Selecting a robust fire and blast protection system for high value assets
To understand why such a fire and blast protection system is required for this type of situation, it’s worth examining the processes involved in a typical blast and blaze incident. Some types of explosion subject the surrounding environment to an instantaneous huge pressure wave which can cause enormous damage in its own right. This is usually followed immediately by a wave of reverse, negative pressure which can be equally damaging.
Other explosions can add shrapnel-like fragmentation into the bargain – where pieces of the explosive container are projected at great speed across the explosion zone. Alternatively, an explosion that is incendiary in nature will allow intense heat to be emitted at a rapid rate, thus creating a different set of hazards which need to be contained. It’s obvious then that the first requirement for any fire protection board is to be able to offer a high level of containment to any or all of these blast effects, even before its fire-protection abilities are called into question.
A common misconception exists surrounding the ability of block work walls to resist high levels of impact and blast pressure. A standard 150mm dense block work wall will fail under a 4000J impact due to the weakness of the mortar joints. Similarly, relatively low levels of blast pressure will destroy a shear block wall (1–2psi) and shear solid 225mm brick walls (7–8psi). For comparison, it is estimated that the blast which destroyed the Piper Alpha oil platform in 1988 measured between 10.7 and 14.3psi.
In contrast, a barrier system such as the Promat DURASTEEL® system will maintain its integrity following a 180 minute fire test and 4000J impact. A similar system has also been successfully blast tested up to 33.8psi overpressure, and does not require the associated foundation work or design footprint of block work walls.
Promat DURASTEEL® is a composite panel of fibre-reinforced cement, mechanically bonded to punched steel sheets on both outer surfaces, which allow it to deliver the strength and resistance required to withstand high impact and blast pressures. The fibre-reinforced composite core panel enables the board to deliver the type of fire protection that allow it to be classed as ‘non-combustible’ to BS 476: Part 4: 1970 and A1 to Clause 10 of BS EN 13501-1:2002.
In the event of a fire, such a system will resist both the blast and the fire, maintaining the all-important compartmentation which is an essential element in protecting any construction that houses a high value asset. This type of system should be able to resist damage from falling debris during the fire itself, while afterwards, the inherent strength of the board can also help the building to remain stable and secure until remedial work can be carried out. In addition, it will contribute only minimal amounts of smoke or gas, and provide good acoustic insulation performance too.
As might be expected, this type of advanced, high performance system will suffer little or no damage from everyday exposure. This makes it well suited to use on many different types of high value installation, and its use in many thousands of projects across the world have proven its ability to withstand extremes of temperature, demanding and hostile environments, plus the type of severe thermal shock caused when high pressure water hoses are used to fight a fire. In short, a system such as Promat DURASTEEL® can provide virtually maintenance-free ‘fit-and-forget’ solution with a design life in excess of 40 years.
Walls, doors and ceilings can all be protected by this type of high performance barrier system. Normally designed to fit onto a framework, it can be used to create a wide variety of bespoke layout options and this generally enables the system to meet the specific requirements of individual projects. The fire wall systems which are created can be used to separate and shield hazardous areas, protect escape routes, construct refuge areas and create fire compartmentation systems within buildings and storage areas.
Such a system can also be used to create stand-alone barriers for applications where damage must be limited by preventing the blast and the fire from spreading between different areas via a domino effect. When used in this mode - as opposed to being built-in to the building’s structure - the board can be used to create barriers designed to meet most of the generally recognised fire curves and it is normally certified by many approval bodies including UL, FM and Lloyds. Its relatively light weight can also generate significant savings in terms of space, installation time and costs, as simpler and smaller foundations can be used compared to traditional poured concrete or concrete block barriers.
This is a particular benefit for retrofit applications where space can often be limited and the fire protection must be installed without disturbing any existing services or facilities. The installation process is also a “dry” trade, which minimises the possibility of disruption to other trades working in the same areas, thus allowing faster project completion. Barriers constructed from Promat DURASTEEL® can usually be demounted and reinstalled, which greatly simplifies any maintenance work or refurbishment tasks that need to be completed.
The effectiveness of this type of fire and blast barrier system - and its ability to provide genuinely bespoke protection for virtually any installation - is reflected by the ever-growing list of recent projects where it has been used. In the UK alone, that list includes high values assets such as the London Underground, Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 plus numerous Ministry of Defence and energy projects. There are also numerous projects which may not have the same security prominence but where reliable protection was still required, such as the new The British Museum and the new Westfield London retail project.
It’s worth remembering that even non-critical assets can derive real benefits from the installation of an effective, high performance fire and blast protection system. Equipment such as power transformers are a common, everyday sight and can frequently is found located adjacent to commercial and industrial buildings. However they offer enormous potential for injury and destruction as they contain large quantities of oil and also carry high voltages - a volatile combination even at the best of times. This is one of the key reasons why today’s insurers and corporate risk managers often consider power transformers to be one of the most critical electrical
components in a building, and this factor is driving the current demand for increasingly effective fire and blast protection boards to be used for this type of equipment installation.
It makes perfect sense for anyone involved in the specification process to give themselves a significant advantage by seeking advice from a specialist manufacturer of fire and blast systems such as Promat. They will be able to draw on many years of practical experience to provide accurate and reliable advice and help create the most appropriate fire protection solution for the project in question. They should also be able to support that guidance by offering a full portfolio of third party accredited solutions for fire compartmentation, structural steel protection and fire stopping applications. And remember, the earlier the manufacturer is given the opportunity to become involved in a project, the easier it is to arrive at a cost-effective solution that does not compromise on performance.
Fire protection is an area where designers, fire engineers and building owners simply can’t afford to take any chances, and this applies especially to high value assets. The devastating effects of an incorrect specification are obvious to all concerned, making it imperative that the right products for the task are teamed with expert advice and guidance. Only that way can we be sure that our high value assets will go on performing whenever we need them to.
Sean Appleton - Marketing Manager, Promat UK Ltd