Industrial fires can have catastrophic consequences, resulting in loss of life, property damage, and business interruption. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated 37,000+ fires occur in industrial and manufacturing properties each year, causing an average of 16 civilian deaths, 273 civilian injuries, and greater than $1 billion in direct property damage. Per Facility Executive – “82 percent of manufacturing firms have experienced unplanned downtime in the last three years, with an average cost of $260,000 per hour.” To mitigate these risks, industrial facilities must have reliable and effective fire suppression systems in place.
Industrial fire suppression systems are specialized systems designed to detect, extinguish or control fires in industrial settings such as manufacturing plants, warehouses, power plants, and chemical facilities. These systems use various technologies and methods to detect, suppress, or extinguish fires, including water-based, gas-based, foam-based, and powder-based agents.
Each type of industrial fire suppression system has its advantages and limitations
The choice of system should be based on a careful analysis of the fire hazards and risk factors present in the facility. A qualified fire protection solution provider can help assess the fire protection needs and recommend the appropriate system design and installation.
The choice of fire suppression system depends on the type of fire hazard, the nature of the materials involved, the facility layout, and other factors. Here are some of the common types of industrial fire suppression systems:
These systems use water as the primary extinguishing agent and are most suitable for Class A fires (those involving ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, or plastics). Water-based systems can be further classified as wet pipe, dry pipe, deluge, or pre-action systems, depending on the specific application. It is important to remember that water-based systems are traditionally designed to protect the structure itself. If there is a concern for protecting equipment and/or minimizing down time, additional systems discussed below should be considered.
These type systems are typically inert or synthetic. Inert gases systems utilize raw products such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N2), or argon (Ar) to suppress fires by reducing the oxygen concentration in the protected area or disrupting the fire triangle. Gas based (Clean Agent) systems can also include synthetic gaseous agents such as FM-200 and Novec. Gas-based systems are ideal for Class B fires (those involving flammable liquids and gases) and Class C fires (those involving electrical equipment). Clean Agent systems are ideal for data centers, telephone equipment rooms, turbine enclosures, CNC machines and other applications with sensitive electronics.
These systems use foam as the extinguishing agent and are most effective for Class A and B fires. Foam-based systems create a blanket of foam that smothers the fire and prevents re-ignition. Foam can be applied in different forms, such as low-expansion, high-expansion, or compressed air foam.
These systems use dry chemical powders such as monoammonium phosphate (MAP), sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), or potassium bicarbonate (KHCO3) to extinguish Class A, B, and C fires. Powder-based systems are effective in high-risk areas where rapid fire knockdown is critical, such as chemical storage rooms, flammable liquid storage areas, paint spray booths or process equipment.
Industrial fire suppression systems can be complex systems that involve various components and subsystems, such as detectors, alarms, valves, piping, nozzles, and control panels. These components must be properly designed, installed, tested, and maintained to ensure optimal performance and reliability.
Best practices for industrial fire suppression system design and maintenance
Industrial fire suppression systems are critical for protecting people, assets, and businesses from the devastating effects of fire. However, to ensure that these systems perform as intended, it’s essential to follow best practices for their design and maintenance. Below are some best practices for industrial fire suppression system design and maintenance:
Conduct a thorough fire risk assessment:
Before selecting a fire suppression system, it’s important to conduct a comprehensive fire risk assessment to identify the potential fire hazards, assess the fire growth potential, and determine the fire protection objectives. The assessment should consider factors such as the type of materials stored or processed, the occupancy type and density, the location and size of the facility, and the potential ignition sources. Based on this assessment, the appropriate fire suppression system can be selected, and the system design can be optimized for the specific hazards and risks.
Choose the right system for the application:
The fire suppression system should be selected based on the type of fire hazard, the nature of the materials involved, the facility layout, and other factors. The system should be designed to provide optimal fire detection and/or suppression performance while minimizing collateral damage, loss of life and/or business interruption. The choice of system should also consider factors such as system cost, maintenance requirements, and environmental impact.
Install the system correctly:
The fire suppression system should be designed and installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications by a manufacturer certified/authorized distributor and installation company and the relevant codes and standards to include 3rd party insurer’s (ie Factory Mutual or others) enhanced requirements. The installation should be designed by a qualified fire protection designer who is either a fire protection engineer or who has NICET Level III or higher certification to ensure that the system components are properly designed, installed and configured. The installation process should also consider factors such as accessibility, ease of maintenance, and future expansion. Hiller is a manufacturer certified/authorized
distribution distributor and installation company for most major fire protection manufacturers. In addition, our design teams, located throughout the United States, include Fire Protection Engineers, PE’s, and NICET III and NICET IV designers.
Conduct regular maintenance and testing:
Regular maintenance and testing of fire suppression systems are critical for ensuring optimal system performance and reliability. The frequency of maintenance and testing should be based on the system type, the manufacturer’s recommendations, NFPA and the local codes and standards. Maintenance and testing activities may include inspecting system components, testing system functionality, and replacing system components as necessary.
Train personnel on system operation and maintenance:
Personnel who are responsible for operating and maintaining the fire suppression system should receive appropriate training on system operation, maintenance, and emergency response procedures. The training should cover topics such as system operation, alarm response, emergency evacuation procedures, and proper use of firefighting equipment. Training should be conducted regularly and updated as needed to ensure that personnel are familiar with the latest system features and procedures. Hiller provides training as part of all system installations we perform at no additional cost. Hiller is also available to perform training for your team for systems that are already installed.
Maintain accurate documentation:
It’s important to maintain accurate documentation of the fire suppression system design, installation, maintenance, testing, and training activities. This documentation should include system drawings, specifications, inspection reports, test results, training records, and emergency response plans. Accurate and readily available documentation can help ensure that the system is maintained properly and can assist in troubleshooting system issues and verifying compliance with local codes and standards. Hiller maintains records electronically of all installations that we perform. In addition, Hiller utilizes a digital inspection platform that houses all inspection and repair documentation performed on your system that can
is be made accessible to you.
Stay up to date on code and regulatory changes:
Codes and regulations governing fire suppression systems change over time. It’s important to stay up to date on these changes and ensure that the fire suppression system remains compliant with the latest requirements. Compliance with codes and regulations can help ensure that the system is effective and can also help prevent legal and financial liabilities. If you have a question about the fire codes, contact Hiller and we will walk you through what it means for you and your facility.
Following these best practices for system design and maintenance can help ensure that these systems perform as intended and provide optimal protection.