Oct 24, 2017

Burning Question: When Should You Choose Inert Gas Fire Suppression?

What would Disney do?
Burning Question: When Should You Choose Inert Gas Fire Suppression?

If you’re looking for guidance on whether inert gas fire suppression is the best fit for your requirements, it turns out Walt Disney Studios could offer you a few pointers.

Just look at its massive Animated Research Library, home to an estimated 65 million pieces of historic film artwork. In pursuit of the most ideal environment for preserving priceless artifacts of film history, the studio realized that relying solely on aqueous-based fire protection just wouldn’t do. Sprinkling water (or manmade chemicals) on carefully preserved artwork usually doesn’t end well.

Disney’s decision to equip its facility with an inert gas fire suppression system as its first line of defense points to the kind of environments where this option can make a critical difference.

Save it, Without Getting Soaked

Evaluating the best choices for fire protection always requires a careful examination of risk factors that can vary from one use case to another—and even from one site to another.

Water sprinklers and misting systems have their place in many scenarios. The same is true of manmade chemical agents. But for certain highly-sensitive environments, assets and electronics, inert gas fire suppression can be the ideal choice.

To understand why, it's important to start with a simple question: What exactly is inert gas, anyway?

Think of it this way. The normal air in our environment is about 20.9% oxygen, while the remaining air is made up of inert gasses, including nitrogen (78%) and traces of argon, carbon dioxide, neon and helium. These inert gasses are non-reactive to chemical interactions, making them ideal for fire suppression. Like water, inert gas is 100% natural. But instead of soaking fire, it suffocates it, without endangering people who may still be nearby as discharge begins. Here's how.

Fighting Fire the Natural Way

In most cases, an inert gas or “clean fire suppression agent” is comprised of 100% nitrogen, 100% argon, or a combination of the two. Automatic, “total flooding” systems apply the agent in sufficient concentrations to smother a fire by displacing the oxygen in the protected zone to a level below which fire cannot burn, but is still safe for humans who may still be evacuating.

are no chemicals, no toxic by-products, and no residues, so there’s nothing to clean up.

Generally speaking, the best systems are fully UL-certified and harness nature itself to fight fires in a way that’s fast, effective, safer for humans and completely neutral to the environment. The new INEREX line of inert gas fire system components from Rotarex Firetec, for instance, is certified according to multiple international standards, and can be configured into a complete UL-approved, 200-300 bar total flooding fire suppression system.

Inert Gas Fire Suppression in Other Environments

Beyond museums, archives and historic buildings, inert gas fire suppression can be ideal for other facilities as well, including:

Data Centers & Server Rooms

Think mission-critical data and expensive, highly-sensitive electronics that cannot risk damage from fire, water, dry chemicals or overly-aggressive fire suppression systems. Inert gas fire suppression gently suffocates flames within seconds, flooding computing systems and dispersing inside electronic housings and other hard-to-reach spaces. Components like those in the INEREX line even include silent nozzle options to protect servers and hard drives against noise damage during agent discharge. It’s safe for people, and there’s no downtime for clean-up or reconditioning after a fire—which can be crucial where there’s a need for continuity of service and zero downtime.

Offices, Hospitals and Human-Occupied Areas

In environments that include server rooms, electronics and a high incidence of paper and other flammable materials, inert gas fire suppression is a natural choice. Fires are gently smothered without chemicals or liquid coming into contact with vital documents or equipment. They can also help public institutions meet environment-friendly best practices.

Transportation & Logistics

Electronic control equipment, captive passengers and flammable cargo make quite a combustible mix. In these applications, water and chemical agents could cause considerable damage, and force unwanted or even dangerous service level degradation due to the clean-up and reconditioning required with other options. Inert gas fire suppression can snuff out fire quickly, even inside electronic cabinets and cargo containers with complex geometry that make it difficult for liquid- and chemical-based agents to work effectively.

Now—or Neverland?

All of this is just the beginning. Factor in industrial facilities, government & military depots and other high-sensitivity environments, and it’s easy to see why inert gas fire suppression is gaining so much traction among a growing number of fire system designers, installers, engineering firms and end user organizations.

But is it right for your application? Or are outdated aqueous- and man-made, chemical-based solutions still your best bets? Recalling Disney’s own choice for its archives, a quote from “The Lion King” comes to mind: “Change is good.”

To learn more about inert gas fire suppression and how it can make all the difference for your applications, download our special INEREX Application Guide now. 

Paul Delecourt
Paul Delecourt
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