Fossil Fuel Facilities - A Fire Protection Analysis Challenge
By Marcelo D'Amico, P.E. | Fire Protection Engineering
The demand for energy (and
specifically, electricity) is at an all-time high as populations around
the world grow. More communities are planned in remote locations where
power generation is critical for infrastructure and business. Based on
this need, multi-national companies are developing fossil fuel
electricity generating power plants (natural gas, petroleum fuel, or
coal) at a record pace.
While fossil fuel power plants are not new, modern
facilities can be large and complex. Thus, it is up to the fire
protection engineer to understand the risks and develop a fire
protection basis of design according to an in-depth fire protection
analysis (or performance-based design approach).
Fossil fuel power generating facilities
pose a unique set of challenges for today's fire protection engineer. An
engineer must take into account life safety and asset protection, as
well as business continuity when developing a fire protection design
strategy for a facility.
A power plant may include a diverse set of risks and areas such as (but not limited to):
There are a variety of codes and
standards that might be applicable to a fossil fuel power generating
plant. Depending on location, these can range from National Fire
Protection Association (NFPA) codes and standards, local building codes,
funding organization requirements, and insurance requirements such as
Factory Mutual, Chubb, etc. It is critical that a fire protection
engineer fully understand all risks associated with the power plant in
question and the minimum code requirements before beginning an analysis.
Based on the minimum requirements of applicable codes and standards,
the fire protection engineer must determine any areas where it is
appropriate to exceed the minimum requirements of the codes and then
communicate that to the owner/client for approval.
Many prescriptive codes and standards
exist that will provide fire protection engineers guidance as to the
minimum level of protection required for some hazards. A Fossil fuel
power generating facility can benefit from a proactive performance-based
design approach due to its complexity, unique risks, and the economics
of the installation of specific fire protection systems.
The first step in this performance-based
design approach is executing a fire hazard analysis. The fire hazard
analysis will determine areas where fire protection is required, what
type of protection is needed, and how much protection should be
provided. Fire protection requirements will focus on building
construction, separation of hazards, ignition protection, process safety
(e.g., control of releases) , and detection and suppression.
Additionally, other information should be sought by the fire protection
engineer such as emergency response support from an internal fire
brigade or local fire department. The fire protection engineer should
interview fire brigade members and local fire department personnel to
determine their ability to address the hazards present. This will play a
critical role in the fire protection system's design phase of the
project (manual response vs. fixed protection).
Many facilities do not make use of a
public water distribution system for firewater supply (many facilities
outside the U. S. lack this infrastructure). Therefore, the fire
protection engineer must determine the worst case fire water demand
scenario as a result of a fire hazard analysis. This information will be
utilized to properly size the water supply (i.e., body of water, tank,
reservoir, etc.), fire pumps, and distribution system.
Based on results of the performance-based
fire protection analysis, systems should be sized according to the
facility's hazards. This can be a challenge if a fire protection
engineer is designing based on the prescriptive codes and not a
performance-based approach to fire protection engineering. That is, a
fire protection engineer must take into account the type of hazard and
determine the overall amount of water (or other suppression agent)
required for fire fighting during and after an event.
Specific fire hazards, such as coal,
require that water not only be budgeted for firefighting during a fire,
but also for a post-fire event if the area re-ignites. If the water
source and pumping capacities were not adequately designed, this could
pose a problem for emergency responders.
Fire pumps should be designed with a
vision for future expansion and redundancy. Many power generation
facilities expand as demand requires; therefore, the fire protection
engineer should consider future projects when sizing fire pumps and
distribution systems. Moreover, a facility's utilities should be studied
carefully to determine whether diesel- or electric-driven fire pumps
should be used. NFPA 20 and NFPA 70 handbooks1,2 should be
examined to fully understand what makes up a "reliable" electric grid
for use of electric-driven fire pumps. Most power generation facilities
should have at least one 100% redundant pump with alternate power
generation, such as a diesel-driven fire pump.
Once the fire hazard analysis has been
completed, and thorough performance-based design criteria set, the fire
protection engineer should determine the best fixed or manual fire
protection system to complement the firewater distribution system. In
the case of power generating facilities, many choices exist, each with
its own pros and cons. These systems include, but are not limited to,
Foam (low expansion)
The systems listed above should be
installed as part of fixed equipment, but some can be designed for
manual operation if emergency response personnel are trained to combat
the hazards involved. One example is water spray systems that are
connected to both flame-detection and manual pull stations for
activation by process personnel and emergency responders. Another
example is the use of foam via manual monitors by emergency response
personnel responding to a fire where foam has been used in emergency
As part of the overall fire protection strategy of a power
generating facility, one of the key features should be the fire- and
gas-detection system. Although NFPA provides prescriptive guidance3
on where to install such detection devices, it does not approach the
subject at a deeper level, such as recommending the execution of gas
dispersion models to locate gas detectors, or fire and explosion models
to locate flame detectors. That is, it is up to the fire protection
engineer, through the performance-based analysis, to determine what
detection device should be utilized and where. The key component of a
fire and gas detection system is rapid detection and its logic.
A cause and effect matrix should be
developed that sets forth the chain of events based on the activation of
certain detection devices. For example, if two out of three flame
detectors initiate near a boiler, the logic in the system may start the
fire pumps and subsequently a water spray or other equivalent system.
Fossil fuel power generating facilities
create a unique challenge for fire protection engineers. Life safety is
always the number one priority, but fire protection engineers must take
into account business continuity and asset protection when developing a
fire protection strategy. Merely relying on prescriptive codes and the
minimum required by the Authority Having Jurisdiction may not be
sufficient depending on client needs and location of the facility. Thus,
the fire protection engineer must execute a fire hazard analysis and
performance-based design before specifying any solutions. The final goal
is to keep people safe and the lights on.
Marcelo D'Amico is with Orcus Fire Protection LLC.
Gamache, J. Stationary Fire Pumps Handbook, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2010.
Earley, M. & Sargent, J. National Electrical Code Handbook, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA, 2011.
NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, National Fire Protection Association,Quincy, MA, 2010.