“Fire Reactants”: Filling A Fire Protection Gap

For decades, fire prevention efforts have focused primarily on three areas: detection, suppression and public fire education. However, despite advances in detection and suppression technology, there remains a gap in the overall scope of fire protection...


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For decades, fire prevention efforts have focused primarily on three areas: detection, suppression and public fire education. However, despite advances in detection and suppression technology, there remains a gap in the overall scope of fire protection.

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Photo courtesy of No-Burn Inc.
The small model house on the left is treated with No-Burn Plus paint, the one in the middle is untreated and the one on the right is treated with No-Burn Wood Gard. Fires were set in the houses using crumpled newspaper as the fuel source. They were all lit within seconds of each other and allowed to burn with no additional intervention. See page 82 for details.

While fire detection and suppression systems are effective in their ability to detect and suppress a fire, they have one flaw– they are reactive systems. This means that they cannot prevent a fire from starting and by the time they react to the fire, the building has already sustained some degree of fire damage. “Historically, fire science has responded through modifications of existing automatic sprinkler technology, isolation and segregation of exposures to limit loss potential, and improved detection capability of protective signaling systems,” said Gregory Kraemer, president of Insurance Loss Control Consultants Inc. “Unfortunately, these efforts are reactionary and fail to address the rudimentary issues of prevention.”

Over the past few years, some interesting statistics have surfaced about these reactionary systems. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that there are now more smoke detectors in homes that do not work than there are those that do work. Recent studies also show that smoke detectors are not as effective in waking occupants – especially children – as once thought. Insurance industry statistics point to the fact that many times, collateral damage from human and mechanical suppression activities often exceeds the cost of the fire damage itself.

While both detection and suppression of a fire are reactionary measures, public fire education is a proactive step. However, many studies show that the average citizen is scared of fire and panics when confronted with a fire situation. Even those individuals with some formal training have admitted to “freezing” when faced with a fire situation. While fire detection, fire suppression and public fire education have come together to form an impressive record over the years, a gap still remains.

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Photo courtesy of No-Burn Inc.
After burning for about five minutes, the crumpled newspaper in the two treated houses was consumed by the fire, but the No-Burn would not allow the fires to consume those houses as fuel. The house that was not treated continued to burn.

Forty years ago, many thought the introduction of fire retardants would change the fire protection industry. While the concept was good in theory, the products at that time were a different story. While those fire retardants were effective, they were in many cases highly toxic and would off-gas before, during and after a fire. Many used formaldehyde or other chemicals that released deadly gases in a fire, posing even more of a hazard to the occupants. They decomposed wood, so their use in residential structures was quickly abandoned.

Even recently, the State of California banned two forms of a fire retardant containing polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are found in TVs, computers, cars and furniture. These neurotoxic chemicals have been shown to affect pregnant women and their fetuses, leading to learning disorders, behavioral changes and memory loss, among other disorders. While PBDEs have been in use for many years, it is only now that their negative effects are being understood.

New Technology: Fire Reactants

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