Carl Stephen Patrick Hunter OBE, Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics discusses suppression systems
In July 2020, at the height of COVID19 in the USA, the USS Richard Bonhomme, an amphibious aircraft carrier, developed a 5-day fire during a maintenance interval. It injured 68 military and civil personnel. Regardless of the reason for the fire itself, a reason that the fire became uncontrolled was because its fire suppression system had been shut down and its compartment doors left open. For maintenance.
For a gaseous extinguishing system to function, whether liquefied, such as CO2, NOVEC 1230 or FM-200 or non-liquefied, such as Nitrogen or Inergen, one needs two things: Firstly, sufficient contents to generate the design concentration required to extinguish the fire event, and secondly, compartmentation integrity, so that the extinguishing gas is contained within the space on actuation. Without either, the fire event risks escalation.
So how can one test that either exist? To cater for the contents, one can shut the system down, dismantle it, and weigh each cylinder of extinguishing gas. Then re-install each of them. There can 600 45KG cylinders on a commercial ship, 100 on an offshore platform. Hundreds in a Data Centre. It takes 2 licensed fire technicians 15 minutes to do this, per cylinder. On a good day. For the compartmentation integrity, one can pressurise the compartment space, either by air or water, and see where it leaks out. Neither works when the fire technicians are away from the asset for the other 364 days per annum.
This is how our industry has worked since gaseous systems were first developed. But here we are in our industry using gases for fire systems that are nearly 100, 60 and 30 years old, and we still test them inadequately. It is as if there has been no technological advance in any field other than our own. And the accidents keep coming. The fires keep hurting and destroying and our regulations gently modify themselves, all at a time of some of the highest-paced technological change the world has ever seen.
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