Why Terminology Matters in Fire Protection

Ever heard that phrase: “Careless Words Cost Lives”? It was originally a WW2 warning to take care who you talked to, but it’s equally true when discussing the terminology around fire protection. In this blog we take a look at the words and phrases that are used to refer to fire protection materials. And we give a few tips on how to cut through the ‘marketing’ to ensure that a product actually does what it says it does.


Is Fireproof the Same as Fire Resistance?

Fireproof sounds more active than fire resistance, doesn’t it? It has a ring of confident assurance, which is why marketing people love to use it. In truth, though, any material that gets hot enough will burn, no matter what it’s been treated with. The term ‘fire resistance’ tends to get used as an alternative to ‘fireproof’ but, in fact, they’re interchangeable when it comes to describing what they do.

Does Terminology Matter?

Terminology does matter when it comes to creating safe workplaces, or public buildings. The use of the wrong terminology can lead to misunderstandings and false expectations. ‘Fire resistance’ is used in the Building Regs, Approved Document B, as meaning “the ability of a component or construction of a building to satisfy for a stated period of time, some or all of the appropriate criteria specified in the relevant standard test”.

‘Test’ is the important word here. Fire resistance materials have been tested to agreed industry standards in order to guarantee a period of time during which evacuation can take place. Non-tested materials could make false claims, and cause the loss of life as a consequence.

Look for the Test Standard Guarantee

‘Flame Retardant’ is a term should have disappeared after 1979 when the building constructional by-laws were superseded. It originally guaranteed 30 minutes of fire resistance when tested to the old fire resistance test, BS 476 Part 8. It now has no relevant meaning, but it is occasionally used as a generic term to describe a product that’s been impregnated with a substance which claims to improve its performance.

Both ‘fireproof’ and ‘fire retardant’ are dangerous terms when used in connection with building fire protection, therefore, because they promise something that is, in fact, misleading.

Is the Term FR Legitimate?

FR (Fire Resistance) is used as a shorthand by building surveyors and architects. It refers to fire resistance materials that meet BS 476 Part 22 or European (BS EN) standards and are therefore legitimate. The key to ensuring that materials do what they say they will, is to check out the standards to which they have been tested. In our experience, it’s never worth taking a chance when it comes to fire resistance because the careless use of words really can cost lives.


About DunbarWallace Fire Protection Ltd

DunbarWallace is a designer and installer of fire resistance materials for nuclear power stations, railway station depots, hospitals, electrical sub stations, pharmaceutical labs, archive rooms, data centres, and train storage sheds. We’re one of 5 certified Promat DURASTEEL® installers in the UK, and we work with world leading civil engineering and construction clients such as Taylor Woodrow.


We consider why terminology matters in fire protection. DunbarWallace are one of five certified Promat DURASTEEL® installers in the UK. For more info, call 01525 864438