Fire protection systems are desirable in all structures where fires can occur and where such fires are not wanted—which is to say virtually all of them. Past the obvious need for a fire protection system is the need to choose the proper type of system, the answer to which depends on the design of structure being protected, the nature of the materials comprising the structure and of those found within, its surroundings, and all applicable laws, regulations, codes, and policies.
As fire is quick to spread and becomes increasingly complicated to handle after it does, the prevention of that spread is a vital key point in many approaches to fire protection. This forces the myriad of existing methods and technologies to be used as component parts of a unified comprehensive system rather than independently installed units. That, in turn, requires the individual elements of fire protection systems to be predictable in their design, manufacture, inspection procedures, functioning, and usage, so that they may all be intertwined in a reliable way.
The most recognizable element of a modern fire protection system is the ubiquitous sprinkler: mounted on the ceiling and triggered by the presence of fire, it releases water to either control or suppress flames in its vicinity. While the presence of a sprinkler system is fairly standard, the type of sprinkler system that is appropriate for a particular environment varies widely. ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, has published a 12-part series addressing the varying requirements and test methods for sprinkler systems and associated components. Among a wealth of other standards dealing with fire protection, NFPA, the National Fire Protection Association, has recently published two standards focusing on residential sprinkler systems, the first focusing on one- and two-family dwellings and manufactured homes, and the second dealing with larger residential occupancies, up to and including four stories in height.
Sprinklers, however, are only a single part of a complete fire protection system. Everything from the selection and installation of fire extinguishers and their inspection and maintenance procedures, to comprehensive requirements for high challenge fire walls and fire barrier walls is standardized in the ongoing effort to improve fire protection systems.
Altogether, well planned out fire protection systems use all sorts of materials, methods, and devices to contain the spread of fire and put it out, protecting both lives and property.