Would you enter a building if you were told as you stepped in that in the event of a fire there was a chance that the extinguishing system wouldn’t put it out because the fire couldn’t be contained?
o! People expect, and rightfully so, that in the event of a fire the extinguishing systems would be in full working order to do just that – extinguish.
- Every 7 seconds, a fire breaks out, worldwide
- CO2 is stored at 49 Bar pressure, but Nitrogen-based systems up to 300 Bar – increasing risk of leakage or accidental discharge
- Annual servicing of gaseous systems is not constant monitoring
- Poorly maintained sprinkler systems leak; gaseous systems discharge
- 700 fatalities caused by fire in the UK
- £7bn is the cost of fire to the UK economy according to GovUK: every day £3.4m in costs by business disruption caused by fire – £1.3bn p.a.
- 44% of all insurance claims are caused by fire
SOURCE: Aviva Insurance, 2012
So going back to the importance of compartmentation. What is compartmentation? Very briefly, it is related to fire stopping in walls and floors, to reduce the spread of fire. Compartmentation often relates to room integrity testing to ensure that a room is sufficiently sealed, to hold in the gaseous extinguishing agent once its been actuated. Liquefied Gaseous systems are typically made up of CO2, FM200™ or Novec™ 1230, and non-liquefied systems are typically Inergen™ or Nitrogen. Leak sites in the room could mean that the comparted area may not withhold the fire or gaseous extinguishing agent, which has been specifically designed for the space (called design concentration).
The likelihood of the gaseous system effectively extinguishing the fire gets lower and lower as the protected area becomes larger than the size that the extinguishing system was designed for.
This is not a game of chance. The lives of people depend upon it. Enough is enough. The technology exists right now to support Door Fan Testing in providing a holistic and thorough integrity test of critical infrastructure. It is called Portascanner™ 520.
What is the opinion of leading researchers on compartmentation?
Leading researchers and scientists agree that the size of the compartments and their relation to fire resistance is key. As well as size, issues in the quality of compartmentation walls can come from maintenance, minor works and refurbishments. Contractors carrying out such tasks can occasionally destroy the compartmentation integrity of the wall, floor or ceilings if they were unaware that the area is a comparted space. This is emphasised in a review by the BRE (Building Research Establishment) report from 2015, stating that: “The biggest issue with fire protection in concealed spaces is that of quality of construction. Poor workmanship, with inappropriate materials, resulting in the inadequate protection of concealed spaces, are the main reasons for fire (and smoke) spread via these routes.” Therefore, following maintenance it is “good practice” to ensure the fire resistance of walls, floors and ceilings and to safeguard again if necessary.
Emphasised by the BRE is the important of compartmentation, because if it is not upheld, lives are put at stake, “The fire protection of concealed spaces is of prime importance because any deficiencies in installation and materials are not readily apparent and may quickly be covered over. Any inadequacies in such fire protection cannot be observed by the building users and, unlike other engineering provisions within the building, will not be apparent by its impact on everyday life.
Any inadequacies in the fire protection of concealed spaces will only become apparent during the very time that their effectiveness is required – during a fire.” Without means to observe any issues with compartmentation, people entrust their lives to the fire protection in buildings and therefore those who maintain buildings must ensure that the highest standards are kept and exceeded so that they do in fact protect, in the event of a fire.
What are the standards for compartmentation?
APPROVED DOCUMENT B (ADB)
The regulations demand that compartmentation is upheld for the safety of the individuals, who entrust their lives into its integrity. Approved document B, Fire Safety, Volume 2, Buildings other than dwelling house states that: 8.0 Every compartment wall should form a complete barrier to fire between the compartments they separate. 8.35 – any stairway or other shaft passing directly from one compartment to another should be enclosed in a protected shaft so as to delay or prevent the spread of fire between compartments. However, despite regulations best effort to promote the implementation of compartmentation and room integrity, the last review of the Building Regulations Approved Document B was made in 2006 (12 years ago) and its next review was not due to be completed until 2022 (which would then be a gap of 17 years), meaning that the attention that is deserved is often disregarded.
- ADB B3-4 “the building shall be designed… so that the unseen spread of fire and smoke… is inhibited”
- Appendix B Breaching fire separation “to ensure effective protection again fire, walls and floors providing fire separation must form a complete barrier, with an equivalent level of fire resistance provided to any openings such as doors, ventilation ducts, pipe passages or refuge chutes.”
The industry is sometimes minimally compliant or even non-compliant due to a lack of understanding of fire systems and their connection to compartmentation.
- 220.127.116.11 The storage container contents shall be checked at least every six months. a) Liquefied gases: for halocarbon agents, if a container shows a loss of agent in quantity of more than 5 % or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 10 %, it shall be refilled or replaced.
- 18.104.22.168 At least every 12 months it shall be determined whether boundary penetration or other changes to the protected enclosure have occurred that could affect leakage and extinguishant performance. If this cannot be visually determined, it shall be positively established by repeating the test for enclosure integrity in accordance with Annex E.
- 22.214.171.124 Where the integrity test reveals increased leakage that would result in an inability to retain the extinguishant for the required period, remedial action shall be carried out.
- A.3.2 Engineered systems: need information and calculations on the amount of extinguishant;
- Annex F – b) Every 6 months: Perform the following checks and inspections: 5) for liquefied gases, check weigh or use a liquid level indicator to verify correct content of containers; replace or refill any showing a loss of more than 5 %;
- Annex F 126.96.36.199 Means shall be provided to indicate that each container is correctly charged. See Portalevel® MAX.
As stated above, leak sites in the room could mean that the comparted area may not withhold the fire or gaseous extinguishing agent, which has been specifically designed for the space (called design concentration). Gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems however are installed to protect special hazards in critical infrastructure as their key objective. If the room has leak sites in its compartmentation and the gaseous extinguishing agent cannot be contained in the room, then the critical infrastructure/building will not be protected from fire.
To understand how fire resistant a compartment is, an inspection of the overall condition of the existing fire compartments is needed, as well as an assessment of the condition and effectiveness of the sealing of wall/soffit interfaces and an inspection of existing fire seals applied to service penetrations through fire compartment lines.
The technology exists right now to solve this problem
Case Study: Oxygen Reduction System – Data Centre, England 2018
Oxygen Reduction System and Need for Monitoring:
Oxygen Reduction system works by taking Nitrogen from the air outdoors and pumping this into the room consistently in order to suppress oxygen levels, down to the level where combustion can no longer occur. To ensure the system works safely and efficiently, room integrity is of utmost important for two reasons: (1) A properly sealed room will contain the Nitrogen for a longer period of time, therefore putting less work on the air compressor in order to save energy. (2) If Nitrogen starts to leak from the Server Room, there are safety concerns over where this Nitrogen would leak to as it has the potential to harm occupants in other rooms if the Nitrogen leaks into their room and the oxygen levels were unmonitored.
Testing of the Server Room:
The Server Room had an area of about 91 metres square. Several areas were tested with an ultrasonic room integrity tester where leakage was probable, and the readings were noted on the drawings. These were the doors, vents, cable penetrations and also sections of the wall where gaps were visible.
The ultrasonic room integrity tester identified the main source of leaks for the room, the doors, where full readings were clearly detected. Multiple air vents in the room were also improperly sealed and some leakage was found into the external room. Cable penetrations leading to the area outside the Server Room were also found to be leaking.
Once the required maintenance was conducted and assuming no changes were made to the room, it is safe to assume that the room retains its integrity, thus comply and exceed current ISO 14520 regulations requiring periodic inspections of room integrity whereby visual inspection is usually specified and is not sufficient. The most suitable way to address periodic inspections is through the use of ultrasound.
Meeting minimum fire standards is not enough
Technology must solve industry problems. Not only to become a successful business in terms of profitability but in terms of sustainability and genuinely offering service to the industry in order to reduce risk, improve safety and hopefully have a small part in saving lives. Coltraco Ultrasonics have provided a smart solution to quick and easy assurance of compartmentation using ultrasound to detect signal leaking through any apertures within the barriers.
Ultrasonic room integrity testers, the Portascanner® 520, provides interpretation of the fire resistance of the desired locations, labelling them either airtight or giving an indication of the overall leakage of the room. The advantages of being able to accurately detect the exact leak locations and size are self-evident when considered alongside the resistance to collapse and transfer of excessive heat. In a case where there is too much leakage in a room, the Portascanner® 520 is an unrivalled ideal for the rapid and accurate identification of these sites so that they can be sealed. It is lightweight, fast and easy to use, allowing leak site detection to increase its operational efficiency and speed to a degree that has never been seen thus far in the Fire Industry.
Coupled with the Portalevel® MAX, ultrasonic liquid level indicator, engineers can check the contents of CO2, FM-200™, Novec™ 1230, FE-13™, FE-25™, FE-36™, safer, faster and cheaper. With the ability to test cylinders in situ and in just 30 seconds, the Portalevel® MAX saves time so more inspections can be carried out. Using the Portalevel® MAX saves labour costs and removes the risk of injuries, ensuring asset safety in an affordable manner.
In 2019 with the continuing developments in technology there is an expectation that safety should be all encompassing. We cannot let this expectation continue to be a fantasy. Here’s to 2019 of reduced fires worldwide.
For more information, go to www.coltraco.com