An Oklahoma City TV station became the focus of news stories nationwide last summer after its fire alarm went off during a live broadcast. The sound of the fire alarm wasn’t exactly newsworthy, and no, the set wasn’t dramatically engulfed in flames. What made the story interesting was the fact that no one knew what to do. The news team stayed in their seats for a full minute before receiving word it was a false alarm. They then proceeded with their newscast for another two minutes until the fire alarm was finally silenced. Check out the video below.
So what should the news team have done when the fire alarm went off?
“Evacuate!” says Terry Flanagan, Director of Fire and Safety Training at ABCO Fire Protection. He notes that the station should have had an Emergency Action Plan in place so everyone knew what to do. Such a plan designates what action to take in the event of an emergency, which in the event of a fire is typically to evacuate the building to a pre-determined location. The Plan may also dedicate special tasks to certain employees, such as fire suppression or performing a head count of personnel to ensure everyone got out of the building safely.
“Your natural instinct may be to investigate the situation to find out what’s going on,” says Flanagan, “but unless you have been assigned a special role in your company’s Emergency Action Plan, you should evacuate the building and immediately head to a pre-determined assembly area.”
What if your company doesn’t have an Emergency Action Plan?
Flanagan says “You’ve got to have it, it’s an OSHA requirement.”
For more information about Emergency Action Plans and preparedness training, contact ABCO Fire Protection at 800-875-7200. For the complete news story, click here.
As the cost of wind turbine fires soars, fire protection measures remain optional, and consensus on the problem eludes the industry.
Wind turbines are impressive structures. At times towering over 300’ tall, their blades measure over 100’ long apiece and the tips of those spinning blades can reach speeds of 180 miles per hour. These machines are an efficient means of producing environmentally-preferable power, and the U.S. has experienced a boom in turbine construction in recent years. In fact, the amount of wind power generated in the United States has increased by over 700% in the past ten years, and as of 2016 it led the world in total wind energy production.
Even more impressive-looking than wind turbines are wind turbine fires, and these events get a lot of attention as a result. A Google search turns up thousands of awe-inspiring photos and videos of these machines on fire, along with news stories about the incidents. That same search will also bring up websites of anti-wind-energy groups who use such incidents to fuel hyperbolic claims that we should be living in fear of these structures. So how bad is the issue of wind turbine fires, really?
It’s hard to say exactly. According to the frequently-cited Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF) there are around 20 total onshore wind turbine fires per year. However, the British newspaper The Telegraph reported in 2014 that these fires may be 10 times more common than CWIF’s statistics claimed, citing data from an Imperial College (London) report and Renewable UK. Clean energy insurer GCube’s estimate is somewhere in the middle ground, claiming 50 incidents a year in their 2015 report Towering Inferno.
GCube, a Lloyd’s of London coverholder, notes that while this number may seem relatively small, these incidents cause owners and insurers a disproportionately large hardship. According to a 2014 report by the International Association for Fire Safety Science (IAFSS), over 90% of wind turbine fires result in total loss of the turbine or severe structural failure of its major components. With a cost of around $4 million each, the replacement bill alone is staggering. Once cleanup and downtime are factored in, GCube claims the bill balloons to $4.5 million per incident—a figure that’s rising.
“The cost of [wind turbine] fires is actually increasing compared to five years ago, mainly due to the arrival of larger turbines,” GCube’s Jatin Sharma told the renewable energy industry magazine Recharge in 2016.
Some of the replacement costs may be covered by the turbine’s warranty, but there are limitations. Jarret Ryan, Installation Division President at ABCO Fire Protection, has been protecting wind turbines for years, and he encourages his customers to familiarize themselves with the actual cost of replacing their investment.
“The manufacturer’s warranty only covers replacement of parts,” notes Ryan, “it leaves out the costly extras like downtime, clean-up, and all of the collateral damage that can come from a wind turbine fire.”
Those collateral costs include dangers posed to bystanders, nearby buildings and vehicles, workers that may be in turbines, and adjacent wildfire-prone areas. These lost dollars, land, structures, and—occasionally—lives, all add to substantial reputational damage. Anti-wind-energy sentiment in many areas is partly fueled by highly-publicized turbine fires. In Australia, an 8400-acre brush fire recently destroyed livestock, outbuildings, and at least one home. The fire was sparked by a freak accident involving a wind turbine, and this has exacerbated longstanding issues between locals and the windfarm operator. In cases like this, a bit of extra diligence on behalf of energy companies may go a long way in healing relationships with the communities they serve and operate in.
Lastly, the environmental cost of structure fires is staggering, with massive amounts of pollution and greenhouse gasses being generated in a short period of time. According to a 2016 article in the engineering industry journal Structure, building sustainability features “…may be negated due to the additional carbon emitted into the environment through combustion of building contents.” It’s not unreasonable to argue that a wind turbine fire may completely negate any environmental benefit of the turbine’s existence—an existence that pivots primarily on being able to generate relatively “green” energy.
Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of fuel on board wind turbines. According to the IAFSS, the main fire-loading comes from the fiberglass-reinforced plastic the turbine nacelle (the large gear-house at the top of a turbine shaft) is constructed of, as well as foam insulation that may be used in the unit. In addition to this, upwards of 235 gallons of lubricating oil and other flammable liquids can be stored inside the nacelle, and thousands of feet of polymer-coated cable run from the nacelle down the shaft to a transformer below.
This fuel seems to be ignited by four main causes: lightning, electrical malfunction, hot surface ignition, and maintenance. IAFSS lists lightning as the most common ignition source of turbine fires, and this risk is exacerbated significantly when lightning protection systems are not installed or maintained. Electrical malfunction can occur in the electrical components inside the nacelle, which includes a high-voltage transformer on some models. Braking systems and other mechanical components result in most of the hot-surface related fires, and pressurized flammable hydraulic fluid found in the nacelle can magnify this hazard.
A New Hampshire wind farm protected by ABCO Fire Protection.
Once the fuel is ignited, what can be done? Typically, not much. Wind turbine heights far-exceed the reach of fire department aerial trucks, making them impossible to put out from the ground. When a wind turbine lights up, the fire department’s first role is to establish a “safe zone” around the expected perimeter of falling debris. They then stand by to extinguish any fire that may spread from the turbine to nearby buildings, vehicles, or wildlands while the $4 million tower burns itself out.
Despite this inaccessibility, abundance of fuel and ignition sources, and high-profile high-cost losses, there is currently no legal requirement to provide fire detection or suppression measures on wind turbines. As with any structure, in many parts of the United States the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) may provide fire protection guidance or requirements within the bounds of local codes. However, they often have limited—if any—involvement in wind turbine projects aside from developing a plan of action for their department to follow if the structure goes up in flames. Typically, fire protection measures are only installed on wind turbines if the owner or insurer requires it.
As the wind energy industry struggles to quantify and gain consensus on the problem, the fire protection industry has already developed solutions to protect wind turbines. Over a decade ago, fire system manufacturer Firetrace began using their small self-contained systems to protect the most fire-prone components of turbines. Then, in 2010 the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released a new edition of NFPA 850 Recommended Practice for Fire Protection for Electric Generating Plants and High Voltage Direct Current Converter Stations. This edition began the process of codifying fire protection best practices for wind turbines by adding Chapter 10, “Identification and Protection of Hazards for Wind Turbine Generating Facilities.”
Firetrace systems installed in a wind turbine nacelle.
Chapter 10 of NFPA 850 includes some helpful tips for wind turbine operators to consider when weighing fire protection options for their units. It includes statements on passive fire protection measures—lightning rods, for instance—as well as the impracticability of some fire suppression options, such as those that require water (sprinklers, mist, or foam systems are examples). Of the recommendations found in Chapter 10 of NFPA 850, those listed under Section 10.5.3.5 “Nacelle Fire Protection,” are the most valuable when considering fire suppression options for turbines. This section outlines what areas of a nacelle should be protected when possible, including: electrical enclosures; gearbox lubricating systems; hydraulic control systems and associated reservoirs, pumps, accumulators, piping, and actuating systems; oil piping and anywhere oil can flow, accumulate, or spray.
“Since there aren’t many rules, which parts of the nacelle are protected is really up to the owner or their insurance company,” says Steve Rice, Installation Operation Manager and former wind turbine technician for ABCO Fire. “We typically always protect the transformer whether it’s in the nacelle or on the ground, as well as the electrical cabinets in the nacelle. Occasionally we protect the braking system, which is really what seems to cause a lot of the fires in turbines.”
Systems that are practical, economical, and listed to protect wind turbine components are few and far between. As mentioned above, Firetrace has the longest tenure when it comes to this type of protection, and was named “preferred and primary supplier of automatic fire suppression systems” by the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas, in 2012. However, other companies have recently developed similar suppression systems that can be used to protect turbines as well. These systems use a thin pressurized detection tube that runs throughout fire prone areas and ruptures when exposed to high heat. The release of pressure from the tube actuates the system, and notifies a monitoring station that the system has discharged. The system itself consists of a relatively small pressurized cylinder filled with a clean fire suppressing agent that will not leave residue or damage sensitive equipment.
A wind turbine technician taking in the view.
“A single nacelle typically contains 5-9 small fire suppression systems, each protecting a high hazard area or component,” says Rice, who holds a NICET Level III certification for Fire Alarms and Special Hazards, and is one of three Miller-certified climbers on ABCO’s team. “The idea is for the systems to discharge early and exactly where needed so they take up minimal space in the nacelle, but can still suppress incipient fires before they cause devastating damage,” he continued.
Dividing protection of a single nacelle between several small fire systems has multiple benefits for the turbine operator. For instance, in the event of a fire only the system or systems that actuated need to be recharged, which saves time and money, and keeps the remainder of the turbine protected while the entire unit is brought back online. Additionally, using separate systems to monitor separate hazards can help operators tell exactly where an issue occurred in the turbine.
“The systems we install on wind turbines are typically monitored by a SCADA system,” says Jarret Ryan, referring to the supervisory control and data acquisition systems that are used to monitor and automate turbine operation. “A better term for it these days would be the ‘internet of things,’ but basically when a fire system actuates it sends a signal to the automation system that tells it which system went off, and what action needs to be taken by the turbine. In all of our installations, this has included automatically stopping the turbine from spinning, which in turn stops the generation of electricity and allows personnel to service the unit.”
Automatic shut-down of the turbine upon operation of a fire protection device is a recommendation of NFPA 850, and has become an industry standard. But what happens when a flaming turbine doesn’t stop spinning? A wind energy operator in India found out last summer, and dramatic video of the resulting helix of black smoke violently flinging flaming debris across the landscape went viral shortly afterward.
“These things do catch fire, and when they do there is absolutely nothing you can do about it,” re-caps Ryan. “No fire department that I know of has the ability to put it out, so it’s up to turbine operators to take proactive measures. For a few thousand bucks you can protect a multi-million dollar piece of equipment from fire, and eliminate the collateral costs that are likely to come from a fire event.”
As these monuments to clean energy alter our horizon, the fire protection industry’s aim is to help the world maintain a positive outlook when it comes to what may be the most efficient source of “green” electricity. Wind turbine fires are a problem for both the clean energy industry and people who live near wind farms, but viable, economical solutions do exist. From the recommendations of the most recognized fire code body in the world, to proven fire detection and suppression solutions, we’re here and ready when the wind industry needs us.
Last week, ABC’s Good Morning America ran a great piece about home fire extinguisher safety. The segment focused on checking home fire extinguishers to make sure they are charged and within an acceptable date range—all solid advice. However, when reporter Gio Benitez tried to demonstrate how to put out a fire by remembering the acronym “P.A.S.S.,” things didn’t go according to plan. View the full segment below.
As you may know, P.A.S.S. is meant to remind fire extinguisher users how to operate an extinguisher.
PULL the pin AIM the nozzle at the base of the fire SQUEEZE the handle SWEEP from side to side.
While Benitez did all of these things, the fire he was given to extinguish was in a massive mock-up of a gas-fueled char broiler. Just after the 4-minute mark of the video you’ll see the large fire, and you’ll see that the reporter can’t aim at its base due to the enclosure around the appliance. While doing a remarkable job maintaining his poise, he quickly realizes the fire isn’t going out. Benitez immediately takes correct action by leaving the room and recommending his audience call 911 anytime there’s a home fire, whether they use an extinguisher or not.
What could have been done better? Fire extinguishers are powerful tools, but as with any tool, training is required to ensure operators know how to use them properly. In this case, training may have helped in identifying that this fire was too large and difficult to access for easy suppression using an ABC extinguisher. OSHA requires employers train all employees on fire extinguisher operation once a year, and this training can be useful in combating home fires as well (click here to access our training page). Fire departments and fire protection companies may offer free or low-cost fire extinguisher training as part of events like Fire Prevention Week (we held such an event last year in Bowling Green, KY).
Additionally, the use of a large commercial-sized gas-fired appliance probably wasn’t the best way to show how to use a home fire extinguisher. That type and size of cooking equipment is typically found in commercial kitchens where employees are trained to operate the pull station of the hood fire suppression system before using any extinguisher. Doing this cuts the fuel and electricity to any equipment beneath the hood, and releases several gallons of wet fire suppressing chemical onto the appliances. Additionally, as mentioned above the reporter was unable to successfully aim at the base of the fire, which is an important factor when attempting to extinguish a blaze with an ABC dry chemical extinguisher like the one he is using.
While Good Morning America’s demonstration didn’t go according to plan, it still offered some valuable lessons. It’s also important to point out that while this was an excellent segment about home fire extinguisher safety, different standards are enforced for fire extinguishers in businesses. The National Fire Protection Association’s standard NFPA 10, which is applied to businesses throughout most of the U.S., requires annual maintenance of all fire extinguishers by a trained professional in addition to other periodic maintenance. Monthly inspections similar to the home extinguisher inspection shown on GMA should be conducted by employees in between the annual maintenance. For an easy-to-reference monthly extinguisher inspection guide, click here.
If you have any questions about fire extinguishers for your home or business, please stop by one of our branches or call us at 800-875-7200.
Data centers have seen massive growth over the past several years, and continue to experience exceptional demand. According to real estate firm North American Data Centers, the demand for data center space currently outpaces supply in many key areas. In fact, the global rush to cloud computing and data colocation has been so massive that in 2016 more sub-sea cable was laid than during the past five years combined. But with such unrelenting demands for growth, how can mission critical data centers deliver on expectations to keep their facilities safe?
According to mission critical fire protection guru Jeff Keller, there are a few simple things data center operators need to keep in mind when they expand their facilities. Keller has devoted much of his life to protecting mission critical spaces, and will be speaking on the topic next week at Data Center World Global in Los Angeles. He says safe growth needs to start with a fire protection consultation.
“The most important thing to do is consult with your fire protection company any time changes are going to be made to your structure,” says Keller. Fire protection systems are an integral part of any building, and their operation can be affected by a wide variety of factors. One of those is airflow, which can impact the functionality of conventional spot smoke detectors.
“Even if the only change is the addition of a CRAC unit, the added CFM’s could change the spacing requirements of the existing spot smoke detectors,” noted Keller, using the acronym for Computer Room Air Conditioning systems. “If CFMs increase, then detectors may need to be located more closely together,” he continued.
Air movement, measured in CFMs, can affect how likely it is that smoke or pre-combustion particles will be drawn into a detector’s chamber.
“The best way to ensure products of combustion are detected very early is to use air sampling smoke detection (ASSD), which actively draws smoke into the detection system” added Keller, “but many facilities still use passive spot smoke detectors that depend on room air flow to operate. Either detection method can be affected by changes to the structure.”
Hot-Aisle/Cold-Aisle (HACA) containment systems exist to assist with air flow and temperature control, but can introduce another issue: obstructions.
“As a rule of thumb, you typically want to keep three to four feet of clearance around the clean agent fire suppression nozzles,” says Keller, “Adding a HACA system or a wall can cause what we call ‘splashing,’ where the clean agent can’t properly release from the system nozzle.” According to Keller, this type of splashing can stain the surface the nozzle discharges onto, and prevents the agent from properly dispersing into the room’s atmosphere. “You need to give clean agent the space to do its thing, to disperse the chemical as it has been designed to,” he added.
When air flow and obstructions are taken into account it becomes clear why data center operators need to consult their fire protection partner early in the planning stages of any growth project. Accounting for the needs of the fire suppression system can make the changes easier to implement, as well as more cost efficient. Keller says it’s also about more than that.
“Mission critical fire protection is strictly 100% about asset protection,” emphasized Keller, “it’s in the interest of any data center operator to consult with their fire protection provider before they change the environment so their assets are always protected.”
Jeff will be going into greater detail on this topic and more during Data Center World Global 2017 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. His insights will come as part of the panel session “Automation & Maintenance Best Practices in the Data Center,” which is scheduled for Tuesday morning during the convention. Visit our news page for more information.
Adaptability, Passion for Knowledge Her Advice for Women in Construction
Over the past eleven years, Alyson Nahrup has made a name for herself in the fire protection industry. As the accounting controller of ABCO’s Installation Division, she holds a position of responsibility and respect within our organization, and has a track record of proven dedication to our business. In 2010, she started her own fire protection company called Anox Fire Protection Services, which merged with ABCO a few years ago. Nahrup is currently involved in ABCO’s Women’s Leadership Council, takes an active role in company charity events, and participates in the Ohio Chapter of the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA).
This month, the AFSA’s publication Sprinkler Age featured Alyson and other women of fire protection in their piece “A Woman’s Perspective.” The article shared insights from some of the women who represent less than 10% of the workers in the construction industry as a whole. Perpetually positive in attitude, Alyson acknowledged some of the difficulties she faced when entering this heavily male business, but quickly noted how she moved past them.
“It may take longer to gain the respect of others, especially those who have experience,” Nahrup told Sprinkler Age of her early days in the business. “However, if you stay persistent in wanting to learn and constantly take every opportunity to educate yourself, you will find yourself experiencing the pros of being a woman in the industry. Men and other women will begin to have respect for you based on the drive you have to learn the business.”
Alyson is just one of many women who are vital to the success of ABCO Fire, and—especially during Women’s History Month—we feel it’s important to acknowledge the key role they play in making ABCO a great place to work. Serving our company and our communities as fire protection technicians, service reps, accountants, salespeople, and managers, women help lead our business to the forefront of our industry.
To read more about the experiences of Alyson and other women in our industry, visit SprinklerAge.com for the full article.