A straightforward wet pipe sprinkler system is usually specified according to a building’s size, height, occupant load and occupancy group when the structure is a residence, institution, business, educational facility, or other non-hazardous location. But when considering a fire suppression system for certain factory or industrial projects (Group F1 and F2) or for a High Hazards installation (Groups H1-H5), then special hazards fire suppression systems and extinguishing agents are the ideal solution for an effective fire suppression plan.
According to the NFPA:
In 2016, 25 fires in the United States resulted in losses of at least $10 million each, for a cumulative total of $1.4 billion in direct property losses. These fires accounted for 14 civilian deaths, 183 civilian injuries and eight firefighter injuries.
Special hazards fire suppression options
Anytime a facility will be used to generate, process, manufacture, or store hazardous materials in any quantity, considerations must made to limit fire acceleration or explosion due to ignitable concentrations of hazardous gas, vapors, dust, or fibers. And when a project contains volatile, chemical processes, high voltages, or mission critical equipment, the wrong fire suppression agent can leave a facility with extensively more asset loss, even though the fire was effectively extinguished leaving very little architectural or structural damage.
General contractors and vendors/distributors of sprinkler systems need to know how to recognize a special hazards location and what type of fire suppression system is recommended.
Chemical and CO2 fire suppression systems
When a location needs fire suppression protection for areas that house sensitive electronics equipment such as telecommunications systems, data center equipment, or critical process control panels, a suppression system that quickly extinguish the fire with minimal damage to electronic or electrical equipment is necessary. A chemical suppression system is often used because it is non-combustible and will limit electrical component damage. Commonly, these systems will use gaseous CO2 or the chemical agent FM-200.
CO2 systems release gaseous carbon dioxide to replace the oxygen in the air, which will effectively extinguish the flames of a fire. CO2 systems will quickly extinguish flames without leaving a residue to clean-up. FM-200 chemical systems will absorb the heat of a fire and quickly lower the temperature to prevent further ignition of materials. The chemical agent is dispersed in the air and can be safely used in occupied areas. An FM-200 system is more compact when compared to a CO2 system, and requires a minimum of storage space.
Foam and water deluge systems
A foam and water deluge system will effectively extinguish a fire by smothering flames with a blanket of either water or foam. The active flames are suppressed and further re-ignition is prevented due to a lack of oxygen and heat. Some cleanup is necessary afterwards but fires are quickly extinguished to minimize loss of assets or productivity. These wet chemical systems are delivered by unpressurized pipes and a special nozzle, sprinkler head, or foam generator device.
High expansion foam is best for large spaces as the foam expands quickly — between 200 to 1000 times the original material volume. This system is often used in commercial kitchens, refineries, airports, and large manufacturing plants that house hazardous materials. Foam and water systems should be professionally installed and regularly inspected to make sure the system is in working order when an emergency arises.
Types of special hazard locations
For critical assets, high-value production areas, chemical facilities or other high hazard operations, a non-water based fire suppression system is often required to support continuous operations or protect vital equipment. According to the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), the five major causes of industrial fires and explosions are:
- Combustible Dust
- Hot Work Operations
- Equipment and Machinery
- Flammable Liquids and Gasses
- Electrical Hazards
It is recommended to partner with a special hazards fire suppression systems manufacturer or vendor that has expertise in the International Building Codes (IBC) and NFPA requirements regarding the following types of locations and equipment:
- data centers and other critical electronic systems
- high-voltage areas and automatic switchgear
- telecommunications systems
- museums or historically sites
- chemicals processing facilities
- aircraft hangars
- machine enclosures
These types of construction projects may have equipment, an area, an entire floor, or the whole facility that require a non-water based protection system in order to remain operational or to protect critical areas and costly assets.