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Fire Walls Vs. Fire Barrier: Key Differences In Fire-Rated Wall Assemblies

Fire is an overwhelming terror. On seeing one, one’s first reaction is to run for safety. A burnt factory means thousands, if not millions, of dollars lost. Protective wrap systems and firewall systems are critical infrastructure protection that involves high-power equipment or areas prone to high fire hazards. It stops the spread of fire by containing it within its source in case an accident occurs. 

Most people don’t expect their business to catch fire if it happens regularly. That’s why it’s essential to understand how to protect your factory against fire. Read to learn the key differences in fire-rated wall assemblies.

Definition: Fire-Rated Wall

A fire-rated wall is an assembly of materials tested to withstand a fire’s effects. The wall must be tested by NFPA 101, the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard for Fire Testing of Building Construction and Materials. NFPA 101 is a standard used to test the fire-resistance ratings of construction materials.

Definition: Fire Barrier

A fire barrier is a material that separates two different construction, with one to four resistance ratings. It can be used in places with high fire risks, such as power and chemical plants. Fire barriers are made of concrete or ceramic fiber/glass composite panels with steel frames. 

A fire barrier can be used with any other fire protection system, such as sprinklers, alarms, and smoke detectors. Structures like roofs and columns support these dividers so that they can do their intended job of separating different areas of a chemical plant. All sustaining elements must have a fire-resistance rating equal to or greater than the fire barrier. Fire barriers restrict the passage of heat, which gives time for workers to evacuate.

Definition: Fire Wall

A firewall is a wall designed to withstand the impact of fire. Firewalls are typically made from concrete or materials that will not burn. They are used in factories concerned about the fire spreading through large open spaces between the interior and exterior walls. In the event of a fire, a firewall prevents further building collapse on either side.

The firewall is the most restrictive among the four. The firewall must reach from the chemical plant ground floor slab to thirty inches above the roof horizontally and from one external wall to the next vertically unless there is a different requirement from Improved Building Code (IBC.

Firewalls are far thicker than standard walls to withstand intense heat and flames without collapsing. When more lateral support is needed, buttresses may be necessary. The standard fire rating for a firewall is 3–4 hours.

Definition: Smoke Barriers

Smoke barriers reduce the spread of fire and smoke in buildings. Smoke barriers prevent smoke from spreading into a powerplant space. They are installed between two walls, on opposite sides of a window or door frame, or on opposite sides of the same wall.

Smoke barriers can be made of various materials, including wood, plastic, or metal. The common types of smoke barriers are either aluminum or steel. These materials are inexpensive but do not provide as much protection against fire and heat as other materials.

Unlike a fire barrier, which requires a one-hour opening protection assembly, a smoke barrier only needs a 20-minute opening protection assembly. According to IBC, any dead air space, such as mechanical ducts, must be sealed and included in the smoke barrier.

The thickness of a smoke barrier is crucial because it determines how fast heat will travel through it. Thickness also determines how long it will take for the barrier to cool down after a fire has been put out. The best way to determine if your chemical plant needs smoke barriers is to have an expert evaluate the layout and determine if structural problems could lead to spreading flames throughout the plant structure. 

Definition: Fire Partitions

Partitions are firewalls that divide a space and create separate areas. It is the less restrictive among the four. They are usually steel or glass, but some are made with other materials. Partitions are used to split up spaces with thin walls and make them more functional. They can also be used to divide up spaces that are temporarily closed off due to construction work or other projects.

Fire partitions provide an additional layer of protection between fire and smoke in buildings by separating the two. Partitions can contain fire and gases. All structural elements will be fireproofed, including walls, floors, and ceilings. A fire partition is a structural element used in fire risk management to contain a fire in a predetermined time. These values may be as low as E30 and as high as E1240.

What Is the Difference Between a Fire Wall and a Fire Barrier?

Firewalls and barriers are two different assemblies used to protect structures against fire. Both provide structural support and protection, and both can provide a measure of fire resistance.

Firewalls are exterior walls made of concrete or steel and used in masonry and wood frame buildings. They consist of horizontal layers of fire-resistant material between vertical supports. Firewalls separated by openings such as doors and windows provide adequate ventilation. They have the highest resistance rating.

Fire barriers consist of continuous layers of fire-resistant material designed to prevent heat from penetrating through openings in the barrier’s surface. It has the lowest resistance rating. They are made from steel or concrete used in the interior walls. Fire barriers should be located at all points where there is a passage through a wall assembly or floor plates, such as stair landings and doorways. 

You should ensure the firewalls and barriers are maintained according to the IBC or NFPA standards for the safety of the workers. If the wall is damaged, it will allow the fire to penetrate, putting people’s lives at risk. 

The biggest difference between firewalls and fire barriers is their intended purpose. To prevent fire spread in the factory, conduct as many penetrations through the firewall as possible. Ideally, each penetration would be defined before the interface was certified. Regardless of how you know your firewall will operate in a future fire event, you must define that specific function before construction begins. Visit our website at if you need to protect your infrastructure from fire.


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