Choosing among Chemical Agents, Inert Gases and Water Solutions
Because of the numerous fire suppression options on the market, it’s often a challenge to determine which type of fire suppression systems is ideal for your facility, its critical assets, and most importantly, its occupants.
The following provides insight into today’s special hazard fire suppression systems, their benefits and their recommended applications.
What are the various types of fire suppression systems available today?
Today’s fire suppression systems offer various levels of protection not found with traditional water sprinkler systems. These special hazard fire protection options can be categorized as:
- Chemical Clean Agents – Include ECARO-25® (HFC-125), FM-200 (HFC-227ea), 3MTM NovecTM 1230 Fire Protection Fluid and others, all of which offer fast-acting, and most importantly, people-safe fire-suppressing solutions. Clean agents protect irreplaceable assets, such as computers, servers, electronics, artwork, archives and more, as they produce none of the damage often associated with traditional water sprinkler systems.
- Inert Gases – Include nitrogen, argon and CO2, or a combination of two or more, and reduce oxygen levels to a point where combustion cannot be sustained. These gaseous agents are safe for both people and the environment.
- CO2 Systems – Provide a heavy blanket of gas that reduces the oxygen level to a point where combustion cannot occur. Because it’s unsafe for people, CO2 is only recommended for localized applications or areas generally inaccessible by employees or customers.
- Water Mist Systems – Improve upon the traditional water sprinkler system by producing ultra-fine water droplets and using 50 to 90 percent less water than a fire sprinkler, resulting in little to no collateral damage. Water mist systems may be connected to a building’s water supply for continuous fire-fighting capability, or in remote locations, may be connected to a tank or reservoir.
Which factors are most important to your organization?
Each type of fire suppression solution has its own inherent benefits. Which of the following are most important to your organization’s priorities?
With the recent introduction of low-pressure water mist systems, water mist has become a cost-effective method of fire suppression.
Of the chemical agent fire suppression systems, ECARO-25 is the most cost-effective solution from an agent cost-per-pound basis. Because of its chemical properties and natural propensity to effectively fill a protected space, HFC-125 requires 10 percent less agent than does HFC-227ea, and 35 percent less agent than does non-brandd FK-5-1-12.
About 30 years ago, Halon’s ozone-depleting potential led to its discontinuation as the go-to fire suppression system. Today, much greener options are available.
Water-based systems and inert gas systems are the greenest options available, since water and inert gas are naturally occurring substances that we extract from the environment and harness for use in fire suppression. Among the chemical agents, FK-5-1-12 is the most environmentally benign with a global warming potential (GWP) value of one.
If environmental friendliness is most important to your organization, these solutions are recommended in favor of the other chemical agents, HFC-125 and HFC-227ea, both of which have GWPs approaching 3,000.
Inert gas systems provide the most flexible design options for two primary reasons. These gases are stored at pressures exceeding 4,000 psi, compared to chemical agents that are stored from 360-725 psi; and they are stored as a gas, compared to chemical agents that are stored as a liquid and suffer greater friction losses as they flow through a pipe network.
Both of these factors equate to inert gases possessing more energy than chemical agents upon discharge. More energy means inert gas can flow longer distances through smaller diameter pipes. This allows for the ability to protect multiple floors and multiple buildings with one bank of cylinders.
Furthermore, gaseous agent systems offer three-dimensional protection not found in water sprinkler systems. This means that inert gas can permeate every cubic foot of a protected space. Water droplets from a fire sprinkler do not have this three-dimensional property, and are less apt to reach a fire that is shielded by an object in the protected space.
Recommended – Inert Gas
Special hazard fire suppression systems all share one primary advantage over traditional water sprinkler systems: minimal clean up and downtime.
Traditional water sprinklers can produce as much damage to a building or its critical assets as a fire itself. For example, if a small wire ignited in a historical site or a data center, it’s likely the entirety of the room would be doused with water in an effort to suppress a small fire. This could cause irreparable damage and result in days or even weeks of cleanup.
Conversely, a chemical clean agent or inert gas would suppress the fire quickly with very little business lost as a result of downtime.
All of the clean agent systems are approved by the major international fire protection standards agencies and environmental policy agencies. Among the chemical agents, HFC-227ea has the longest-standing track record and the greatest number of installations. It is by far the most globally specified chemical agent.
Inert gases are also accepted worldwide, primarily because of their favorable environmental profile and long history of use in fire suppression.
Which fire suppression systems are most effective for my application?
The most important step in your decision-making process is to find a solution that works best for your application:
- Commercial Applications – Include hospitality, healthcare, schools, libraries and office buildings; places where people live, work and do business. These spaces often have multiple functions, each with their own unique fire suppression needs and priorities. For example, a health care facility may use water mist to protect rooms, common areas and backup generators, and a chemical agent like HFC-125 or HFC-227ea for server rooms, and electronic medical equipment like MRIs. Special hazard systems providers like Fike can help determine the most effective customized solutions for these unique applications.
- Industrial Applications – Include factories and machine shops; where things are made. Water mist and CO2 are most commonly used because of their cost effectiveness and the types of hazards most commonly found in these environments. For example, water mist is most effective at suppressing Class B, liquid-based fire hazards associated with lube skids, turbine shafts and diesel generators. C02 is recommended for localized applications on specific machines or segments of an assembly line.
- Irreplaceable Asset Applications – Include data centers, telecommunications facilities, museums and historical sites; where critical assets are contained. For the greatest protection and preservation of irreplaceable assets, such as server-backed user information or historical artifacts, gaseous agents (chemical or inert) are ideal.
Where can I find these special hazard fire suppression solutions?
Fike is one of the world’s leading special hazard fire suppression manufacturers, offering a full breath of solutions to meet your unique needs:
- ECARO-25 (HFC-125)
- FM-200 (HFC-227ea)
- Novec 1230 fluid
- PROINERT2 (Inert Gas System which may include agents IG-55, IG-541, IG-100, IG-01)
- DuraQuench (Pumped Water Mist)
- MicroMist (Nitrogen-Driven Water Mist)