August 1, 2008 Fire scientists developed a fluid that stops hot particles from kindling flames and suppresses fires. It does not cause damage to water soluble inks, nor does it contribute to serious environmental issues, such as ozone depletion, in contrast to other fire suppression chemicals such as halon.
Every year, fires cost Americans millions of dollars, damaging homes, businesses, documents and property that's often irreplaceable. Consider the records at a bank, or the treasures in a museum. Fire science researchers have been trying to find a way to put out fires faster, with less damage to property. Now, they've come up with a new kind of fire suppression system -- no water needed!
Historic treasures from the national museum of patriotism are stored in a warehouse, awaiting a move to a new building -- a safer building. Operations director George Wieder says a fire would be disastrous.
"Between the smoke and the water damage and the flames, it would be hard to imagine anything surviving," says Wieder.
For any business, or any person, with irreplaceable items or documents, damage from the water used to put out a fire can be as devastating as the smoke and flames.
Now a new type of clean liquid called Sapphire can be used to distinguish fires. "It looks like water but it's not. It comes through as a liquid goes through the pipes as a liquid, comes out the nozzle in a vaporized state," says Steve Hansen of Ansul, Inc.
The vapor stops fire in its tracks by interfering with how a fire burns -- stopping hot particles from turning into flames. This suppresses the fire and prevents it from rekindling.
"If there is an incident where a fire is detected the system goes off, the fire is extinguished and everything is nice and clean and neat and people can get back into business very quickly," Hansen says.
Fire engineers say Sapphire is a cleaner alternative to old fire suppression chemicals like halon that were banned because they deplete the ozone layer and contribute to serious environmental issues.
With no damaging effects on water-soluble inks and a zero ozone depletion rating, fire scientists say this could be they key to protecting irreplaceable documents, historic treasures and the environment.
ABOUT SAPPHIRE: The SAPPHIRE Suppression System consists of sensors that detect hot particles before they are able to ignite a large fire. It deploys a chemical agent to stop the combustion. The system is stored in tanks and deployed through a ceiling mounted system that looks like an ordinary office sprinkler. The fluid dispensed through them is colorless, odorless, and when released into the air, it vaporizes. The vapors suffocate burgeoning fires by keeping oxygen away from the flames, removing a necessary component from blaze before damage can be done. Because the system contains no water it does not cause water damage, making it attractive to museums and other archives.
ABOUT FIRE: The ancient Greeks considered fire to be one of the major elements in the universe, along with water, earth and air. But fire isn't really matter. It is a side effect from a chemical reaction between oxygen in the atmosphere and a fuel like wood or gasoline. Extreme heat is needed to raise the fuel to a high enough temperature for it to ignite. Fire is dangerous because the chemical reactions that cause it keep it going. The heat of the flame keeps the fuel at ignition temperature, so it will burn as long as there is fuel and oxygen. To extinguish a fire, you need to remove heat, oxygen, or fuel. Fire extinguishers can either remove heat by dumping water on the fire, or remove oxygen by smothering the fire with carbon dioxide or a dry chemical foam or powder containing baking soda. Baking soda will start to decompose from the heat of a fire and release carbon dioxide to smother the flames.
The information contained in the TV portion of this report was written with support from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc.