Gas systems leak - it's official! The need for improving safety by continious monitoring

Too often in the fire industry it feels like the certification is driving the maintenance, with its insurance consequence for the asset owner and service revenue for the contractor, rather than maintenance [for safety sake] driving its consequential certification. The ‘ungoverned space’ is the area in the fire industry where either the regulations or the protecting systems of the critical infrastructure are not effectively providing consistent and reliable safety.

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. Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of that room, building e.t.c, then a leak sites in the room could meant that the comparted area couldn’t withhold the fire. 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.

Although many in the fire industry work towards meeting better standards, in their experience, Coltraco have numerous concerning anecdotes of non-compliance: systems portrayed and installed by contractors as NOVEC™ 1230 but filled with sand or water… room integrity testing with questionable results and with the room integrity remaining un-monitored after testing.

Gaseous Extinguishing Systems

The regulations are not extensive enough to deal with the risks presented in gaseous systems. In the regulations explains that the storage container contents shall be checked at least every six months as follows. : 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. b) Non-liquefied gases: for inert gas agents, pressure is an indication of agent quantity. If a container shows a loss of agent quantity or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 5 %, it shall be refilled or replaced. Essentially, it is known in regulations that the gaseous systems leak and need to be maintained. Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of that room, building e.t.c, a 5% loss of agent may mean that they would not fully extinguish the fire.

Coltraco have now developed a fixed fire suppression monitoring device, the Permalevel® MULTIPLEX which designed for permanent contents verification. The continuous monitoring system is  designed  to  ensure  that fire  suppression  systems  are  always  fully operational and that no accidental discharge has occurred, which could affect the effectiveness of the overall fire protection system in the event of a fire. The neglect of continuous monitoring - of the fundamental protection provided by the gaseous extinguishing systems - is to the peril of the lives of occupants of the premises and at the risk of crippling financial and reputational loss to the facility comprising the critical infrastructure.

The device uses the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT enables a worldwide transmission of data starting from sensor to sensor to the microprocessors and to the facilities manager or maintenance team. Instead of waiting for annual checks, it would improve safety to have these cylinders constantly monitored using ultrasonic sensors. Now, by coupling with IoT developments, this enable their status to be visible to safety managers and building owners.

Figure 1: The Permalevel® Multiplex which uses the Internet of Things to transmit data about the liquid level of fire suppression cylinders continuously.

Room Integrity and Compartmentation

Coupled to this is, is the danger of a lack Room Integrity testing after the gaseous system has been installed.  As a buildings age or their internal use is changed, leak sites develop. If the gas cannot be “held” in the confined space on discharge during a fire event the probability of its suppression diminishes in direct proportion to the size of the leak sites. Clean agents are designed to operate in limited spaces where there is a need for speed of suppression given the asset risk and where the space is occupied by people. They must be easily maintained in-situ, non-flammable and non-toxic. They must comply with NFPA 2001 standards demanding fast discharge in 10 seconds and fire extinguishing within 30 seconds, delivering confidence to the operator that it delivers “best fire safety practise”. The “hold time” required is currently determine by an industry recognised method known as the Door Fan Test (DFT) that calculates the Equivalent Leakage Area of the room in order to understand if the room is sufficiently airtight to achieve the “hold time” required. Despite DFT being a reliable method to determine the “hold time”, methods to locate the leak sites themselves are inaccurate such as the use of smoke pencils or draught testing using the back of a hand. The limitations of the DFT often lie in the fact that the leakage areas are only identified during installation of the clean agent system and make no acknowledgement to the fact that additional leak sites may develop throughout the lifetime of a building

In the event of fire, a pencil sized hole between compartments size 6m x 6m x 3m would take just 4 minutes before a person would not be able to see their hand due to smoke. If this compartment was a fire escape, there could be a severe threat to life if people cannot escape. Thus it is clear to see why the maintenance of the integrity of the compartments is essential to genuinely aid the safety to human life.  As building age or their internal use is changed leak sites develop and the threat to people becomes high.


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.”

Coltraco Ultrasonics have provided a smart solution to quick and easy assurance of compartmentation. The Portascanner® 520 ultrasonic leak detector uses ultrasonic technology to not only pinpoint precise leak locations, but to determine their leak apertures as small as 0.06mm with a tolerance of +/-0.02mm, it is by far the most mathematically proven accurate device for this function.

The device is a complementary tool to be used with the Door Fan Test to locate exact leak sites and is much more accurate and efficient compared to existing methods used such as a smoke pencil or testing with the back of a wetted hand. The Portascanner® 520 can identify exactly where the hole is on the enclosure as ultrasound leaks really easily from holes that can be picked up by the receiver.

Figure 2: The Portascanner® 520 which uses ultrasound to test for the integrity of seals and compartmentation.


  1. Pre DFT 
  • EARLY ANTICIPATION OF ISSUES:  Portascanner™® 520 enables fire contractors to indicate location and extent of leak sites prior to a scheduled DFT session for remedial action to be taken to maximise the “PASS” rate of a DFT. 
  • ADD TO RANGE OF SERVICES: Ultrasonic technology can add great value to the contractor’s range of services as patching up leaks take time to set and will impede the operations of a DFT if remedial work is conducted on the DFT scheduled day itself. 
  • MORE ACCURATE SERVICE QUOTES – benefiting contractor and purchaser: As ultrasound is fast and non-invasive, this technology improves prospect of securing a DFT “PASS” – and thus delivering up an efficacious fire protection outcome.  
  1. During DFT 
  • Use of ultrasonic technology can pinpoint the location and extent of the leak sites while the DFT is being carried out. 
  • If the particular room/compartment fails the DFT, the Portascanner® 520 can deliver more accurate and quantifiable results compared to existing methods
  • Allowing remedial work to be conducted immediately.
  1. Post DFT
  • COMPLY AND EXCEED ISO 14520: Once the room has passed the DFT and is able to produce the retention time required, periodic room integrity tests can be conducted using an ultrasound scanner to comply with ISO 14520, EN15004 and NFPA regulations.
  • NO DISRUPTION: As ultrasonic scanner technology is non-invasive, the occupants in the room can remain continuing their daily tasks without affecting the room integrity test results.
  • 24/7 ROOM INTEGRITY MONITORING: Taking a step further, room integrity monitoring can also be enabled using ultrasound to provide true 24/7 structural integrity status with relevance to leak sites.
  • ALARM STATUS AND NOTIFICATION: By linking the receivers to a local alarm panel or wireless communication system, an ultrasound monitoring system can be programmed to actuate a remote alarm whenever a leak site starts developing


Thus, testing the liquefied gaseous extinguishing systems (commonly CO2, sometimes FM-200® or Novec®1230) and also the room integrity into which they are situated, will create a holistic approach to solving the problem of the Ungoverned Space. In order to comply with regulations outlined in the NFPA 2001 and the ISO 14520, regular room integrity tests have to be performed on rooms wanting to install Clean Agent Fire Suppression Systems, in order to ensure the continued effectiveness of non-sprinkler fire suppression. In both contents and room integrity monitoring, these collected data can be enabled to be transmitted wirelessly over TCP/IP, which results in true remote monitoring of the fire suppression systems and protected spaces being made possible anywhere around the world with the new technology available (currently from Coltraco Ultrasonics).  

As with many leaders in the fire industry, Coltraco are pushing for rapid action to be taken in protecting peoples lives. Constant monitoring of gaseous extinguishing systems and room integrity must be implemented, people’s lives depend upon it.

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