Why Compartmentation Testing Is Overlooked and Undervalued in Fire Safety - But is its Key

What is compartmentation? Very briefly, it is related to fire stopping in walls and floors, to reduce the spread of fire. Compartmentation often relates to room integrity testing to ensure that a room is sufficiently sealed, to hold in the gaseous extinguishing agent once its been actuated. Liquefied Gaseous systems are typically made up of CO2, FM200™ or Novec™ 1230, and non-liquefied systems are typically Inergen™ or Nitrogen. Leak sites in the room could mean that the comparted area may not withhold the fire or gaseous extinguishing agent, which has been specifically designed for the space (called design concentration).

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. Enough is enough. The technology exists right now to support Door Fan Testing in providing a holistic and thorough integrity test of critical infrastructure. It is called Portascanner™ 520.

What is the opinion of leading researchers on compartmentation?

Leading researchers and scientists agree that the size of the compartments and their relation to fire resistance is key. As well as size, issues in the quality of compartmentation walls can come from maintenance, minor works and refurbishments. Contractors carrying out such tasks can occasionally destroy the compartmentation integrity of the wall, floor or ceilings if they were unaware that the area is a comparted space. This is emphasised in a review by the BRE (Building Research Establishment) report from 2015, stating that: “The biggest issue with fire protection in concealed spaces is that of quality of construction.  Poor workmanship, with inappropriate materials, resulting in the inadequate protection of concealed spaces, are the main reasons for fire (and smoke) spread via these routes.” Therefore, following maintenance it is “good practice” to ensure the fire resistance of walls, floors and ceilings and to safeguard again if necessary.

Emphasised by the BRE is the important of compartmentation, because if it is not upheld, lives are put at stake, “The fire protection of concealed spaces is of prime importance because any deficiencies in installation and materials are not readily apparent and may quickly be covered over. Any inadequacies in such fire protection cannot be observed by the building users and, unlike other engineering provisions within the building, will not be apparent by its impact on everyday life.

Any inadequacies in the fire protection of concealed spaces will only become apparent during the very time that their effectiveness is required – during a fire.” Without means to observe any issues with compartmentation, people entrust their lives to the fire protection in buildings and therefore those who maintain buildings must ensure that the highest standards are kept and exceeded so that they do in fact protect, in the event of a fire.

Meeting minimum fire standards is not enough

Technology must solve industry problems. Not only to become a successful business in terms of profitability but in terms of sustainability and genuinely offering service to the industry in order to reduce risk, improve safety and hopefully have a small part in saving lives. Coltraco Ultrasonics have provided a smart solution to quick and easy assurance of compartmentation using ultrasound to detect signal leaking through any apertures within the barriers.

Ultrasonic room integrity testers, the Portascanner® 520, provides interpretation of the fire resistance of the desired locations, labelling them either airtight or giving an indication of the overall leakage of the room. The advantages of being able to accurately detect the exact leak locations and size are self-evident when considered alongside the resistance to collapse and transfer of excessive heat. In a case where there is too much leakage in a room, the Portascanner® 520 is an unrivalled ideal for the rapid and accurate  identification of these sites so that they can be sealed. It is lightweight, fast and easy to use, allowing leak site detection to increase its operational efficiency and speed to a degree that has never been seen thus far in the Fire Industry.

Coupled with the Portalevel® MAX, ultrasonic liquid level indicator, engineers can check the contents of CO2, FM-200™, Novec™ 1230, FE-13™, FE-25™, FE-36™,  safer, faster and cheaper. With the ability to test cylinders in situ and in just 30 seconds, the Portalevel® MAX saves time so more inspections can be carried out. Using the Portalevel® MAX saves labour costs and removes the risk of injuries, ensuring asset safety in an affordable manner.

In 2019 with the continuing developments in technology there is an expectation that safety should be all encompassing. We cannot let this expectation continue to be a fantasy. Here’s to 2019 of reduced fires worldwide.

KEYWORDS: Room Integrity, Compartmentation, Gaseous Suppression Systems, Fire, Fire Resistance, Portascanner® 520,Portalevel® MAX

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