Fight Fire without Water

09/01/2013 | By Jennie Morton

These specialty sprinklers use inert gases or chemical agents

Special hazard fire protection systems are used in spaces with sensitive equipment, such as data centers, computer labs, and transformer rooms.

Concerned that sensitive equipment may be water damaged if your fire sprinklers are activated?

Traditional sprinklers are great at preserving your building structure from a fire, but they’re not designed to protect assets within your space. Whether you have a telecommunications closet, transformer room, flammable liquids, a computer lab, or data center, chances are your operations could take a serious hit if these valuables become wet.

Enter special hazard fire protection systems, commonly referred to as waterless sprinklers or clean agent systems. These sprinklers use inert gases or liquid chemicals to smother flames. By avoiding a rush of water during a fire, damage to interiors and critical infrastructure is minimized.

Gases and Chemicals
Special hazard fire protection systems that are considered replacements for halon either use a halocarbon compound (compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, bromine, fluorine, iodine, and chlorine) or an inert gas such as argon or nitrogen, says Chris Jelenewicz, an engineering program manager with the Society of Fire Protection Engineers.

“The inert gas system works by displacing oxygen, while chemical agents absorb combustion heat,” adds Al Thornton, global manager for DuPont Fire Extinguishers.

Early detection is key with these systems. Whereas traditional sprinklers incorporate fire detection into the sprinkler itself, clean agent systems rely on separate detectors to trigger them from a control panel, Jelenewicz notes.

When activated, gas is discharged in 10 seconds or less with chemical agents. Inert gas systems can take upwards of two minutes, Thornton explains. Because the smoke detectors sense a fire in its earlier stages, the elapsed time between detector initiation and gas discharge is far quicker than conventional sprinklers.

“We had a case where a patient was in an MRI machine undergoing testing when the circuit card caught fire. The system activated within seconds – before the technicians could run to the room. The fire was put out and the patient, aside from a good scare, was otherwise fine,” recounts Thornton. “The hospital merely had to replace the faulty card, as opposed to the entire MRI, and it was back into the revenue stream in no time.”

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