With modern technology available in today’s world, there may be some question as to what works best as a fire suppression system. The fact is, there are different ways to extinguish a fire, and some can be better than others, depending on how a building is used and what type of fire is most likely to occur.
A restaurant, for example, is going to have very different needs than a data center as there are different ways a fire is likely to start, and different materials which may continue to burn. A restaurant fire is most likely to occur while cooking and will ignite oils and greases, whereas a data center might have a fire start through an electrical short or perhaps an accident with gas storage, and will likely result in plastics burning to feed the fire. Each environment requires a different approach.
Common types of fires
Fires are rated based on their type, or are classed according to what is burning. Class A fires are what most people are familiar with, as it involves flammable solid materials such as wood, paper, or cloth. Certain rubbers and plastics which burn without melting also fall into this category.
A Class B fire occurs when flammable liquids catch on fire. Such fires include gasoline an diesel fuel, paints and paint thinner, cooking oils and grease, or rubbers and plastics which melt from the heat and therefore spread differently than other types of fires.
Class C fires are electrical fires. These usually occur when a bad connection or broken wire creates sparks without tripping the circuit breaker.
Class D fires are more likely to be found in an industrial area as it involves metals which catch fire at extreme temperatures.
Traditional sprinklers are one of the most common fire suppression systems as they are effective at extinguishing a fire by wetting the surrounding surfaces. Sprinklers can make a mess. But it’s much better to clean up a mess than to lose the building. There are, however, some situations with irreplaceable and/or expensive items or equipment where a traditional sprinkler is not the best option. For example, water doesn’t work well with electrical or grease fires.
Modern water systems
Modern water sprinkler systems create a fine mist. These fine droplets provide a greater surface area using the same amount of water. This enables the system to extinguish the fire with less water while more efficiently cooling the area to prevent further combustion. A mist sprinkler works better than the traditional water sprinklers, and causes less secondary flooding damage to artwork, furniture, books, or other items in a room.
A foam suppression system is typically used in conjunction with a wet system and provides an extra level of protection. The foam covers the fire, cutting off the supply of oxygen. This system works well in warehouse environments where there may be several different types of combustible materials present.
Clean agent systems
Special hazard fire suppression systems use clean agents, like CO2 or FM-200. These chemicals smother the flame, cooling it down and removing its source of oxygen. It is proven effective on most fires, and is especially well suited for electrical fires like you might find in a data center. The greatest benefit is that clean agents don’t damage sensitive electronic equipment.
There is no “perfect” option. Some options are better suited for certain situations, however.