#116 – Traditional vs. Special Hazards Fire Suppression

by Michael Angstadt

The entire idea behind employing a fire suppression system is the assurance that you can protect your buildings, equipment, and people from damage or injury. The environment in which you operate will determine which type of system, or which combination of systems will work best for your needs.

A few decades ago, choosing the correct system wouldn’t have been difficult due to there being only one option; a water-based fire suppression system. Today, there are numerous types to choose from, including traditional systems that employ water, and special hazard systems that deploy inert-gas or clean fire suppression agents.

To choose the ideal system, we must first analyze the options available.

Traditional vs. Special Hazard Detection Systems

Traditional fire suppression systems most often utilize heat sensors held within the sprinkler heads to detect fires. In recent years, technological innovations have enabled traditional sprinkler systems to employ special infrared and blue LED light technology. These breakthroughs can differentiate between smoke particulates and normal dust particles, increasing the detection capabilities of these traditional systems.

Although special hazard fire suppression can utilize heat detection systems as well, most leverage specialized systems allow for early-warning fire detection. Considering these suppression systems are designed to protect sensitive assets such as equipment and components, means that fire threats must be extinguished as soon as possible.

One detection system engineered for data centers or server rooms leverages a system of pipes fitted throughout the environment. This system draws in air from within the room through holes placed within the pipes. The air is then measured for smoke particulates and can detect a threat at a moment’s notice.

Another system employs the use of fire analytics software that leverages infrared and LED technology to detect flames in rooms with high ceilings or large amounts of airflow. This allows for the system to trigger effectively without the need for smoke or heat detection to do so, which would make traditional detection systems ineffective.

There are special hazard detection systems available now that employ a closed network of cameras to maintain visibility of a fire threat, as well as intrusion detection to prevent situations that can jeopardize people’s lives. Some systems can even be programmed to instruct evacuees of emergency information in real-time. These systems are designed with maximum survivability in mind.

Water has been the go-to agent for fire suppression for decades due to its easily accessible, non-toxic, and cost-effective characteristics. With the ability to utilize a reservoir, an external tank, or even the building’s main to supply the system makes it incredibly industrious for a multitude of different needs.

Unfortunately, since water is both corrosive and conductive, it is not ideal for situations involving highly sensitive tools and equipment. Not only does this create unnecessary damage and expense to the environment, but it increases the time spent during business stoppages due to costly clean-up efforts.

Special hazard fire suppression agents are often called clean agents. The environments for which these agents are employed require clean and non-toxic means of fire suppression. Utilization of inert gases like CO2 enables instantaneous suffocation of a fire threat without any post-event residue leftover to clean up.

Clean agents such as FM-200 or Dupont FE-25, which are between 15-25% more efficient than CO2, utilize suppression capabilities that carry zero ozone-depleting properties. This allows for the successful suppression of a threat while also protecting the environment.

Traditional vs. Special Hazard Fire Suppression Systems

Traditional fire suppression systems utilize heat sensors held within the sprinkler heads, that when triggered, initiate the release of water onto the fire threat. This allows for quick and effective suppression, protection of the integrity of the infrastructure, and reduction of potential casualties of the event.

These systems can employ three different devices to assist in the proper engagement of an event; non-interlock mechanisms allow for the instantaneous detection and release of water to neutralize a fire threat. Single-interlock devices will only trigger water to release after a certain heat threshold is surpassed. Finally, Double-interlock mechanisms engage only once a sprinkler head activates and the heat sensors detect sufficient temperatures.

When it comes to special hazards, sprinkler heads and heat detection simply do not suffice. Environments such as aircraft hangars that contain high-ceilings and large amounts of airflow are often filled with expensive tools and equipment, as well as dangerous chemicals and flammable liquids.

Thus, traditional means of fire suppression is not ideal for this situation. Instead, one would employ a foam-based clean agent through use of a deluge valve system while leveraging a flame analytics detection system. This would enable the neutralization of a fire threat efficiently and effectively, without damaging the sensitive equipment contained within.

The Optimal Choice

Regardless of your environment or situation, there is a fire suppression system for your needs. Understanding the differing variables of each unique situation is imperative to making the right choice. Choosing a fire suppression system should not be taken lightly, nor should it be made without professional guidance.

This is necessary for complete protection of your people, equipment, and other assets. The difference between an efficient and effective fire safety plan, and one that may cost money and lives, is the time and effort placed into understanding your fire safety needs.