44th Annual Conference – Pre-Conference Workshop, May 14, "Choosing and Implementing a Fire Suppression System for a Collecting Institution" by Nick Artim et al

OK, I’ll be honest. The reasons why I went to this pre-conference workshop were:

  1. I had a business meeting in the afternoon and thought I’d better go to another session so I don’t look like a lazy git
  2. Nick Artim, Fire Protection Guru, was on the panel

Man, this would be a useful group to chat with back when we were trying to figure out which fire suppression system to go with for our rare book library years ago. For those of you not well-versed in fire suppression systems, this is a fairly comprehensive look at the different fire suppression systems available for cultural institutions. It also examines different investigations and processes looking into fire suppression systems for different cultural institutions.
Sprinklers at the Archives of Manitoba – Ala Rekrut
About the building itself: the Winnipeg Civic Auditorium was built in 1932; redeveloped in 1973 into Archives Building; new storage vault was created from the old concert hall that was part of the auditorium.
In 1994, the water micromist sprinkler systems were recommended, but they were too new and untested to be implemented at that point. So, they chose a wet pipe system and a dry pipe for cold storage in 1998.  However, there was limited sprinkler coverage in the public areas and they wanted to re-investigate the possibilities of installing a fire suppression system.
One of the biggest hurdles in this project was that the building is managed by another entity, so the Archives can’t really make any changes. Here’s the timeline:

  • Pre-2007: Building Conditions Assessment – recommendations included replacing HVAC systems, and installation of new sprinkler systems – so that they come close to building code (always a good thing)
  • 2007: Vault renovation for HVAC, but no sprinklers, sadly
  • 2010: Risk Management independent inspection: you should have 100% automatic sprinkler coverage, dudes. Bureaucracy stalls these things, you know
  • 2013: Fire system alarm upgrade – still no sprinklers…
  • 2015: Started project over again because the earlier estimates were way over budget – new team – what about sprinklers NOW? Finally YES we can investigate; water mist still not allowed, but they would investigate;who else has done this? Winnipeg Art Gallery had! What’s needed for water mist systems?
    • Filtered city water; high pressure mist; 1 meter clearance needed; low ceilings are out
    • Pump equipment sits on concrete slab 18” thick

A water-based conventional fire suppression system would be fine as well, but they will most likely go with a nitrogen gas (Inergen) system. It is still a work in progress…
You might be wondered how all of these recommendations could be ignored. Well, the answer is bureaucracy! The layers upon layers of government is why the building owners can ignore these recommendations. For example, recommendations from the province do not have to be heeded by the city government, for example. Also the building is grandfathered in due to its age.
 Sprinklers at the Peel Library at University of Alberta – Carolyn Morgan

This project was to be an expansion of fire suppression systems in the Library at the University of Alberta. There were some systems in the basement of Library buildings: Halon in the public area and front office, but not storage; there was also a decommission wet pipe system in the same areas as the Halon. There was also an Inergen system in the audiovisual vault. Storage “fire suppression” protection in main collections storage consisted of a fire hose. They do have heat and smoke detectors.
The expansion project was to start May 2015, so staff had four months to sort the entire expansion project including choosing an appropriate fire suppression system. Nothing like a little bit of pressure to make one be decisive!
So, the goal with this project: protect and preserve our collections.
What are our choices?

  • Gas systems: Inergen, Sapphire, FM-200
  • Water systems: Sprinkler systems, wet pipe, dry pipe, water mist – pre-action or no pre-action?
  • Hybrid: Victaulic Vortex

The chose the Victaulic Vortex system.
How did we come to our decision?

  • Eliminated gas systems because of lack of space for tanks; expensive; lack of airtight integrity
  • Eliminated water mist because of its unproven effectiveness where dense combustibles are present and the library lacked 1 meter ceiling clearance
  • One of their biggest challenges was the limited head room: could not run sprinkler system – but maybe they could? No wet or dry pipe systems –
  • selected Victaulic Vortex and double interlock pre-action sprinkler heads

Vicaulic Vortex – what’s that?

  • Nitrogen and water
    • Removes O2 and water and N2 65Km/ hour ; 10 microns drops of water
    • Very little wetting; doesn’t require airtight rooms; few heads; quick system recharge
    • High initial capital costs; need backup tanks; not widely used; may require a variance for acceptance by authority having jurisdiction

Double interlock pre-action heads – what’s that?

  • Basically like dry pipe but water is held by electronically-operated valve
  • You need: a detector system that must ID fire and open valve and the individual sprinkler heads are then activated
  • Complex system and require attachment to fire detection system

Sprinklers in Historic Houses – Canadian Conservation Institute – John Ward
This was a summary of considerations and case studies involving historic buildings and fire suppression systems, including what you can do when you have no fire suppression system.
Eldon House, Ontario

  • Typical house museum; very vulnerable; few have fire suppression system installed; usually fire detection system and that’s it
  • Historic buildings can have passive measures, or can have passive measures added without drastically changing the building itself. Some recommendations:
    • Compartmentalize buildings (fire-rated firewalls)
    • Consider reinstalling doors in the house and close them in off-hours
    • Check for vertical and lateral voids and fire-seal as required

They did review available fire suppression systems (eight of them) for the Eldon House and came to the following conclusions:

  • Eliminate clean systems (not a tight enough seal in building)
  • Water mist seems the safest but complicated to install; really best for rooms with special needs
  • Options within that list; feasible to consider for this historic house:
    • Pre-action dry pipe
    • Water mist (Marriott Hi-Fog)
      • Initially made for the cruise ship industry
    • Hybrid nitrogen and water mist (Victaulic Vortex)
      • For electronics/ computer rooms
      • New: only around 10 years
      • Doesn’t have to be ceiling mounted, moves around the room like a fog;
    • Wet pipe still viable; simplest

Sinclair Inn; earliest wood frame building in Canada, Nova Scotia

  • Victaulic Vortex doesn’t need to be used in a heated building!

Another hint mentioned: Keep at 15% O2 levels in high density storage to reduce fire risk – this is being used at the British Library’s high density storage building.
Canadian Centre for Architecture – Israel Dube-Marquis

  • Replacing an automatic fire protection system
    • Evaluation Before Choosing
      • Define needs
      • Context
      • Construction type
      • Area covered
      • Space available
      • Electrical emergency power
      • Detection systems
      • Security monitoring
    • NFPA
      • NFPA 750 for water mist
    • System evaluation criterias

[Unfortunately, I had a difficult time understanding this presenter, so I didn’t take many notes – if anyone has anything to add to this presentation, please add the information in the comments!]
Heritage Protection Group – Nick Artim
His talk basically covers elements one should consider when deciding upon a fire suppression system for your cultural institution and which choices are available to you at this time.
But first: a funny quote: “Disaster: an emergency we screw up.”

  • Best fire suppression system?
    • What do you want to have left after the fire?
    • What’s the building like?
      • What’s it made of?
    • What are the collections?
    • What is the recovery capability?
    • How are the collections arranged?
    • The people who occupy and visit the building? How many?
    • Rural or urban?
    • Fire safety elements
      • Fire prevention
      • Life safety
      • Fire resistance
      • Fire detections
      • Fire suppression
      • Recovery
    • NFPA
      • Codes 909; 914 – historic structures and cultural properties
      • Not prescriptive; all of us stakeholders are to become part of the process to become part of the solution
    • Smoldering phase can last for several hours
    • British Library – did the low O2 system because of its size; there is no good choice for fire suppression system
    • The better the Fire Department knows your building, the better off you are
  • Automatic Fire Systems
    • Standard pressure sprinkler
      • Gets everything wet so it doesn’t burn
      • Prevents fire from growing
      • Failure tends to happen: in piping material and fitting
      • A LOT of water
      • Wet load: HEAVY for paper
    • Water mist
      • Developed from the maritime industry
      • Water droplet and cause it to explode
      • Microdroplet with more surface area which becomes the coolant – engineering finesse required for it to work well
      • Air suspension – more flexibility
      • Mist can be drawn into the combustion process – more like a gas than rain
      • More precise fittings; very durable
      • Works pretty well – Monticello has it
      • Excellent in remote area where it’s hard to get water source
    • Wet pipe, dry pipe, pre-action, deluge
      • Water is always in a pipe; dry pipe is for areas where freezing is a possibility
    • Gas Systems (“clean system”)
      • Control fire without water damage
      • Not exactly damage-free – discharge speed, e.g. – be careful where you put the nozzle for discharge
      • Details on where those discharge nozzles go
      • Compartment application systems – air tight or gas will not stay in concentration
      • CO2, Nitrogen, aerosol – Potassium-based solid – post-damage potential? What does all that potassium do to the art? Halocarbons (FM-200; Novec)
    • Hybrid (Nitrogen and Water)… and we ran out of time.