Are Fire Suppression Systems Harmful to Humans?

September 8 2017

Are Fire Suppression Systems Harmful to Humans?

You know that fire suppression systems are vital to preventing the spread of fire and protecting valuable business assets. But you may be wondering—if the fire suppression system goes off while a person is in the room, will the person be harmed?

The true answer is that it depends on what type of system you have. Here are several of the most common types of fire suppression systems that are safe for people:


For many buildings and types of businesses, a water-based suppression system (or sprinkler system) is the minimum requirement for fire suppression and code compliance. Water, of course, is not inherently harmful to people. However, it is also not the most effective type of suppression system for every circumstance. In some cases, water can actually be more dangerous in the presence of certain types of fires than other available extinguishing agents. It can also cause irreparable damage to equipment or property, requiring extensive cleanup and greater business interruption.

Gaseous Clean Agent Systems

There are three basic categories of gaseous clean agent systems. Inert gas systems, chemical clean agent systems, and carbon dioxide systems. Each type has unique properties that may lend themselves well to differing fire types and applications.

Inert Gasses

Inert gasses such as Inergen, Argonite, and Nitrogen are extremely effective fire suppressants. They put out fires by smothering them, reducing or displacing oxygen. Often, water ends up causing more harm than good to property, such as in server rooms or around electrical equipment. Inert gasses are ideal for situations where sensitive equipment needs to be protected. Inert gasses can provide extinguishment without subsequent equipment damage. As a gas, they can also migrate into air-permeable enclosures to provide extinguishment where water may not be able to reach. These systems are generally people-safe and approved for normally-occupied rooms when designed within appropriate criteria.


Chemical clean agent systems such as NOVEC 1230 or FM200 are very similar to the inert gas systems in that they also discharge and disperse as a gas. They provide extinguishment primarily through heat absorption are clean and leave no residue. That means they don't cause additional equipment damage, which limits downtime. Unlike inert gas systems, these systems generally are less hardware intensive, resulting in less of an equipment footprint and in most case a somewhat lower initial installation expense. Again like inert gas system they are also people safe and approved for normally-occupied rooms when properly designed.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon Dioxide systems are perhaps the oldest of the clean agent systems. CO2, as it is commonly referred to, has been used in systems since the early twentieth century. It is inexpensive when compared to other available clean agents, and can be used in total flooding or local application. It is widely used in a number of industrial fire suppression applications.

The downside, perhaps, is that carbon dioxide extinguishes by displacing oxygen. In some situations that can be hazardous to personnel. That being the case, CO2 is not normally used for total flooding in occupied areas. When it is used, it is subject to a number of safety considerations. Today carbon dioxide is used mainly in industrial local application systems where the safety risks are manageable and less pronounced.

Choosing the Right Fire Suppression System

If the nature of your business or building demands a robust and effective fire suppression system, but you’re worried about potentially harming human occupants, equipment damage, or business interruption, you have many options. For answers to your questions about fire suppression for your business, contact Impact Fire.

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