Special Hazard Fire Suppression Systems: A Guide For All Business Environments

Specific environments require protection other than the traditional water-based sprinkler.

Make sure you're using the right special hazard system for your assets.

Imagine a hospital with expensive imaging equipment including MRI and X-ray machines, a museum filled with priceless artifacts, or a large data center that houses massive amounts of sensitive data. If a fire breaks out in these environments, imagine these integral business assets being doused with gallons of water from a fire sprinkler. Undoubtedly, they’d be damaged beyond repair.

While traditional water-based fire sprinkler systems are reliable and commonly used, there are certain environments when the use of water may be impractical or hazardous. This is where special hazard fire suppression systems come into play. 

From data centers to power generation plants, building owners and facility managers can leverage special hazard suppression systems to quickly detect and suppress fires without interrupting business continuity or incurring catastrophic damage to crucial business assets.

In this guide, you will learn

  • What a special hazard area is
  • How special hazard fire suppression systems operate
  • How a special hazard system can be specific to one room or an entire facility
  • How to determine which special hazard system is right for your building
  • When your special hazard systems should be tested and inspected to stay in compliance

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What Are Special Hazard Areas?

Special hazards are specific areas in a building that require fire equipment. These areas may include the entire building, a designated area, a single room, equipment, or assets.

Special hazards areas in a building could be a data center that houses sensitive electronics or range hoods in a commercial kitchen

Special hazard areas can be defined as:

  • Any area containing high-value equipment or integral business processes
  • Any area where the revenue generated is of greater value than the equipment itself
  • Any area containing assets that would be irreplaceably damaged if exposed to water
  • Any area where there might be a high level of dust as a byproduct of manufacturing
  • Any area containing hazardous materials or flammable liquids such as propane, gas, or alcohol
  • Any area that has high air flow volumes or excessive heat that may or may not be detectable with
    conventional heat or smoke detection

What is a Special Hazard Fire Suppression System?

Every business environment is unique, so a one-size-fits-all fire protection solution will not suffice. Special hazard suppression systems are designed to fill the gaps left by traditional water-based fire sprinkler systems. These fire and life safety systems use cutting-edge technologies, custom setups, and different suppression agents to effectively neutralize and extinguish fires without damaging building contents, endangering facility occupants, or compromising business continuity.

Special hazard suppression systems include detection and control coupled with a fire suppression system that releases a suppression agent. But how do these systems operate?

Special Hazard Suppression Systems

A special hazard fire suppression system leverages detection technology including specialized sensors and intelligent computer algorithms to enable quick and precise detection of smoke particles. When smoke is detected, the system is triggered and is then able to locate the precise location of the threat. Once the threat is identified, a gaseous or chemical suppression agent is released and the fire is neutralized within ten seconds. Suppression agents extinguish fires by absorbing heat or displacing required oxygen. Special hazard suppression systems are designed with add-on software and hardware capabilities which helps create a comprehensive fire and life safety system that is tailored to the specific environment and circumstance.

What are the Different Types of Special Hazard Suppression Systems?

There are various types of special hazard suppression systems available to provide businesses a custom solution to their unique special hazard area. These special hazard suppression systems options can be organized into five main categories: clean agent, dry chemical, CO2, foam, and commercial kitchen suppression systems.

Clean Agent Suppression

Clean agent suppression systems utilize gases that are safe for humans and the environment. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) clearly defines clean agents as electrically non-conductive, volatile, or gaseous fire extinguishing agents that do not leave a residue upon evaporation. 

Clean agent fire suppression systems use chemical agents or inert gas to help extinguish fires in their incipient stages (when they have just started) and can effectively extinguish Class A, B, and C fires without damaging assets. These systems are safe to use in regularly occupied spaces, and are environmentally friendly as they have a low Global Warming Potential (GWP) and a short to no atmospheric lifetime. 

Here are some examples of typical applications and areas protected by clean agent suppression systems.

There are three common types of clean agent suppression systems to be aware of: Novec™ 1230FM-200®, and Inergen®.

Novec™ 1230

Colorless and non-toxic, Novec 1230 is often used in data centers and other electronic-heavy facilities due to its ability to suppress fires without disrupting sensitive electronic equipment. 


This type of special hazard system uses a non-toxic gas to suppress fires without leaving a residue. The agent is stored in cylinders as a liquid and pressurized with nitrogen, saving up to seven times the space of a CO2 system or an inert gas system. FM-200® is ideal for applications where space is at a minimum, and can be safely used when people are present as it’s non-reactive, non-corrosive, and non-conductive.


One of the best special hazard fire suppression agents for applications where people are present, Inergen® combines nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide to lower oxygen content and disrupt the combustion process while still leaving enough oxygen for building occupants. An Inergen® system is the only inert gas fire suppression agent that provides a safe environment for humans.

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Dry Chemical Suppression Systems

Instead of using chemical agents or inert gas, dry chemical suppression systems release dry chemical powder into a designated space to extinguish a fire. The two most common dry powders used in these systems are sodium bicarbonate and mono-ammonium phosphate. Sodium bicarbonate is used for Class B and some Class C fires, while mono-ammonium phosphate is used for Class A, B, or C fires.

Dry chemical suppression systems must be recharged after each activation and require extensive cleanup after each use as they dump large amounts of powder onto the hazard. Dry chemical suppression systems must comply with NFPA 17 and NFPA 33

Here are some examples of typical applications and areas protected by dry chemical suppression systems.

  • Auto paint booths
  • Dip tanks
  • Mixing rooms
  • Open-faced booths
  • Total flood applications in non-occupied areas
  • Storage rooms that contain flammable liquids or hazardous materials

CO2 Suppression System

CO2 suppression systems use carbon dioxide (CO2), a colorless, odorless, electrically non-conductive gas, to effectively suppress a wide variety of Class A, B, and C fires. Carbon dioxide fire suppression systems extinguish fires by releasing a heavy blanket of gas that reduces the oxygen level to a point where combustion can no longer occur. Since CO2 is an inert gas, there is little to no clean-up and no agent residue to damage sensitive equipment. 

High pressure and low-pressure CO2 systems can be customized to protect anything from large rooms to a specific piece of equipment with systems that range in size from 50 pounds to 60 tons. Since CO2 is unsafe for people, these systems should only be used in areas that are typically unoccupied and generally inaccessible to employees and customers. CO2 suppression systems must comply with NFPA 12

Here are some examples of typical applications and areas protected by CO2 suppression systems.

  • Vaults 
  • Rolling mills 
  • Server farms
  • Engine rooms
  • Power plants
  • Voltage transformers
  • Commercial shipping
  • Large industrial machines
  • Industrial generators and turbines

Foam Suppression Systems

Foam suppression systems use an aerated foaming agent to extinguish fires by separating the ignition source from oxygen. When the system is activated, large quantities of high-expansion foam are quickly discharged throughout the area. The water content of the foaming agent cools and coats the fuel the fire is consuming to prevent reignition. Foam suppression systems are typically used in large areas and where there is a large quantity of flammable or combustible liquids.  

While these systems are less likely to cause structural damage, the cleanup can be extensive and result in lengthy downtime. Foam suppression systems must comply with NFPA 11, NFPA 409, and NFPA 1150

Here are some examples of typical applications and areas protected by foam suppression systems.

  • Refineries 
  • Warehouses
  • Aircraft hangars
  • Processing areas
  • Refueling stations 
  • Marine applications
  • Commercial kitchens 
  • Flammable liquid storage
  • Jet engine testing facilities

Commercial Kitchen Suppression Systems

Commercial kitchen suppression systems discharge chemicals and automatically shuts off the gas or electric supply to help smother flames and interrupt oxygen flow. When the chemicals come in contact with cooking oils and fats, it reacts to produce cooling foam that helps prevent reignition. Once a fire is suppressed, the foam compound can be easily cleaned using a cloth. 

Since a kitchen fire cannot be doused with water, it must be diffused at its fuel source with a UL-300 compliant automatic fire suppression system installed by licensed technicians. Standards written by the NFPA and adopted by most states as a part of their fire code, require all kitchen systems to be UL 300-compliant. Commercial kitchen suppression systems must also comply with NFPA 17A and NFPA 96

UL-300 compliant suppression systems must include:

  • Wet chemical extinguishing agent
  • Nozzles located in the hood & duct
  • Nozzles located over each grease-generating cooking appliance
  • Manual pull station
  • Automatic fire detection system
  • Automatic fuel shut-offs for gas and electric
  • Hood and duct maintenance and cleaning semi-annually by an authorized licensed service company
  • Wet chemical system serviced semi-annually by an authorized licensed service company
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Does My Business Need a Special Hazard Fire Suppression System?

Traditional water-based fire sprinklers are designed to protect buildings and their occupants from fire but were never designed to protect building contents or the ongoing operations of the business inside a building. If a business uses costly equipment, has irreplaceable assets, or handles hazardous materials, a water-based fire sprinkler may do more damage on top of the damage from fire and lead to costly downtime. 

If a business has one or many special hazard areas present in their facility such as an industrial workplace, they will need special hazard fire suppression systems that can extinguish fires without water, preventing inadvertent damage to the assets they’re intended to protect.  

There are many types of businesses that typically require special hazard systems including those that handle highly flammable and potentially explosive chemicals as well as companies that use electronics. These businesses include but are not limited to:

  • Data centers
  • Chemical plants
  • Power plants
  • Paint booths 
  • Industrial marine facilities 
  • Aircraft hangers
  • Healthcare facilities
  • Air traffic control centers
  • Telecommunication companies
  • Manufacturing facilities (wood processing, paper manufacturing, automotive manufacturing etc.)  

Special hazard fire suppression systems are also used in businesses that handle items of rarity or assets that would be irreplaceably damaged by traditional wet fire sprinklers such as items in museums, records in storage, archives, antiques, and fine art.

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Does My Business Need More Than One Special Hazard Fire Suppression System?

Depending on your industry, some businesses will contain multiple special hazard areas and will require more than one special hazard fire suppression system. For example, a healthcare facility may have a server room, laboratory, and cafeteria all within one building. Each of these areas requires different types of extinguishing agents to preserve business continuity and to protect the assets contained in these rooms.

Each special hazard area needs to be assessed individually and matched with the correct agent, delivery, and detection method to create a special hazard suppression system that provides complete protection while minimizing damage to property and assets. Misalignment between the special hazard and the type of suppression system can lead to inadequate fire protection that can put building occupants and sensitive equipment at an increased risk. 

Due to the complexity of special hazard fire protection, businesses should consult experienced and knowledgeable special hazard fire suppression technicians to assist in implementing a special hazard fire protection solution tailored to meet their unique building requirements.

Top Benefits of Special Hazard Fire Suppression Systems

Choosing to install a special hazard suppression system can provide businesses several advantages. Special hazard fire suppression systems can quickly detect and suppress fires when water-based fire sprinklers aren't appropriate and are designed to mitigate downtime while limiting the loss of assets, information, and revenue. 

Here are the top benefits businesses are positioned to receive by installing a special hazard suppression system in their facility.

Decreases Collateral Damage

Special hazard suppression systems use suppression agents instead of water to minimize collateral damage and prevent the destruction of rare items that cannot be replaced including historical artifacts and fine art.  

Provides a Non-Toxic and Environmentally-Friendly Fire Protection Solution 

While some special hazard suppression systems are dangerous to humans like C02, clean agent fire suppression systems use suppressants in concentrations that are non-toxic and safe for building occupants. Clean agent suppression systems are also eco-friendly as they use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which are safe for people and don’t contribute to the depletion of the ozone. 

Enables Fast-Acting Fire Detection and Suppression 

Special hazard suppression systems provide businesses an effective and efficient way to extinguish a fire. According to the NFPA, special hazard systems are required to reach mandatory concentration levels within as little as 10 seconds. The fast-acting nature of these fire and life safety systems helps businesses minimize property damage, protect personnel, and save money by avoiding costly equipment repairs and lengthy downtime. 

Minimizes Cleanup With No Leftover Residue 

Business operations come to a halt after a traditional water-based fire sprinkler is triggered as companies often need to attend to damaged infrastructure and ruined electronics. Many special hazard systems use suppression agents that do not leave an undesirable residue after discharge which lowers the amount of revenue lost when a fire breaks out and enables business continuity to return more quickly.

Provides a Highly Customizable Solution for Various Applications 

Special hazard fire suppression systems can be tailored to meet the specific fire protection needs of businesses. For example, special hazard fire suppression systems can be specifically designed to protect critical production equipment, electrical enclosures, and hazardous storage areas in an effective way that is still safe for high-value equipment.

Special Hazard Fire Suppression System Inspections and Maintenance

Like all fire and life safety equipment, special hazard fire suppression systems need to be properly installed, continuously inspected, and regularly maintained by trained technicians to keep building occupants safe and to maintain regulatory compliance. 

Using an experienced full-service fire protection company ensures inspections and preventative maintenance are completed by licensed technicians, and all required documents including audits, company records, photo validation, and a certificate of conformity are provided in a customized report. Having all required documentation in a neatly organized customized report provides building and business owners the confidence they are avoiding fire code violations and continuously meeting regulatory requirements.

Inspection Process for Special Hazard Fire Suppression Systems 

Here's what you can expect during an inspection for clean agent and CO2 fire suppression systems. During an inspection, a special hazard specialist will: 

  • Check all initiating devices and verify time delays for system discharge 
  • Ensure releasing device activates properly
  • Verify abort device and manual release are functioning 
  • Check weight and/or pressure of agent containers
  • Verify the orientation of all discharge, pipe fittings, and nozzles
  • Perform enclosure integrity test
  • Check batteries and signal 
  • Verify the as-built drawings and flow calculations

NFPA codes require commercial kitchen fire suppression systems to be inspected by a trained and certified technician every six months. Here’s what you can expect during semi-annual and annual commercial kitchen suppression system inspections.

Inspection Process for Commercial Kitchen Suppression Systems

Conducting standard special hazard fire suppression system inspection is imperative to catch any operational issues and helps businesses save costs by identifying parts of the system that are unmaintained or damaged.


  • Check the hazard area to determine if any changes have been made
  • Check to determine if the tamper indicators are in place the systems have not been tampered with
  • Inspection of the entire system for mechanical damage
  • Disconnection of the control head or pneumatic tubing from the agent cylinders
  • Removal of the cartridge from the control head and exercising the control head to ensure that it is functioning properly
  • Check that the remote pull station is operating properly
  • Visual inspection to determine that there is no damage to the detector or build-up of foreign debris
  • Reinstallation of the cartridge and replacement of the control head cover and tamper indicator
  • Inspection of the cylinder pressure. Light gauge tap to ensure that the needle is moving freely and has the correct operating pressure
  • Determine if the nozzle blow-off caps are intact and undamaged and replace if necessary
  • Detailed inspection report identifying that the system is in compliance and operational
  • Affixing of a weather protected tag with a wire to the system identifying all required items per NFPA 17 and state and local codes


  • Inspect as per the six-month maintenance instructions above
  • An operational/functional test of the detection system in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Disconnection of the discharge piping from the agent cylinder
  • Use of compressed air or dry nitrogen to blow out the discharge piping and replace all nozzle caps
  • Removal of the cylinder to verify the fill weight
  • Documentation of findings

Maintenance Schedule for Special Hazard Fire Suppression Systems

To promote functionality and to ensure regulatory compliance, special hazard fire suppression systems must undergo scheduled maintenance. Different types of special hazard fire suppression systems will have different maintenance schedules according to NFPA regulations.

Clean Agent Fire Suppression System Maintenance Schedule Recommendations

According to NFPA 2001, the maintenance schedule for a clean agent fire suppression system should be completed by the following schedule:


  • Verify clean agent cylinder weight.


  • Test all clean agent system control panel equipment including initiating devices and equipment. Room integrity testing should also be performed.

Every 5 Years

  • Inspect containers, reducing the likelihood of needing to perform a hydrostatic test.


According to NFPA 12, the maintenance schedule for a CO2 fire suppression system should be completed by the following schedule:


  • Verify the CO2 cylinder weight and pressure.


  • Test all components of the CO2 control panel including initiating devices and equipment as required by the NFPA 12 Standard on CO2 Fire Suppression Systems.

Every 5 Years

  • Conduct a hydrostatic test if cylinders holding the agent have been previously emptied.

Every 12 Years

  • Conduct a 12-year hydrostatic test if cylinders have never been emptied or the system has never discharged.

commercial kitchen suppression system maintenance schedule recommendations

According to NFPA 96, the maintenance schedule for a commercial kitchen suppression system should be completed by the following schedule:


  • Service inspection and pipe blowout


  • Conduct a 12-year Hydrostatic Test depending on manufacturer. Some containers will require different time frames for testing.

Questions to Answer to Streamline Your Special Hazard Project

Before contacting a fire protection company, here are some questions businesses should answer to determine if they need a special hazard fire suppression system in their facility. 

  • Does your company deal with any hazardous materials? 
  • Does your facility contain any process control rooms, electrical control cabinets, IT/server rooms, or other special hazard areas that need a particular focus?
  • Is the item or asset irreplaceable? 
  • Is the asset you are trying to protect valuable or expensive?
  • Is the asset you are trying to protect crucial to business continuity?   
  • Will a water-based fire sprinkler cause damage to the asset? 

If a business answers yes to these questions, they should partner with an experienced fire protection company to design, install, and maintain a special hazard suppression system tailored to their specific environment and circumstance. 

Once the need for a special hazard suppression system is established, businesses can further streamline the installation process by having the answers to the following questions readily prepared:

  • Can you provide architectural blueprints of the facility?
  • When is the best time to schedule a facility walkthrough?
  • How many special hazard areas are present in your facility? 
  • How much is your business willing to spend on a special hazard solution?
  • Does your company prefer an eco-friendly extinguishing agent?


Selecting the Ideal Special Hazard Fire Suppression Solution for Your Building’s Needs

Whether you operate a data center, a power plant, or a chemical storage facility, building owners and facility managers should understand the various types of special hazard fire suppression systems available so they can begin narrowing in on the system that is best suited for their building's unique fire protection challenges. 

However, choosing the ideal special hazard suppression system is a complex process. The best system for your unique application depends on many individual factors. It's important to consider cost, upgrades, and eco-friendliness during the decision-making stages. While having a knowledge base can differentiate a passive building owner from a savvy one, it is still never advisable to tackle this complex, highly important fire and life safety challenge alone.

Businesses should partner with an experienced fire protection company to design and install a special hazard fire suppression system tailored to the specific special hazards present in their facility. Partnering with trained licensed technicians provides businesses a wide range of services including inspections, preventative maintenance, and emergency repairs, ensuring regulatory compliance and the continual protection of expensive assets and equipment.

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