ARCHIVED - NRC Fire Suppression Technology now on the Market

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April 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

A little water goes a long way

An NRC-developed fire suppression technology commercialized in partnership with FireFlex Systems Inc. has received Factory Mutual (FM) certification and is now on the market. FireFlex, the fire suppression system uses proprietary NRC technology to spray integrated compressed air foam (ICAF), a mixture of air, foam and water, through a specialized delivery system that resembles an indoor sprinkler system.

Fire testing on power transformer
Fire testing on power transformer

NRC Institute for Research in Construction (NRC-IRC) researchers applied the science of bubbles, hydraulics and flow to design a sprinkler system where air, foam and water is pre-mixed and dispensed to provide maximal fire protection while minimizing the use of water and foam. "The fire industry is very traditional. There's a resistance to anything new," said NRC's George Crampton, one of the inventors of the FireFlex fire suppression system. "Our system meets all of the criteria for performance and advantage. It can extinguish a fire in half the time of a conventional system, using one quarter of the water. [... ] This technology is a good fit for all applications where water supply is an issue or where there is a high cost for treating water after it's discharged," explained Jean-Pierre Asselin, Vice President of FireFlex Systems, Inc., "like, for example, the indoor power transformer."

Hydro One became the ICAF system's first customer this January when they hired FireFlex to install it in an underground transformer oil storage facility. Class B fires, or those caused by liquid fuels like transformer oil, can't be effectively treated with water alone. Since the fuel is less dense than water, it floats on top of the water and spreads as the water boils. Excess water also produces steam, reducing visibility for firefighters. "There can be flammable liquid fire on the floor and the firefighters can't see it," said Crampton.

FireFlex's CAF-based system controlled a simulated power transformer fire in less than 45 seconds and fully extinguished the blaze in under 1.5 minutes. A traditional
FireFlex's CAF-based system controlled a simulated power transformer fire in less than 45 seconds and fully extinguished the blaze in under 1.5 minutes. A traditional "deluge" type uses up to 10 times the water flow and is capable of extinguishing transformer fires in approximately 4 minutes. This tremendous water usage creates a large amount of hazardous waste caused by water mixing with contaminants from the transformer.

The FireFlex fire suppression system's second and third installations are both in aircraft hangars. In the spring, FireFlex will install a system at a hangar in Yellowknife where permafrost and a limited water supply make the installation of a conventional water sprinkler system prohibitively expensive. "Following a publication from the NRC a few years ago, some customers called us regarding the use of ICAF technology to protect hangars," said Asselin. "The customers have been coming to us."

The ongoing collaboration between the NRC and FireFlex Systems Inc. is continuing to find new applications for this technology. Recent research at the NRC-IRC is focusing on fighting class C, or electrical fires and customizing the system for residential applications. "We currently have a contract with the CMHC (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) working on fire protection in residential housing in the North West Territories," said Crampton. "The risk of fire there is eight times the national average, and most communities don't have a reliable water supply. [... ] FireFlex is a fire protection company with an established clientele base. It's a reputable Canadian company that is great to deal with," said Crampton. This experience gives FireFlex Systems Inc. an in-depth understanding of their clients. Although the ICAF project has been ongoing since 1993, there is still work to be done by FireFlex and the NRC in providing test data to demonstrate the system's effectiveness and reach new markets.

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