Gaseous extinguishing/suppression systems are installed to protect against special hazards in critical infrastructure as their key objective. They deliver the infrastructural resilience our advanced society requires. If the hazard is special and the infrastructure critical, then this is the case for the constant monitoring of the suppression systems that aim to deliver their protection.
The assumptions in the installation, commissioning and maintenance of gaseous extinguishing systems is that they are highly pressurised but risk leaking and discharging. The regulations that sensibly underpin this assumption aim to identify their leak identification at an interval of every 6 months. A cup of water stands at 1bar pressure – approximately 14.5 psi. Gaseous systems vary in pressure from FM-200® or NOVEC™ 1230 at 25-30 bar, CO2 at 50 bar or 720 psi to Inergen at 300 bar or 4,500 psi. These are very highly pressurised systems. In engineering terms, they are “dynamic” systems, not passive ones.
So why then does the fire industry not constantly monitor them?
The core regulation enshrined in BS EN ISO 14520 -1:2015(E) and we should be proud it exists. But let us examine what it says.
BS EN ISO 14520 -1:2015(E) reasonably assumes that the execution of its provisions is entrusted to people qualified and experienced in the specification, design, installation, commissioning, testing, approval, inspection, operation and maintenance of systems and equipment, and who can be expected to exercise a duty of care to avoid unnecessary release of extinguishant. Attention is drawn to the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer. It is important that the fire protection of a building or plant or any other critical infrastructure be considered as a whole. Gaseous extinguishant systems form a part of the available facilities, but it should not be assumed that their adoption necessarily removes the need to consider supplementary measures, such as the provision of portable fire extinguishers or other mobile appliances for first aid or emergency use, access by a Fire Rescue Service or any other measures that can be applied as part of a wider fire protection plan.
Gaseous fire systems deliver the very resilience we need. But resilience means the permanence of capability and functionality. That permanence can only be delivered by constant monitoring of the systems that enable it.
The science of a gaseous extinguishing system is a complex one. The mathematics that underpin its science are demanding ones. But in simple terms gaseous systems are pressurised and in that they are dynamic not passive ones. They are there to protect critical infrastructure in a a safe and expeditious manner in the only way that a gaseous system can. We would not imagine an alarm system exists without monitoring it 24/7, but why are we still leaving unattended the very automatic gaseous clean agent extinguishing systems that protect us when even the core regulations of its installation and maintenance specifically allude to its potential to accidentally discharge or leak its contents ?
Fortunately lead elements of the critical infrastructure community are asking the same question. So are the world’s insurance companies.
But should our own fire industry not answer the question by implementing constant monitoring 24/7/365 before it is asked of them by the very people it is helping protect ?