regular basis on commercial buildings, including the maintenance of active and passive fire safety systems. Inspection in private and residential buildings should be preformed on a regular basis.

Expert Insight

Many fire brigades around the nation have fire safety public education programs. While useful to everyone, these programs are generally intended to educate young children about the dangers of fires and the importance of fire safety. It is important to educate the young since they are considered the most at-risk group, just edging out the elderly.
Passive fire protection is fire protection designed to contain fires or slow their spread through a structure. It includes things like structural compartmentalisation of the building's floor plan and fire-resistant construction materials. Active fire protection is a manual or automatic system designed to suppress a fire. It includes fire extinguishers or an automatic sprinkler system. Fire prevention includes education of occupants and limiting the ways in which a fire can start or occupants can get hurt if a fire does start. It includes proper storage of materials and the posting of fire escapes and routes.

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