Fire continues to present one of the greatest risks to property owners and occupiers. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) estimates that fire damage claims cost the insurance industry £3.6 million per day, and the latest government statistics show more than 270 fire fatalities in England alone last year.
Zurich has a dedicated in-house team of full-time fire protection engineers, based around the UK. These specialists can support you in all aspects of fire protection, from initial design and witness testing on site, to what is an acceptable and recognised fixed fire protection solution to Zurich. We take an in-depth look at some of the most popular and best performing systems.
Sprinkler systems With more than 40 million systems fitted worldwide each year, automatic sprinklers are the most popular of all fixed-fire protection systems. Sprinklers activate when a certain level of heat is detected at ceiling level. They quickly and directly control and suppress the fire with water. Only sprinklers in close proximity to the fire will be activated; despite belief to the contrary, they do not all activate at once. ( British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association - http://www.bafsa.org.uk/ )
Losses from fires where sprinkler systems are active are estimated to be 90% less than those in unprotected buildings, and 99% of fires can be controlled by two to four sprinklers alone. Sprinklers have been a proven form of fire protection for more than 100 years, and offer property and life-saving benefits.
There are very few disadvantages to such systems, beyond the need to have a space to store water and keeping the building heated to at least 4oC. Insurance companies will commonly offer preferential terms for correctly designed, maintained, and installed and tested sprinkler systems.
Water mist systems The use of water mist systems is rapidly increasing. It is differentiated from traditional Sprinkler systems by its reduced droplet size, with water delivered as an atomised mist either at low or high pressure. Zurich is the insurer of the M25 East and West tunnels, where a water mist system has recently been installed to aid firefighting operations, reduce the temperature within the tunnel to aid escape, and prevent damage to the structure of the tunnel.
Water mist has the advantage of using less water, reducing storage requirements and water damage in the event of a fire. However, water mist is generally only considered effective if used to address a specific need in an otherwise sprinklered building. A specific need for example where water mist could be used, is for the protection of hotel bedrooms whilst sprinkler systems would protect all other areas including underground car parks, atriums, storage areas and kitchens etc. There is also a lack of comprehensive and independent testing, and approval of systems and their components. The lack of knowledge and technical competency by some installers of water mist systems has led to use of water mist in often inappropriate applications.
Claims of equivalency to sprinklers are frequently exaggerated and caution is therefore advised. Advice should always be sought from Zurich for insurance acceptability where water mist is proposed.
Gaseous Systems Gaseous fire suppression describes the use of inert gases and chemical agents to extinguish fires. There are numerous extinguishing agents available depending on the application. Zurich recommends the use of environmentally-friendly, extinguishment gases. Generally, two principles exist in the design of gaseous systems: (1) Total Gas Flooding – a location is physically isolated, or a room is already physically enclosed, and becomes filled with the extinguishing agent; (2) Local Application – the extinguishing agent is directly applied to the affected area, but with no physical barriers to allow total flooding.
A major advantage of gaseous systems is that there is no water damage in the event of a fire. Gaseous systems are very useful in protecting expensive or highly sensitive equipment, especially electrical/electronic equipment. Additional considerations must be given to their design, and this should be undertaken by a competent person, due to the complexity of systems.
There are some specific areas where particular care needs to be taken when considering fire prevention. For example in Kitchens, where the presence of features such as deep fat fryers, grease extraction equipment and ventilation ducts, presents several particular challenges from a fire protection perspective. Kitchens must therefore be approached with great care when designing an appropriate system.
Zurich stipulates that for fire systems to be acceptable for use in kitchens they must be capable of both manual and automatic operation, able to isolate the shut down of the air supply and electric and gas supplies in the event of a fire, and ensure the continued operation of extraction fans. The system also needs to be approved and tested to the UL 300 standard.
For Zurich to recognise a fire protection solution, it will need to satisfy a four-stage test. A combination of the following four stages will ensure that solutions are suitable for their chosen application. This helps to ensure the effectiveness of systems for the protection of your property and the safety of the building’s occupants.