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.
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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:
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?
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.
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 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™ 1230, FM-200®, and Inergen®.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
According to NFPA 2001, the maintenance schedule for a clean agent fire suppression system should be completed by the following schedule:
According to NFPA 12, the maintenance schedule for a CO2 fire suppression system should be completed by the following schedule:
According to NFPA 96, the maintenance schedule for a commercial kitchen suppression system should be completed by the following schedule:
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.
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:
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.