If you own or manage a business, you know how devastating a fire can be. Not only do fires reduce profits by damaging property and equipment as well as increasing downtime, but they are a serious safety risk for you and your employees. And while not all fires are entirely preventable, there are many steps you can take to increase your chances of preventing fires and reacting quickly when one does occur.
The key to safeguarding your business and its valuable assets from the threat of fire is a proper understanding of the differences between fire detection, fire protection, and fire suppression. Have you found yourself asking questions like “What is the difference between fire detection and fire suppression systems?” or “What is the best fire protection in the workplace?” Continue reading to understand the difference between the three and how to implement the best fire detection, protection, and suppression services.
What is a Fire Detection System?
Fire detection systems serve a simple purpose to spot fires early enough to allow for safe evacuation of personnel and, if possible, for a quick response to put the fire out. With the right fire detection system, the human and equipment costs due to damage can be significantly reduced. Electronic detection systems most commonly work with alarms to immediately notify those in the vicinity or connected to a monitoring system. This provides warning of a fire to building occupants and can provide information to emergency responders on the location of the fire, speeding the process to control the fire.
Other forms of fire detection do not require power, like pneumatic detection tubing. The tubing is installed inside and throughout areas that have a higher risk of fire. When a fire is present, the tubing will burst open at the point of contact, indicating a fire, and discharge the fire suppression agent.
What is Fire Protection?
A fire protection system aims to protect a building’s occupants while minimizing the damage associated with fire. Overall, the goal is to provide the widest possible window for a safe evacuation and reduced damage to equipment, which will lessen downtime and potential repair costs.
What are the types of fire protection systems? Fire protection systems can be categorized as either active or passive. Where active systems actively help fight fires with alarms to call in support or trigger sprinklers to stop a fire before it gets out of control, passive fire protection involves design like walls and structural supports to minimize flammability and the spread of smoke.
Passive fire protection is a broad umbrella with many underlying tactics. Apart from preventing the spread of fire, it also helps to maintain a building’s structural integrity. Here are some of the most critical elements of a passive fire protection strategy:
To stop smoke from passing through these areas, specialists install fire doors, walls, and cavity barriers. Fire protection boards also play a significant role in compartmentalizing a fire by preventing it from spreading to new areas. They’re designed to absorb heat rather than conduct it and don’t shrink when exposed to high temperatures. If a fire breaks out in a certain compartment, the fire integrity and insulation of the surrounding compartment helps to confine high temperatures and smoke to the specific area. Think of it like the watertight compartments on a modern ship; with the right design, a fire in one area will stay in that area, just like floodwater when there’s a breach in a ship’s hull.
Intumescent paint is applied to steel support beams as another method of protecting critical support structures from heat and fire damage. This special kind of paint will expand in temperatures over 500 degrees Celsius. This adds a new protective layer to the steel, minimizing its exposure to heat and delaying its degradation. Intumescent coatings can withstand high heat for up to two hours—which could mean the difference between a safe evacuation and a tragic disaster.
What is Fire Suppression?
The sole objective of a fire suppression system is to extinguish or suppress a fire as quickly as possible. A fire suppression system is built to extinguish fires through the application of a fire suppression agent like water, foam, or chemical agents. These systems are commonly designed with components to detect factors like extreme heat, smoke, or fire to trigger a response. Electronic fire detection is attached to an alarm system that will alert you when the fire has been detected and initiate steps to further suppress the fire. In contrast, non-electronic systems will activate and deploy the fire suppression agent without notification. The majority of fire suppression systems will automatically release the suppression agent to extinguish the fire after the detection and/or alert. Alternatively, some fire suppression systems require someone to manually release a suppressant.
Here is a list of the latest technology in automatic fire suppression systems:
Indirect and Direct Release Systems
An indirect release system uses heat and flame-sensitive detection tubing as a fire detection and system activation device, not as a discharge tube. The tubing itself will rupture when exposed to high heat or flames, releasing pressure causing the indirect valve to activate. The valve diverts the flow of the suppression agent to the larger outlet ports.
A direct release system utilizes heat and flame-sensitive tubing as a detection device and for suppressant delivery. During a fire, the portion of the tube nearest the point where the most heat or fire is detected, the tubing ruptures, creating a hole. The suppressant agent is released through this hole.
Direct release systems are recommended for the protection of electrical cabinets while indirect release systems are often best suited for protecting high-value equipment like vehicles and CNC machines.
High-Pressure CO2 Systems
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colorless, odorless, electrically non-conductive gas that works to effectively suffocate the fire, and it is highly effective at suppressing a wide variety of Class A, B, and C fires.
In areas with delicate electronic equipment, such as server rooms, data rooms, and storage areas with potentially combustible materials, sprinkler systems are not the ideal suppression agent. As long as there is no building personnel working in the protected room, CO2 fire suppression systems may be the most effective fire protection systems.
CO2 fire suppression systems can either be used in a total enclosure or a local application. In the total enclosure, all of the CO2 is discharged into an enclosed space, flooding it completely. Gas can also be used locally to focus on a specific component or unit within the larger space, such as an EDM Machine. No other gaseous agent can be used with this kind of targeted precision.
Engineered Clean Agent Systems for Larger Environments
Clean Agent Engineered Systems protect sensitive areas by suppressing fire without water, which can compromise equipment or damage valuable documents and artifacts. Unlike most suppressing agents, clean agents do not require clean-up after discharge. They also present no harm to those who are exposed.
It is important to understand the different fire detection, protection, and suppression systems. Deciding which system you need to safeguard your business is pivotal to your success and, most importantly, to protect your staff, facilities, and equipment.