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Active / passive fire protection

This Technical Measures Document covers active and passive fire protection systems and refers to relevant

codes of practice and standards.

Related Technical Measures Documents are:

 Isolation

 leak / gas detection

 secondary containment

 emergency response / spill control

The relevant Level 2 Criterion is: e, f
Active fire protection systems such as water sprinkler and spray systems are widely used in the process

industries for protection of storage vessels, process plant, loading installations and warehouses. The duty of

the fire protection system may be to extinguish the fire, control the fire, or provide exposure protection to

prevent domino effects. For some applications foam pourers or fixed water monitors may be a more

appropriate method of delivery than sprays or sprinklers. Other more specialised systems using inert gases and

halogen based gases are used for flooding enclosed spaces.

Passive fire protection can provide an effective alternative to active systems for protecting against vessel

failure. This generally consists of a coating of fire resistant insulating media applied to a vessel or steel surface.

It is often used where water or other active protection media supplies are inadequate, such as in remote

locations, or where there are difficulties with handling fire water run-off. Fire walls are another form of passive

fire protection that are used to prevent the spread of fire and the exposure of adjacent equipment to thermal

radiation. An important criterion in deciding which system is most appropriate for fire exposure protection is the

likely duration of the exposure to fire as passive fire protection is only effective for short duration exposure (1-2


General principles
The operator should be able to demonstrate that it has an effective and practical plan for the containment and

fighting of fires on its process installations. The following site factors should be considered in determining

whether active and passive fire protection measures are required:

 fire hazard posed by substance;

 toxicity of substances and the smoke produced;

 inventory size;

 frequency of hazardous operations;

 distance to other hazardous installations;

 available access to fight fire;

 fire fighting capability of on site emergency response team;

 response time of nearest fire brigade;

 resources available to fire brigade.

Design of system
Active fire fighting systems need to be reliable and the design of the system should demonstrate this. The

design of fire fighting systems should conform to specified standards such as BS 5306 Code of practice for

extinguishing installation and equipment and Fire Offices Committee 'Tentative rules for medium and high

velocity spray systems'.

The location of items such as the foam and water sources should be a safe distance from any hazardous

installation. Critical valving and instrument cabling located on the protected installation should be capable of

withstanding the effects of fire and heat.

The system should be supplied by a secure water supply which should include items such as backup diesel

pumps where appropriate. The design must ensure that the active fire protection system is not starved of water

due to other demands on the water supply system during a fire.

Choice of fire fighting media

The selection of media will depend on the required duty. This may be to extinguish the fire, control the fire, or

provide exposure protection. Types of fire fighting media are:

 Water;

 Foams;
 Inert gases;

 Chemical powders;

 Halons.

Water is not recommended as an extinguishing media for low flash point liquids, but it is used widely

throughout industry for fire control and exposure protection.

Foam is a more effective extinguishing media for low flash point substances and is widely used against liquid

fires. There are various types of foam available, but the most widely used is protein foam. Alcohol resistant

foam is used for application on polar solvents where the foam stability is affected. Other more specialist foams

have been developed to give improved extinguishing properties such as fluoro-protein and aqueous film

forming foams. Foam can be delivered as low, medium or high expansion depending on the required duty.

Other agents such as inert gases, chemical powders and halogen based gases (Halons) can be delivered by

active fire protection systems, but these tend to be installed where process equipment is contained within an

enclosure such as a gas turbine enclosure. A common use for these systems is in the protection of switch

rooms and control panels. There has been movement away from the use of Halons over recent years due to

their potential effect upon the ozone layer and other undesirable environmental effects.

Guidance on the selection of fire fighting media is given in BS 5306. Standard Material Safety Data Sheets

should also specify appropriate fire fighting media.

Choice of passive fire protection
For the protection of vessels from fire exposure there are a number of types of passive fire protection that can

be applied.

 mortar based coating

 intumescent coating

 sublimation coating

 mineral fibre matting

 earth mounds

The protective systems based on coatings are normally sprayed onto the surface following mixing of the

required components. A reinforcing glass fibre scrim or steel wire gauze is applied to prevent cracking and

peeling of the coating under fire conditions and to provide additional strength to resist the impact of high
pressure water jets. The fire protective coating is further protected by a weather protective top layer. The fire

resistant performance of the coatings is dependent on the thickness of the coating. Fibre matting systems

consist of fireproof mineral fibre matting clad with a protective galvanised steel sheet. The protective capability

of the system is provided by the poor heat conductivity of the system.

Earth mounds are commonly used in the LPG industry, where vessels are either fully or partially buried in an

earth mound. The presence of the earth mound effectively prevents a fire from developing around the vessel.

Fire walls are sometimes employed in process and storage areas to prevent the spread of fire and protect

adjacent equipment from thermal radiation. These may be an integral part of a process building or warehouse

structure or may consist of a free-standing wall specifically built for the purpose. Firewalls are normally built of

brick, concrete or masonry and the number and size of openings should be kept to a minimum.

Performance of the protective system

For active fire protection systems required delivery rates and durations for various types of application are

specified in BS 5306. For fire engulfment protection a water rate of 9.81 litres/min/m2 over the exposed vessel

surface and its supports is standard. For protection from lower levels of thermal radiation from fires on adjacent

units lower rates of water application are allowable.

For passive fire protection systems the operator should have supplier or manufacturer information

demonstrating that the fire protective system employed meets defined performance criteria based on standard

tests that replicate the fire conditions likely to be encountered in the work place. Typically the criteria will be that

a protected surface will not reach a certain temperature in a defined time period during a standard test. The

protective system should meet the requirements of a pool fire test such as that detailed in BS 476 'Fire tests on

building materials and structures' or a jet fire test such as that described in the HSE Technology Report 'Jet

Fire resistance for Passive Fire Protection Materials'.

Maintenance requirements
Active fire protection systems require to be well maintained to ensure reliability. In particular systems using

water and water based foam are prone to rust deposits which can block sprinkler heads and spray nozzles.

Procedures should be in place to ensure regular maintenance and testing of systems. Maintenance contracts

are often placed with the supplier of the fire protection system. Records of these activities should be kept by

site operators.
The performance of passive fire protection systems can deteriorate in time due to weathering and corrosion.

Plant operational and maintenance activities may damage or remove the fire protection. Additionally the

protected surface itself can corrode beneath the fire protection. Procedures should be in place to ensure that

both the passive fire protective system and the protected surface are regularly inspected and repaired as


Containment of firewater
Foam and water based active fire protection systems can generate considerable amounts of effluent with

significant potential environmental damage. Where active fire protection systems are installed the overall

design of the facility should cater for the collection of fire fighting effluents. Operating sites should have effluent

disposal plans in place as part of their emergency plans.

Supporting measures
Where active or passive fire protection is installed, these systems should be supported by hydrants at suitable

locations as specified in BS 5908. Suitable portable fire fighting equipment should also be located on the plant.

Mortar based fire protection fire protection is commonly used to protect load bearing steel work from collapse

under fire exposure. The application of this to vessel supports and supporting structures for process equipment

is standard where flammable substances are handled in quantity.

Industry applications
LPG industry
The use of water deluge systems for the protection of bulk LPG storage vessels and loading bays is standard in

the industry for all but the smallest installations. Passive fire protection is used as an alternative and in

particular earth mounding of LPG vessels is an established practice. Large LPG cylinder compounds covered

by canopies are normally provided with either fixed water monitors or a sprinkler system.

Flammable liquids / solvent bulk storage

Whilst active fire protection is not a standard requirement for vessels containing flammable and highly

flammable liquids, site factors such as inadequate separation distances from other plant or the proximity of

occupied buildings may necessitate the use of active or passive fire protection to prevent escalation of a fire

event. Where protection of remote storage tanks is required, passive fire protection is commonly used.
However, it is not normal practice to protect storage tanks in locations that do not represent a hazard to people

directly or by domino effect.

Process operating units

Both the material handled, the size of the flammable inventory and the local fire fighting capability will influence

the requirement for active fire protection on a process structure. In particular, where process equipment

handling significant quantities of flammable material are located inside a building and fire fighting access is

poor, then fixed fire protection systems should be provided.

Some significant fires have occurred in chemical warehouses, notably that at Allied Colloids Limited

(21/7/1992). The considerations are much the same as those for process operating units. For the storage of

high hazard materials such as organic peroxides in warehouses, fixed sprinkler systems using either foam or

water should be provided. However, it should be noted that the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in

warehouses may be limited if stocking densities are high. Particular care is required in designing such systems.

Further details are provided in NFPA 13 :1999 ‘Installation of sprinkler systems’ (which includes sprinkler

related data from over 40 other NFPA documents, including the now withdrawn NFPA 231C 'Rack storage of

Codes of Practice relating to active and passive fire
 HS(G)176 The storage of flammable liquids in tanks, HSE, 1998.

This document gives detailed guidance on the design construction operation and maintenance of

installations used for the storage of flammable liquids in fixed tanks operating at or near atmospheric

pressure. It describes the circumstances in which active fire fighting systems may be appropriate.

 LPGA COP 1 Bulk LPG storage at fixed installations. Part 1 : Design, installation and operation of vessels

located above ground, LP Gas Association, 1998.

This code gives guidance for those involved in the safe practice of storing and handling of bulk LPG at fixed

installations. It gives detailed guidance on the fire protection measures required at such installations.

 BS 5908 : 1990 Fire precautions in the chemical industries, British Standards Institution.

This code of practice gives wide ranging advice on fire hazards, fire prevention and fire fighting in a wide

range of circumstances relevant to chemical process operations.

 HS(G)71 Chemical warehousing: the storage of packaged dangerous substances, HSE, 1998.

This guidance note gives details on the use of fixed sprinkler systems typical of those used in chemical

warehouses for the suppression of fires.

 CS21 Storage and handling of organic peroxides, HSE, 1991.

This document details the fire protection requirements necessary in the warehousing of organic peroxides

and prescribes the use of fixed sprinkler systems.

 The chemical release and fire at the Associated Octel Company Limited, HSE, 1996.

This document describes the incident in detail and the HSE’s findings. Paragraph 122 concludes that the

fire-resistant intumescent cladding applied to the principal process vessels proved effective in protecting

them from the effect of the fire (see also case study for Associated Octel Company Limited (1/2/1994)).

 BS 476 Fire tests on building materials and structures, British Standards Institution.

This standard specifies the time / temperature profile for the testing of fire resistant materials under fire

engulfment conditions for pool fire simulation.

 'Jet Fire resistance for Passive Fire Protection Materials', HSE Technology Report.

This document describes and evaluates test methodologies for the testing of fire resistant materials under jet

fire conditions.

Further reading material

BS 5908 : 1990 Code of Practice for fire precautions in the chemical industries, British Standards Institution.

BS 5306 Code of practice for extinguishing installation and equipment, British Standards Institution.

'Fire precautions at petroleum refineries and bulk storage installations : Model code of practice', Part 19,

Institute of Petroleum.

NFPA Fire Protection Handbook.

Case Studies Illustrating the Importance of Active and Passive Fire Protection

 Allied Colloids Limited (21/7/1992)

 B&R Hauliers (25/9/1982)

 BASF Warehouse Fire (9/10/1995)

 BP Oil West Glamorgan (17/1/1981)

 Mexico City - Pemex LPG Terminal (19/11/1984)

 Pasadena - Phillips 66 (23/10/1989

A brief introduction to Active Fire Protection
(AFP) systems
An Active Fire Protection (AFP) system is one of many safety barrier
systems in the oil & gas industry. Active safety barriers such as AFP
systems behave in a dynamic way and are often more prone to
changes in performance compared to passive barriers such as blast
walls and passive fire protection.
An Active Fire Protection (AFP) system is one of many safety barrier systems in the oil & gas
industry. Active safety barriers such as AFP systems behave in a dynamic way and are often
more prone to changes in performance compared to passive barriers such as blast walls and
passive fire protection. The reason for this could be due to increased wear and tear of active
components and/or required modifications during the lifespan. An AFP system is a delicate
system that needs periodic testing in order to ensure that the performance standards (PS) and
functional requirements are complied with and fulfilled at all times. This is especially important
after any modifications performed on the AFP system after initial design, which is often the case
when facilities are increased with additional process equipment, or when life span is extended.

The intention of safety barriers, as illustrated by the blue boxes in the bow-tie diagram below, is
to stop the progression of an event or to reduce the effects of an event. AFP can act either as a
preventive barrier (reduce ignition probability) or as a mitigating barrier (preventing escalation).
There are different types of active fire protection systems (AFP), these can mainly be divided

Deluge system
This system consists of a network of dry pipework and open nozzles. The deluge system is
connected to a water supply through a deluge valve (which is normally closed). The deluge valve
may release automatically by signal from the Fire and Gas system (F&G). It is also possible for
manual release directly at the deluge valve or by use of manual push buttons. Deluge systems are
used for overall hazardous area protection and dedicated equipment protection where fires are
likely to be fast escalating. The main purpose is to cool down a pool fire.

Foam system
Foam has an excellent fire extinguishing effect on liquid hydrocarbon fires. There should be
foam supply for all areas where hydrocarbon or alcohol pool fires are likely to occur. The foam
has the ability to spread over the surface of hydrocarbon-based liquids and suffocate the fire. The
foam can be delivered from a centralized system or from a decentralized system and is injected
downstream the deluge valve in both systems.

Sprinkler system
General for all sprinkler systems is that the nozzles are closed and it is a combination of a
firewater distribution nozzle and a fire detector. Unlike the deluge system, each nozzle will
release individually upon fire (usually heat) detection hence these systems are installed where
fast escalation fire is not expected (utility areas).

Helideck firefighting system

Helideck fire-fighting system (DIFFS – deck integrated fire fighting system) is used to
extinguish fires on a helideck, in both the helicopter as well as a hydrocarbon pool-fire on the
deck. The pop-up spray nozzles are installed in the helideck, flush with the surface of the deck.
When the system is activated, the water pressure activates the nozzles, whereby the nozzle baffle
will be forced to lift, and spraying water in a semi-sphere.

Water mist system

The overall extinguishing principle of water mist systems is that when a water mist is applied
into the fire, the water mist evaporates and turns into steam. This process is very energy
demanding and the temperature of the fire is reduced dramatically. In the same process the water
mist expands
1700 times which displaces the air from the fire and two of the three main sources for fires are
removed and the fire is extinguished.

Water curtain
Creates a vertical protecting shield between the fire (heat and smoke) and escape and evacuation

Inert gas
An inert gas system lowers the oxygen content of the protected area to a point insufficient to
support combustion, but safe to human occupancy. Within seconds of release the entire hazard
area is penetrated, smothering the combustion.

Manual intervention is made possible with monitors. A monitor is adjustable through 360° in the
horizontal plane, and + 60°, – 40° in the vertical plan. All functions, horizontal and vertical
movement and jet/ spray pattern on the nozzle can be controlled by joystick or pushbuttons.

There are many issues that may cause deterioration of the active fire protection systems.
Examples of such issues are:

 wear and tear of rotating machinery (fire water pump arrangements)

 marine growth and/or corrosion in the fire water system
 use of incorrect nozzles when replacing these
 mechanical damage/wear to deluge valves
 clogging of foam systems

These sort of issues are not revealed during the engineering phase of the systems, but are left to
operations to not only to discover, but also solve. Discovering and solving such issues requires
periodical testing (functional and full scale) and a fundamental understanding of the systems and
the unique setting in which they operate. For example; simply activating a fire water system and
confirming that water is released is not enough in order to comply with water density
requirements in a process area. In order to comply one has to evaluate and document the
performance of the system.

Furthermore, there are often reliability requirements set to the activation and release of AFP
systems, and sometimes even SIL requirements. This sets further functional and reliability
requirements to the components included in the barrier.
During engineering phase, it is of high importance to update all relevant technical drawings
(P&IDs, PFDs, ISOs etc.), hydraulic calculations and reports when executing any modifications
on an existing system. Prior to any modification (e.g.: a new branch with nozzles due to
installation of more process equipment) it is critical to check that the existing system can provide
the required pressure & flow for the new design. When the modification is performed one need
to document that the system actually delivers what is required (testing/commissioning) according
to design and performance standards.

The under-performance, or even malfunction, of active fire protection systems may result in dire
consequences. Obviously, there is the economic aspect of loss of production due to incompliance
with regulations and need of shutting down, but also the degradation of an important safety
barrier, which may allow an accidental event to escalate beyond control.

ORS Consulting offers extensive hands-on experience with fire protection systems from both
LNG industry and oil and gas industry. ORS Consulting has specialist and expert engineers with
experience from both engineering (incl. study phase) and construction phase and can provide
needed expertise related to AFP modifications or non-compliance AFP issues.