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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.
During these challenging times, it is more important than ever to protect the supply chain of food, including supermarkets and convenience stores in cities around the world. On average 3,740 fires occur in food and groceries stores in the US annually, including supermarkets and convenience stores, according to a report published by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). Structure fires in mercantile properties were responsible for the loss of 12 lives and more than $600 million indirect property damages, and this doesn’t account for the cost of business interruption and the effect on the reputation of the store. Many stores haven’t been able to recover after a fire. The report estimates that a single fire may cost $46,000 on average, which in hindsight is considerably higher than investing in a fire detection system. The most common causes of fire in supermarkets It’s important to look at the data from two different perspectives. The first is the number of fires by cause, and the other is to quantify the property loss by cause. The report estimates that a single fire may cost $46,000 on average Fires caused by cooking equipment , including stores with kitchens and warming and portable equipment, account for 21% of incidences, but only for just 7% of total property damage and four civilian deaths (firefighter and first responder deaths are registered on a different report). On the other hand, electrical distribution and lighting equipment malfunctions and defective wiring account for 15% of the total of fires in a given year, but caused $165 million in property loss, or 27% of the total recorded on the report. It is also important to mention that intentional fires are the third cause reported, accounting for 11% of the total fire incidences and 20% of the property loss highlighted in the report. Occupation, materials and risks The kind of store poses a significant variety of risks associated to the type of occupation, the number of occupants and the materials stored and available in the shopping areas. It’s possible to find combustible materials of diverse nature and propagation speed. Cardboard and paper wrapping can be found in all store areas, including book and magazine stands. Cleaning products, oils and fatty products might have a high propagation speed. All of this, surrounded by different kind of plastics, immensely increase the level of risk. Overall, combustible liquids caused 41% of the civilian deaths recorded during the report In my firefighting years I’ve responded to several fires in food supermarkets and distribution centers, and saw tuna cans (canned with oil) exploding and spreading flames to the surrounding areas. Regarding occupation, it is known that supermarkets and groceries stores are places with high levels of occupation, especially during working hours. But one interesting fact that the report found is that fires occurring between 9pm and 5am can cause, on average, $73,800 in property damage. The NFPA estimates that 21% of human life losses happened between 12am and 3am. This highlights the importance of installing and maintaining an automatic fire detection system. Installing fire detection And Protecting Your Store With the variety of materials and the risk level that can be found in this kind of environment, it’s necessary to take a holistic approach. Fire protection should be designed while considering several angles, from passive protection in all interior and exterior structures and cladding to active protection with sprinkler and clean agent systems, proper ventilation and smoke control and automatic fire detection and evacuation systems. On average 3,740 fires occur in food and groceries stores in the US annually Several detection technologies need to work in parallel, depending on the type of products stored, the environment and the expected level of occupation on the protected area. Store height and ventilation need to be taken into consideration and also the kind of lighting in some cases. Depending on the ceiling height, the shopping floor could be protected with beam smoke detectors. If the ceiling is below six meters, or the store shelves obstruct the beam, it’s possible to use spot type smoke detectors. The same approach can be taken for warehousing and storage areas, but here I would recommend multi-criteria detectors, with heat and smoke detection combined. localized protection As I’ve mentioned before, cooking areas have an increased level of risk, which calls for localized protection. Here, I would recommend multi-criteria (smoke/heat) detectors for areas where food is heated and served, and smoke/heat/Carbon monoxide detectors on cooking areas to avoid nuisance alarms caused by cooking smoke and steam. It’s important to mention that until this year it was possible to install heat detection in cooking areas, but the UL 268 7th edition that comes into effect in 2021 will require cooking areas to be protected with smoke detection, and smoke detectors have to be able to reject nuisance alarms caused by cooking smoke and steam. Smaller supermarkets and convenience stores usually have vertical freezers or horizontal open freezers. Here, electrical and mechanical failures can ignite fires, which is why it is important to protect the rear side of the freezers. I would recommend point-type smoke detectors, as photoelectric smoke detectors tend to perform better on smoldering fires. The report mentions that air conditioning equipment and electrical equipment can be sources of ignition as well. To protect A/C rooms and electrical rooms I would recommend combined smoke/heat detectors, or maybe even smoke/heat/CO to assure better detection and avoid unwanted alarms in these business critical areas. There is a type of photoelectric smoke detector that uses two different LED sources inside the smoke chamber. This technology, called Dual-Ray, allows the smoke detector to identify the particles inside the chamber by size. The detector knows if it is sensing dust or steam, and can even differentiate between cooking or cigarette smoke from actual smoke from a smoldering fire. Bosch Building Technologies first introduced dual Ray technology in 2015. protecting the food supply chain During these challenging times, it’s more important than ever to protect the food supply chain and avoid the social and economic impact of fires in food stores, especially in impoverished areas. Supermarkets and convenience stores present a variety of challenges regarding fire protection, which calls for a holistic approach where passive and active protection are equally important. To achieve this target, one key element is automatic fire detection. Smoke and heat sensing technologies must be combined, and one size-fits-all approach is not enough. Detection and effective evacuation are critical to protect lives and minimize property loss.
Products for electrical systems that are installed into modern, complex buildings have to be fit-for-purpose for today’s challenging demands. With the background of numerous incidents still being felt by the fire performance industry, how is it to set the benchmarks for the future to make sure there is never another Lakanal House or another Grenfell? The long-term answer is for clearer guidance and legislation, if necessary, to enable the whole supply chain to make decisions which are compliant when choosing products. In the meantime, with the Grenfell inquiry projected to go on during 2019, what is the benchmark?The development of LSZH materials was accelerated following the King’s Cross Underground disaster in which 31 people died Cables With LSZH Materials We have standards through British Standards (BS) and testing regimes which cables should meet to validate that they meet these standards with approvals from various industry bodies including BASEC and LPCB. At AEI Cables, we have developed our Total Fire Solutions range of cables and accessories for all fire safety applications, incorporating Low Smoke Zero Halogen (LSZH) features. Traditional PVC cables which produce vast amounts of dense black smoke, toxic fumes and acid gas when exposed to fire, bring an added danger to people who may be caught in the fire. Cables which incorporate LSZH materials emit very little of these substances. In a real fire situation, the cables will enable the fire and rescue services to find and evacuate people and help to protect property Smoke And Noxious Gases Cause More Casualties The development of LSZH materials was accelerated following the King’s Cross Underground disaster in which 31 people died, many of them from toxic fumes. London Underground has banned the use of PVC cables as a result. The adoption of LSZH for cables and other materials is also endorsed by the Building Regulations themselves. According to Part B, referencing fire safety, it says clearly: “The primary danger associated with fire in its early stages is not flame but the smoke and noxious gases produced by the fire. They cause most of the casualties and may also obscure the way to escape routes and exits. Measures designed to provide safe means of escape must therefore provide appropriate arrangements to limit the rapid spread of smoke and fumes.” Helping Fire And Rescue Services The very latest in technology and science, including LSZH materials, offers enhanced fire performance cablingThe very latest in technology and science, including LSZH materials, offers enhanced fire performance cabling, accessories and technical support ensuring critical fire-safety circuits can continue to operate in the event of a real fire from 30 minutes up to 120 minutes. In a real fire situation, these cables will enable the fire and rescue services to find and evacuate people and help to protect property. At the same time, there is still evidence of non-approved cabling still coming onto the market, and we simply cannot compromise quality of these products being used in these applications. Applications include residential and commercial buildings, shopping malls, airports and protected buildings with a track-record ensuring that fire alarms, sprinkler systems, building monitoring and security systems can continue to operate in a fire.
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