The fire protection industry is amid some exciting technological developments. While the core tenets of fire protection remain the same, new products allow for solutions that are more efficient and...Continue Reading
The fire protection industry is amid some exciting technological developments. While the core tenets of fire protection remain the same, new products allow for solutions that are more efficient and sustainable, not to mention safer. In this article, we will highlight some of the most recent advances in fire protection technology, and how they can transform our industry.
Smart Connected Things (SCot) in fire protection
The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to revolutionise everyday objects. In essence, the technology uses the internet to expand the capabilities of many products and appliances. Driverless cars are a common example of what have been described as Smart Connected Things (SCot). Smart technology is set to thoroughly modernise how we detect fires today.
Recently we have seen an increase in ‘smart buildings’. In 2016, it was estimated that smart buildings hosted a total of 5 million connections. This is expected to increase to over 150 million connections by 2025. Going forward, many of these smart buildings will offer cutting-edge fire detection systems. These systems use sensors to read a building’s temperature with greater precision. These sensors could potentially detect the presence of fire before traditional smoke alarms. They may also be able to accurately gauge the intensity of a fire, alerting firefighters so they are appropriately prepared to tackle the blaze.
Many conventional fire protection systems rely on an interconnected system of alarms. These are often installed by different manufacturers, with each one having different requirements for monitoring and maintenance. Smart buildings could not only offer superior levels of fire detection, but also a centralised system in which an entire fire protection system is handled automatically by one computer. While this would necessitate a backup system in case of technical issues, this stands to make a building’s fire protection system as a whole more efficient.
Water mist suppression
Water sprinklers are a key asset for both commercial and residential fire protection. However, they arguably use too much water to be considered a sustainable solution. It should be noted that, according to the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, the average sprinkler dispenses 55 litres of water per minute compared to the 750 litres dispensed by the typical fire hose. Fire sprinklers also pose problems for buildings that host fragile equipment, electronics, and perishable valuables. This, combined with an increased focus on sustainability, has prompted research into the benefits of water mist suppression systems.
These systems work by creating droplets that are much smaller in size than those produced by conventional sprinklers. This not only reduces water usage but increases the surface area of water being dispensed. Fires feed on oxygen, and by replacing oxygen with steam, mist suppression systems reduce the overall temperature at a faster rate. This is not the only benefit offered by mist suppression systems. By creating a thin layer of water on affected walls, the rate at which fire spreads is reduced.
These systems also drastically lower the potential for smoke inhalation. Traditional sprinklers produce large water particles that become infused with smoke particles, which then causes smoke to spread. By curtailing the spread of smoke, mist suppression systems can reduce the rate of deaths from smoke inhalation, which make up over half of all fire-related fatalities (even this is a conservative estimate).
The development of water mist systems had stalled for quite some time. This is due to a lack of similar industry technology, which complicated the process of setting technical standards. However, over the last few years, the technology has now started becoming commercially available.
“Green” fire stopping sealants
Firestopping is a fundamental element of any passive fire protection system. This process involves using sealants to rectify any breaches in walls, floors, or ceiling voids that may enable the spread of smoke.
There are a range of sealants currently available on the market, including silicone, MSP, butyl and acrylic-based products. However, some of these products have been known to contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs can emit gases that are harmful to the environment, not to mention they contain multiple health risks. Prolonged exposure to VOCs can cause chronic headaches, visual impairment, and even memory loss. Therefore, fire protection companies need to embrace non-toxic and environmentally sealants.
CLM Fireproofing is one of several companies to use Protecta® FR IPT, a VOC-free sealant that utilises an innovative Inert Polymer Technology. This technology means there are no chemical reactions when applying the sealant. It is these chemical reactions that emit pollutants and hazardous gases. This lack of reaction also makes the sealant compatible with many construction materials, whilst also outperforming its less sustainable counterparts. Since this “green” sealant can be used on flooring, joinery, plumbing, and tiling (to name a few), it also reduces the amount of waste that comes with using multiple products.
New guidance for sealing sprinklers
In our industry, there can be many catalysts for technological advancement. While we’re always looking for ways to make processes safer and more efficient, we must also keep abreast of new fire safety regulations. Not only does this ensure the wellbeing of both residents and operatives, but new industry regulations may also, at times, prompt us to invest in new products and systems.
For instance, the Ministry of Housing, Government & Local Government has announced updates to Approved Document B (Fire Safety) which will go into effect from November 2020 (and projects where building work starts after January 2021). These updates apply to blocks of flats (as well as mixed-use buildings which contain flats) that have top floors over 11 metres above ground level.
The most notable update is the height threshold for sprinkler systems in residential blocks of flats, which has been reduced from 30 to 11 metres. The reduced threshold now means that C-PVC sprinkler pipes must be sealed with specialist approved products. We strongly advise that operatives and project managers consult the following sources for guidance on sealants which comply with these new regulations:
Advanced smoke detection systems
Smoke detectors remain a critical part of fire protection, but they can be unfortunately considered a nuisance in many homes. This is because traditional smoke detectors can struggle to differentiate between ‘real’ fires and, for instance, the smoke created when cooking. This leads to smoke detectors being disconnected due to being ‘too sensitive’.
According to a study of U.S. homes conducted by the National Fire Protection Association, in fires with smoke detectors that were installed but failed to work, 43% were found to have missing or disconnected batteries. This shows more than anything that this common practice mustn’t continue. We can continue to encourage homes to keep their smoke detectors connected, but this does not address the cause of the issue. Instead, we must develop systems with more nuanced smoke detection capabilities.
One example of this is a new smoke alarm developed by Kidde, one of the world’s leading providers of fire safety technology. In 2019, it was announced that their smoke alarms would be equipped with TruSense technology. Smoke can be produced in a variety of household situations, from a fire to cooking as well as smoking cigarettes indoors. While all of these situations will likely trigger a smoke alarm, each produces smoke particles of varying sizes. TrueSense alarms have been trained by algorithms to differentiate sources of smoke, based on the size of the particles. This then reduces the amount of ‘false alarms’, deterring households from disconnecting their smoke detector.
These types of systems certainly have potential for residential homes. However, we must also consider the unique requirements of commercial buildings at risk from fire. Warehouses, depots, and large storage facilities are expansive spaces with higher ceilings than the average home. This means there is a risk of fire damage before the smoke reaches the detectors. It should also be taken into account that commercial buildings will usually have more than one smoke detector. This means that fire protection systems may raise the alarm without knowing the exact location of a fire.
These unique issues can be addressed with visual image detection (VID) technology. Cameras are installed and then linked to a piece of VID software on a central computer. The software utilises algorithms, which have been programmed to recognise pixels indicative of either smoke or fire. The computer then triggers an alarm system which can contact the local fire department, whilst also initiating fire sprinkler and door systems. VID systems act as advanced and automated fire detectors, and can often identify the exact source of a fire.
In the event of a fire, every minute is crucial. Therefore, investing in this type of technology could mean the difference between a fire being safely extinguished and a fire spreading out of control.
As the nationwide market leader in passive fire protection, CLM Fireproofing are proactive in identifying and implementing exciting new technologies. This helps us provide all of our clients with a superior yet cost-efficient service.
Are you about to embark on a construction project, and require the expertise of our fire protection specialists? Our FIRAS-certified operatives will work with you to create a cast-iron, fully-compliant passive fire protection system.