Planning for fire

By Wormald

Processing of energy and the development of major services in the energy and utilities industries presents significant fire and safety risks.

Inadequate or improper fire protection in this highly specialised sector can expose workers and the community to extreme dangers, lead to potential loss of life and property and also result in reduced production and a possible environmental impact. Therefore, fire protection provisions should be carefully planned for.

When planning and designing a fire-protection solution, consideration should be given not only to the levels of fire protection required but to compliance, usability, logistics and the financial investment involved.

In Australia, fire-protection systems are generally required to comply with the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and a variety of applicable Australian Standards. However, for the large part, fire protection for the energy and power industries is not necessarily restricted to these codes and standards.

As a result, some leading fire-protection companies often rely on in-house design expertise, knowledge gained through past experiences and from overseas standards and guidelines such as those developed by the National Fire Protection Association of the USA (NFPA), European standards and insurance-driven codes of practice.

When designing a fire-protection solution, the fire specialist should consult with a variety of personnel including plant operators, engineers, technical staff and senior management to best understand the needs and risk for the project, and develop the most appropriate fire protection solution to suit. During this consultation process, all fire and explosion hazards and unique challenges should be identified.

In power generating industries there are many fire risk areas, including fuel, lubrication, hydraulic and transformer oils, natural gas, cable tunnels, cable flats, boiler firing points and coal pulverising plants. Each risk area may well require its own specialised fire protection solution.

Other considerations include if any existing fire protection systems are in place, environmental impact, the impact a new fire protection system can have on critical plant and equipment, or if it can be interfaced with power plant control systems to control shutdowns or isolation of relevant plant when necessary.

It is also essential to consider the future ongoing servicing and maintenance requirements of a new fire protection system and if it can be expanded or upgraded.

Based on the results of a risk assessment, a fire specialist should be able to determine and recommend the most appropriate fire protection solutions. Fire protection solutions used in energy and utilities industry include:

a) Fire detection and occupant warning systems – advanced systems can integrate heat and smoke detectors with specialised control panels.

b) Fire sprinkler systems – highly flexible in design and help meet each individual site/building requirements. Sprinkler systems work in conjunction with a detection system and can automatically detect a fire, transmit an alarm and help control a fire.

c) Water-deluge systems – typically used in hazardous environments where fires may spread very quickly or where valuable equipment surrounding the fire needs to be rapidly cooled.

d) Gaseous fire-suppression systems.

e) Portable fire equipment – including fire hose reels, fire blankets and a wide range of portable fire extinguishers to suit all classes of fire and fire risk.

f) Foam systems – used to bring volatile fuels under control. Foam deployment devices include sub-surface injection systems, topside foam chambers and remote controlled foam cannons.

The circumstances of each site will determine the most suitable fire protection solution and often, when circumstances change, existing solutions and systems may require updating.