The “Ungoverned Space” in the Fire Industry & Safe Fire Engineering Practices – by Carl Hunter

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Carl Hunter, Chairman of Coltraco Ultrasonics, gives his thoughts on the ungoverned space in the Fire Industry: “There continues to exist much ‘ungoverned space’ in the fire industry. Whether in regard to installation, commissioning, or servicing, there are too few qualified engineers who may be considered subject matter experts. Furthermore, the two broad categories of fire suppression systems: gas suppression systems, and sprinkler systems, if not installed and maintained properly, carry risk to personnel and the assets they are protecting.

Gas suppression systems are highly pressurised. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that they may leak over time, increasing the likelihood that they will not be able to deliver their design concentration. In addition, gas fire suppression systems are in a dynamic state, and have an extremely narrow safety margin, with serious consequences for personnel in the case of an accident. Likewise, sprinkler systems may suffer from leakage, due to the corrosion of pipework.

The value of the assets that fire suppression systems protect is increasing rapidly, whilst market pressures lead to the delivery of ever-cheaper systems. Too often fire protection is seen as a cost rather than an investment.

Coltraco Ultrasonics is the global leader in our fields of contents monitoring of gaseous extinguishing systems and watertight/airtight integrity monitoring, all of which are integral to the success of any fire suppression system. We design ultrasonic safety technology to ‘see the sounds that others cannot hear’ and ‘measure the hitherto unmeasurable’ across an array of specialised environments to deliver the Safesite™ on land and the Safeship™ at sea.”Why Use Ultrasonic Technology in the Fire Industry

Ultrasonic measuring solutions are a better-faster-cheaper method of ensuring safe fire engineering practices are adhered to, for the benefit of both personnel and customers.

  • Better: Ultrasonic technology is non-invasive, non-destructive, and non-disruptive, meaning it is safer for personnel and does not require the user to shut down the fire suppression system during inspection
  • Faster: The non-disruptive, non-invasive nature of ultrasound contents monitoring allows testing to take place when the fire suppression system is in-situ and operational.
  • Cheaper: Enabling inspection to take place without disruption to the fire suppression system means no shut-down, saving time, and no requirement for multiple operators, saving labour costs.

This facilitates the implementation of a comprehensive maintenance program as part of a strategic approach to business continuity and reduces the risk of accidental discharges, and leaks not being picked up.

Case Study: Reducing the “Ungoverned Space” in the Marine Fire Suppression Industry

For example, the only way to determine that the fire suppression agent containing cylinders on a large ship can deliver their design concentration is by checking their contents. This is common sense, good practice, and mandated by the IMO SOLAS FSS Code.

However, most Marine Servicing Companies only have 4 hours on a vessel in port to test up to 600 45kg CO2 cylinders per ship. It takes 15 minutes in a 2 person team to shut down, dismantle, and weigh a single CO2 cylinder, which is equal to just 16 cylinders in 4 hours. Yet, despite this, every CO2 cylinder on the vessel receives a ‘tested and certified’ sticker and the marine CO2 system is certified and a certificate is issued.

Because of this practical reality, MSC.1/Circ.1318 mandates that Monthly Testing and Inspections of Fixed Carbon Dioxide Systems are required to be conducted by the ship between external services.

In addition, the IMO SOLAS FSS Code Chapter 5 Fixed Gas Fire Extinguishing Systems clearly states that:

  1. – “Means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the containers. It shall not be necessary to move the containers completely from their fixing positions for this purpose.”

For good reason the crew is not qualified or certified to dismantle, weigh and re-install CO2 cylinders, as the risk of CO2 leakage is a direct danger to the lives and safety of the crew.

Ultrasonic liquid level instruments are the safest, most efficient way for the crew to check the quantity of the fire-extinguishing medium in the containers without having to operate, dismantle, or move the containers. Therefore, the best way to comply with the IMO SOLAS FSS Code Chapter 5 Fixed gas fire extinguishing systems is by mandating that the crew must have access to a portable ultrasonic liquid level indicator to be able to conduct the level measurement of its CO2 cylinders monthly or weekly between the periods of minimum recommended maintenance by MSC.1/Circ.1318.

This then reduces the areas of ungoverned or unregulated space within the marine fire suppression industry, ensuring greater marine fire safety for all, lowering the risk of uncontrollable fire at sea, the number two reason for the loss of ships globally, and creating additional value which leads to revenue reward.Why Choose Coltraco Ultrasonics’ Technology?

Coltraco Ultrasonics pride ourselves on the quality, reliability, and accuracy of our instruments, all made in the United Kingdom, that aim to deliver the Safesite™ on land and the Safeship™ at sea.

The Portalevel® family of ultrasonic liquid level indicators are:

  • The consequence of 30 years of non-invasive level detection technology, with Coltraco Ultrasonics being the proud global leader in this field.
  • Accurate to +/-1.5mm for CO2, FM-200™ , NOVEC™ 1230, HFC-225 & 227, remaining Halon systems, FE-13™, FE-25™ and FE-36™.

The Portascanner® family of ultrasonic airtightness and leak detection systems are:

  • Able to detect leak sites as small as 0.06mm. Airtightness is essential to ensure that fire extinguishing gases do not leak from the space of the fire, and that fires are not replenished with fresh oxygen.

The Portagauge® family of ultrasonic thickness gauges are:

  • Tested and calibrated according to BS EN 15317:2013 standards on a calibrated carbon steel block that is manufactured to EN ISO 2400:2012 and ISO 7963:2006 standards.
  • Widely used in non-destructive testing of internal and external corrosion on pipework and cylinder wall thicknesses with an accuracy of +/- 0.1mm.

These technologies are complemented by the Permalevel® Featherweight and Permalevel® Single Point, which allow for the constant monitoring of fire extinguishing gases from such fixed monitoring sites that can be tracked centrally at the customer location and remotely globally.

These retrofittable devices allow users to go above and beyond existing safety regulations, combining the ease of retrofitting with the highest accuracy of constant monitoring, capable of detecting both liquified and non-liquified systems.

It is Coltraco Ultrasonics’ vision that this industrial integration of technological solutions to provide a bulwark against wider industry misrepresentation and minimal, even occasional and flagrant disregard in the application of standards and good global engineering will create standards which all can understand and apply.

Within this vision, Coltraco Ultrasonics’ technologies shine as a beacon of hope to the industries they are applied in, allowing customers to justify actively engaging in going above and beyond existing regulations as an integrated and essential element to their business activity. Customers and personnel alike will be better for it.

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