What is Special Hazard Fire Suppression for Healthcare Facilities?

October 1 2021

What is Special Hazard Fire Suppression for Healthcare Facilities?

Hospital fire and life safety is unique and requires specialized accommodations to ensure the protection of building occupants and the expensive medical equipment inside. These unique environments and assets, including labs, surgical rooms, and cafeteria kitchens, would be irreplaceably damaged if exposed to water from a traditional sprinkler.

Healthcare facilities need a solution that keeps their environment safe but also operational. Special hazard fire suppression systems can quickly detect and suppress fires when water-based fire sprinklers aren't appropriate, and mitigate downtime with minimal damage caused by fire or extinguishing agents.

By ensuring that special hazard suppression systems are regularly inspected and maintained by fire and life safety professionals, building owners and facility managers can increase patient safety, meet regulatory requirements, and protect their expensive electronic assets.

Before we dive deeper into the special hazards associated with hospitals and the types of special hazard suppression systems needed to mitigate these unique risks, let's clearly define what special hazard fire suppression is.

What is Special Hazard Fire Suppression?

To determine the type of special hazard fire suppression system a hospital requires, it's advantageous to understand the definition of a special hazard. There is a common misconception that special hazards refer to actual fire hazards such as flammable liquids or dust build-up.

However, special hazards refer to specific areas in buildings that require special hazard fire equipment. These areas may include the entire building, a designated area, a single room, or even a piece of equipment. Special hazard areas can be defined as:

  • Any area containing hazardous materials
  • Any area containing high-value equipment or integral business processes
  • Any area containing assets that would be irreplaceably damaged if exposed to water
  • Any area where the revenue generated is of greater value than the equipment itself

Extensive special hazard fire protection will compartmentalize a building by each area that contains a special hazard and deploy the type of fire suppression system for the hazard in that area. Special hazard fire suppression systems include detection and control coupled with a fire suppression system that typically uses a dry suppressant agent like inert
or halocarbon gases.

Areas in Hospitals that Require Special Hazard Fire Suppression Systems

Hospital and healthcare facilities contain multiple special hazard areas and require strategic planning to ensure each is adequately suppressed with the correct special hazard fire suppression system.

Here are a few special hazard areas typically found in healthcare environments that need individualized attention.

Surgical Rooms

While fires in surgical rooms are rare, they still require special attention as operating rooms contain oxygen tanks, alcohol-based sanitizer, and flammable medical gases and chemicals, not to mention expensive operating equipment. Standard water-based fire sprinkler systems are inadequate for this environment and will exacerbate fire spread.

Laboratories

A majority of larger hospitals have their own laboratories on-site for testing samples from patients. Hospital labs must be equipped with the proper special hazard fire suppression system as labs typically store chemicals or other flammable materials that can cause fires.

Cafeteria Kitchens

Many healthcare facilities have cafeterias to feed patients, visitors, and hospital staff. This added value service provides hospitals an additional revenue stream but also poses additional fire hazards that hospitals need to account for. Since cooking is the leading cause of fires in hospitals, accounting for roughly 60% of all fires, healthcare facilities need to take the same specialized precautions that a commercial kitchen takes to prevent fires.

Data Centers and Server Rooms

Wiring malfunctions, overheating, overloading, or short-circuiting can all quickly cause a fire in electric-heavy rooms such as a server room or data center. Many hospitals have data centers that store electronic patient information. Hospitals can incur costly fines from regulatory infringements if patient data is lost or destroyed.

To prevent the loss of patient data and damage to sensitive electrical equipment, hospitals will need to install a clean agent fire suppression system. As the name suggests, these systems are “clean,” and leave no residue behind making them ideal for valuable electronics and other delicate environments.

Types of Special Hazard Fire Suppression Systems for Hospitals

Remember, fire suppression tactics need to be individualized and tailored to each unique area that contains a special hazard. Each special hazard area will need a different type of fire suppression system to ensure quick detection and minimized damage to property and assets.

Healthcare facilities at times will have multiple special hazards within one building and will need the experience and knowledge of qualified special hazard fire suppression technicians to assist them. In healthcare environments, each hazard type 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. 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.

Here are some of the most common special hazard fire suppression systems used in hospitals and healthcare facilities:

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.

FM-200® - This type of special hazard system uses a non-toxic gas to suppress fires without leaving a residue.

INERGEN® - 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.

CO2 - A chemically inert gas, carbon dioxide fire suppression systems are great for electronic applications since CO2 is non-conductive.

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

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Protect Your Hospital with a Special Hazard Fire Suppression System Tailored to Your Building

Building owners and facility managers need to be aware of the special hazard fire suppression systems that should be present in their healthcare facility. Trained licensed technicians can help hospitals and healthcare facilities determine which fire suppression system is right for their building based on the specific special hazards present in their facility, ensuring patient safety, regulatory compliance, and the continual protection of expensive assets and equipment.

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