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From a 48-storey fire in the UAE, to a 200-firefighter-strong blaze at student accommodation in the UK, several high-profile, high-rise fires continue to keep the focus of utilities, regulators, developers, and public associations everywhere on actively seeking ways to reduce the risk of fire with innovative materials. Statistics show that the majority of fire related fatalities occur in a domestic setting between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. Protecting high-rise residential buildings from fire, where occupancy rates are high but the reaction to danger is lower (while asleep), is a critical engineering challenge. Fire risk assessment While most recently built high rise buildings will be equipped with risk safety provisions such as wet or dry risers, protected staircases, sprinklers, and communications systems as standard, thousands of post-war, purpose-built flats require careful risk assessment and improvement. What was acceptable at the time of build may no longer meet today’s standards or may have been affected by changing environmental factors such as the encroachment of neighboring buildings. While the fire safety legislation adopted in 2006 has driven improvements that seek to address these types of issues While the fire safety legislation adopted in 2006 has driven improvements that seek to address these types of issues, its application has sometimes been problematic, with varied results from site to site. A fire risk assessment is the first step in evaluating the risks posed and identifying options to reduce the potential for a devastating event. Potential fire risk Electricity substations, which are often located in the basement or adjoining a high-rise building, will often be identified as a potential fire risk due to the proximity of a source of a fuel – mineral oil – to a source of heat and sparks. This concurs with the findings of the MIDEL Transformer Risk Report 2020, where respondents identified fire risk as the second most important consideration when assessing transformer risk overall. Mineral oil is widely accepted as the most flammable of the insulating fluids used within a substation’s transformers, but has persisted in its use due to its price point. A mineral oil fire will burn ferociously, producing thick, black smoke, impeding evacuation by reducing visibility and potentially jeopardizing ground floor and basement exits. Fire suppression systems At their worst, there are documented cases where transformer fires have caused loss of life and significant damage to the environment. They are certainly not a risk to be ignored. In newer buildings, the use of mineral oil in a transformer needs to account for the substation to be constructed to the latest fire safety standard – reinforced concrete or brickwork with a minimum four-hour fire containment rating. The fire risk can be mitigated in a completely different way once mineral oil is eliminated from the equation In addition to fire suppression systems involving significant civil engineering works, these measures do not eliminate the risk of fire by preventing it but are necessary to contain a fire once one starts. Additionally in older buildings, where the retrofitting of concrete reinforcements or a complete relocation of the substation would be expensive and technically challenging (if not impossible), the fire risk can be mitigated in a completely different way once mineral oil is eliminated from the equation. Enhancing fire safety One pioneering UK utility is leading the way in mitigating transformer-related fire risk. Following the fire at Grenfell in the UK, the utility considered that any element of risk was no longer acceptable and so undertook a sizeable and substantial review of its property portfolio. It subsequently identified over 100 residential sites where upgrades could be made to further enhance fire safety and the safety of residents. Many of these higher-risk units are located in embedded substations in the basements of the high-rise apartments that rely on them for electricity. The units range from 500kVa to 1000kVa. After exploring the options, the utility embarked on an extensive program of corrective upgrades at a scale never seen before in the UK. Minimizing fire risk One long-term and economic solution to reduce transformer fire risk stood out; replace the mineral oil in each transformer with a fire safe alternative. Synthetic ester fluids are a K-class rated fire-safe and biodegradable alternative to mineral oil, and it is increasingly being chosen by power utilities and end users to minimize fire risk. The significantly higher fire point makes it the ideal choice for improving the safety of transformers The contract for the utility’s schedule of upgrades was awarded to MIDEL Service Partner Grosvenor Oil Services who opted to use MIDEL 7131, a synthetic ester transformer fluid, that has a high fire point of 316°C, far exceeding that of mineral oil (180°C). The significantly higher fire point makes it the ideal choice for improving the safety of transformers located in residential and high-rise buildings. High-Rise buildings The retro filling technicians leveraged their experience of MIDEL’s ester liquids to the benefit of the project - and the safety of residents. For each site, the technicians inspected the condition of the transformer before draining it of the mineral oil and flushing it through. Once completed, the transformers were retro filled with the fire safe synthetic ester and tested. Replacing mineral oil has several benefits beyond the peace of mind it brings to residents in high-rise buildings. For one, it significantly enhances the sustainability of substations: ester fluids are biodegradable and non-toxic – in the event of a leak, it does not pose a threat to the environment or to people that come into contact with it. Unexpected power outages Ester fluids also keep the transformer in better condition for longer, by reducing the impact that water ingress has on components such as the insulating paper. Because of this benefit, ester-filled transformers require less frequent quality testing (once every five years, rather than once every 12 months). Sites are also better protected against unexpected power outages due to failure Subsequently, this reduces utilities’ maintenance burden as well as increase uptime. Sites are also better protected against unexpected power outages due to failure. Finally, it offers the ability to safely increase transformer load, a benefit that became particularly fortuitous when the COVID-19 lockdown significantly increased domestic property electricity demand. Fire-Safe materials While pioneering, this utility is not alone in its efforts. Utilities across the UK are turning to the benefits of fire-safe materials to reduce the potential for transformer fires in high-rise buildings and higher-risk locations such as hospitals, schools, and shopping centers. The benefits and the process of retro filling is well-established, and with many more people expected to work from home for the foreseeable future, there is not a moment to waste to ensure that the thousands of transformers that supply domestic power are fire safe, sustainable and reliable.
Every day, across the globe, emergency services teams come to people’s aid no matter the situation to ensure their safety. Whether it’s during a natural disaster, or at a significant event, the emergency services are on hand to face any challenge that comes their way. When supporting this crucial workforce, it is essential that they have robust and reliable connectivity. Technology is becoming a vital aspect of public safety and security worldwide, and this trend is only likely to grow. For these new devices to work effectively, full-scale coverage must be in place, and when it comes to people’s safety, there is no room for error. The need for redundancy and high bandwidth Two of the paramount tools at emergency services disposal are video surveillance and communication devices. Constant visibility and communication are often essential to protecting people and saving lives. The benefits range from providing first responders with a clear picture and understanding of the situation they are about to encounter; to providing greater safety during public events by enabling officers to control crowds and manage traffic effectively. Enhancing visibility and sharing information is particularly crucial during fires to guide firefighters and vehicles through flames and smoke, and to allow the central command center to organize resources effectively. Technology is becoming a vital aspect of public safety and security worldwide, and this trend is only likely to grow Despite any potential challenges ensuring network connectivity may create, public safety organizations cannot compromise when it comes to optimizing security. For IP video surveillance and cellphone broadband connectivity to operate effectively, they require redundancy and high bandwidth. Without these connectivity attributes, devices become useless; for example, there are municipalities where as much as 50 percent of the camera network is offline because of poor product choices and inferior network design and installation. Equally, poor quality networking can be just as limiting as it can lead to public safety organizations being unable to receive real-time data. All areas must also have adequate bandwidth to access data, such as on-scene video, aerial imagery, maps, and images, and many existing public safety networks do not have that capacity. Supporting security and safety robotics Robots and drones have seen a considerable increase in popularity this year, with 60 million such machines being deployed according to ABI Research. They offer a wealth of potential to emergency services teams, whether on land, air, or sea. For example, water rescue robots can go where humans cannot, earthquake and fire robots can search through otherwise non-navigable areas, and drones can survey vast regions. However, for these wireless devices to work effectively, they rely on many features. They need low power consumption so as not to heavily burden the onboard power source of the robotic device and, perhaps, a high level of encryption so information cannot be stolen or hacked. There are also benefits to security and safety as robotic devices can communicate with one another peer-to-peer. Directly mounting radios to robots and drones, fosters dynamic self-learning, data sharing, and more wireless paths in the event one or more of the devices in an area do not have a link to fixed infrastructure. Water rescue robots can go where humans cannot, earthquake and fire robots can search through otherwise non-navigable areas, and drones can survey vast regions The main component that security and safety robotics require is redundant and resilient connections. If the connection is lost, the connected device will go into “safe” mode and stop. Creating a high capacity network that supports mobile devices in complex and fast-moving environments is not a simple task. In many cases, it requires a network that supports many wireless connections and allows for many paths in and out, so that if a link is lost, another path is available for data transmission and reception. This type of network is the best way to ensure that police, firefighters, and emergency units can access and send large amounts of data from wherever they are and in real-time making a massive difference to the efficiency of the emergency services. An example of this is Rajant’s private Kinetic Mesh® network, a wireless network ensuring no single point of failure. It offers reliable, intelligent, and secure wireless broadband connectivity that survives and thrives in evolving and mobility-driven environments. It forms a “living” mesh network that can move with and adapt to the evolving communication requirements of public safety organizations. Technology in action Back in October 2019, the heat from the sun, combined with winds gusting through the foothills of El Capitán Canyon in California, sparked a bush fire in the overly dry, desert hills. Despite four hundred and twenty acres being burnt, firefighters used their experience and skills combined with newfound digital technology to ensure that no structures were damaged, and there were no reported injuries. The Santa Barbara County Fire Department, Cal Fire, the U.S Forest Service, and other agencies were immediately dispatched to contain the fire. More than 200 firefighters were needed to combat the fire and reinforce containment lines with helicopters and drones in the air and bulldozers on the ground. To operate this equipment, mesh radio nodes, bonded cellular, and satellite technologies were used to link the communication gap in locations where signals are often dropped. Rajant BreadCrumb® nodes were mounted to the fire-breaking, 30-ton bulldozers manned by trained firefighters to uproot vegetation and eliminate the materials that would further spread the fire. Robots and drones have seen a considerable increase in popularity this year, with 60 million such machines being deployed The reliable connectivity allowed the bulldozers to not only easily communicate with each other and the base, but also to send video footage and data to the tactical truck and central command post over cellular and SAT networks. This situational awareness data transfer allowed for greater efficiency, as well as increased safety for the public and the firefighters. Reliability when you need it most Reliable connectivity solutions are being embraced across the emergency services due to the innumerable benefits they bring to ensuring the safety of the public. For police, firefighters, and emergency units, dependable connectivity allows for rapid, real-time response, and the use of technology can save lives in ways that wouldn’t have seemed possible a decade ago. Planned and unplanned events can benefit from the new technology being introduced, and emergency services need to make sure they have the network capabilities to support them. For environments that are challenging and hostile, this requires a network available on-demand, which can withstand the demands of harsh conditions and mobility while maintaining a level of redundancy and high bandwidth that allows for accessing and sending large amounts of data from any location.
Did you know an estimated 30% of smoke alarms in the UK are inoperable due to missing, flat or disconnected batteries? For a property to comply with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, it is vitally important that all fire safety equipment is kept in perfect working order at all times. This involves checking that the fire safety equipment is accessible, well maintained and hasn’t been tampered with. There are many ways you can take care of your fire safety equipment, to ensure your property is prepared, should there ever be a fire. Equipment Assessment Checks There are two types of equipment assessment checks that should be carried out, including monthly and annually If you’re the ‘responsible person’ for commercial property, you need to ensure your building meets fire safety standards. Here are 5 tips on how to properly maintain your fire safety equipment. Both passive and active fire safety equipment must be check regularly for any signs of wear or damage. There are two types of equipment assessment checks that should be carried out, including monthly and annually. There is a range of equipment checks you must carry out, including fire doors, fire alarm test, emergency lighting and fire extinguishers. Emergency lighting should be checked monthly, with all issues kept in a logbook. Fire doors should also be checked to ensure their seals and frames are in good condition. Fire Alarm Tests All fire protection has to be checked annually including alarms, detectors, lighting, sprinklers, extinguishers and fire doors. They should be carefully inspected. Fire alarms are a legal requirement for commercial premises. To check that your Fire alarms still function correctly, it is important to get them serviced. All fire alarms should be tested, maintained and inspected by a competent person who is able to carry out any remedial work. Fire alarms are a legal requirement for commercial premises Fire extinguishers must be ready to work straight away in the event of a fire, so it is vital they are regularly checked and serviced. You should ensure they are maintained and kept in a functional condition. Every month, the pressure gauge should be tested on all fire extinguishers. Fire Risk Assessments Every year, it is required that a qualified technician carries out a thorough check on all your extinguishers for them to be fully serviced and certified. In addition to regular maintenance checks on your fire safety equipment, it is vital your commercial property has a fire risk assessment carried out every 4 years, with a renewal every 2 years. Fully trained and qualified assessors should undertake this to make sure it is done professionally Fully trained and qualified assessors should undertake this to make sure it is done professionally. By having a fire risk assessment review, it determines whether any changes could impact the ability for your equipment to properly protect your building. Fire Safety Logbook During a risk assessment, all fire doors must be checked to ensure they are in good condition and close efficiently with secure hinges. The fire seals must be fixed in position, with signs on the door present and legible. To keep an overview of all findings and actions, there should be a fire safety logbook and maintenance record that remains at your premises at all times. The logbook is used to record and review any significant findings when carrying out the fire risk assessment. This helps to keep all fire safety equipment functioning effectively and available to respond to emergency fires.
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