Fire Suppression Systems act on the intermediary stage of a fire, subsequently to the detection. Their primary purpose is to extinguish the fire or at least control it, avoiding the spread. You might be very aware of the most common sprinklers system, but what to do when you cannot use water to combat fire, either because of its nature or to protect sensitive property in the location?
Thankfully fire suppression technology has evolved a lot in the past century. Nowadays, we have a wide variety of extinguish agents that can be used to extinguish different fires in different environments. Today we will be talking about the biggest difference between each fire suppression system:
Fire Sprinkler Systems
They are the bare minimum requirement for most buildings, and as its name suggests, they work by simply spraying water over a fire. The sprinkler heads usually have a glass tube or solder plug in their body that maintains the water inside the water pipes. The heat from a fire will break or melt this plug, releasing the water and covering the area immediately around the sprinkler. Although water sprinklers might be considered a suppression system, their primary objective is not fire extinguishment but fire control, preventing the spread.
Those are gas-based agents, non-conducting and with no residues upon evaporation. While water may not be safe for electrical or sensitive equipment, a clean agent needs minimal cleanup and downtime. As opposed to sprinklers, those systems extinguish fires very quickly after detection, and each agent has unique properties that make them better for different purposes. These agents are divided into types of clean agents:
Typically stored in cylinders as a compressed liquid, it quickly changes to gas when discharged. They are safe for humans and sensitive equipment, and the variety of clean chemical agents covers different classes of fire hazards, those being Class A, B, C, or D (or some combination of these). Dry chemicals are also generally stored in smaller cylinders, taking up less space when compared to inert gases.
Naturally occurring gases that cause no negative effects to the Ozone layer or Global Warming. Offer better design flexibility because they can flow for longer distances through smaller diameter pipes since they’re stored as a gas, meaning fewer friction losses on pipework, thus can be stored further away from the area, optimizing space. They also offer three-dimensional protection, permeating every cubic inch of the room, including high and protected spaces; These systems can work with one of these components or a mix of them:
CO2: It’s a fire retardant that doesn’t conduct electricity or damage property. Very quick at smothering a fire, starving it from oxygen. Available in both high- and low-pressure options; Unsafe for people, so it’s typically installed in localized applications and inaccessible areas for employees and customers.
Nitrogen: A non-conducting element, poses no environmental threats, and has an economical recharge with a locally accessed agent. Reduces the oxygen content within a room to a point where a fire will be suppressed without compromising individuals present.
Argon: Displaces the oxygen in the air suffocating the fire. Completely safe for both humans and the environment, it is non-corrosive and does not produce any toxic by-products, so no downtime will occur due to discharge.
These clean agents are typically used at Mission Critical Systems such as Data Centers and Power Generating Plants, sometimes in conjunction with a VESDA unit which provides a very early warning aspirating smoke detector (ASD), protecting expensive water-sensitive equipment. This combination can result in one of the fastest responding suppression systems available.
Foam suppression systems are especially useful for buildings that handle anything flammable, especially aircraft hangars where some kind of fuel leak might occur. The makeup of the foam is water, air, and foam concentrate. Together, the mixture creates a blanket and extinguishes the flames by cooling and coating the blaze, eventually smothering the fire. The expanding foam can cover huge areas as a hangar or a warehouse in mere seconds for its high volume.
Even though these systems are water-based, which makes them very cost-effective, water mist suppression systems actually use tiny droplets of water that usually evaporate before even getting in touch with surfaces. The water damage is reduced in this case. However, since they displace the oxygen on the ambient through evaporation, there are still vapors present that could condensate and still moist some surfaces, but in a significantly minimized way compared to water sprinklers.
In conclusion, there are many suppression systems and many agents for all types of fires and applications; if you are still in doubt about which one is best for you, give us a call. We have a team of well-qualified specialists at your service to help you with your every need. And if you’d like to learn more about other types of fire protection systems, have a look at our article “Fire Protection, Prevention, and Protection”