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INSTANT FIRE SUPRESSION How to Choose The Right In-Vehicle Fire Suppression System By James Clay Photos Courtesy Live Line Fire Suppression Over the last decade, fire suppression has moved to the forefront in the racing world, as driver safety continues to evolve. The proximity of a safety response team continues to largely dictate the progression in standards. Since Rally cars operate in more remote environments, they were the first to push requirements and developments for fire suppression system efficacy. This scenario also holds true in SCORE races, where vehicle fires have burnt race vehicles completely to the ground before emergency and pit crews could reach the area. Vehicle fires in all forms of racing, even on half-mile oval tracks where emergency crews are much closer, on-board fire suppression systems have shown to be critical to passenger safety the initial twenty seconds of a fire event. If the use of a fire suppression system in a race vehicle is intended to insure the safety of driver and passenger, then it’s highly important to choose a fire suppression system that is right for your type of racing and vehicle. OCCUPANT EXTRACTION AND SUPPRESSANT TYPES For this type of application, we are largely focused on plumbed-in systems with either automatic deployment, or one in which a driver activates as a first step while still belted in. This allows the occupants to be focused on getting out of the vehicle while the fire system fights the fire. Handheld systems are intended as supplemental in rally or off-road vehicles to help a competitor and require an active user. In a significant fire event, however, the driver needs to be able to primarily focus on extraction. Several primary factors define the effectiveness and suitability of a fire suppression system, including suppressant type (and amount), suppressant delivery method, and system design. For a series with existing fire suppression rules, many of these factors will already be defined, leaving you with fewer choices to make– always start by reading the rules. These factors are all interrelated, but suppressant type is typically a more defining factor with the assumption of a technically-advanced and effective delivery method and proper system design. Fire suppressants are grouped into three major classes: gas, foam, and powder. Gas agents are, for most applications, the gold standard, as they react with the fire three-dimensionally, meaning they expand in a volume of space to fight fire. 3M Novec 1230 is the leading modern gas agent as Halon suppressant has been illegal to manufacture for over a decade. Novec is non-conductive (more critical in vehicles with expensive and advanced electronic systems), is non-corrosive, and evaporates with no residue for easy clean-up. Finally, Novec is also a super-coolant which has put it at the forefront of the newest technology for EV and hybrid vehicles where preventing thermal runaway is critical in fire containment. Foam is also an effective suppressant and can draw heat out and prevent reignition due to the high volume of water in the solution. But as a two-dimensional agent that must cover and smother the fire with a foam film, some applications have some efficacy limitations. Finally, powder can be highly effective for many types of fuels, but when mounted in a racing vehicle, powder packs down with vibration and takes a very technically advanced deployment system to prevent this and deploy in rollover situations. For this reason, powder is typically confined to crew or safety team use. DELIVERY METHODS Suppressant delivery method is no less critical than the suppressant itself and is a factor that differentiates many manufacturers. It isn’t uncommon to not only have different nozzle designs for gas and foam suppressants, but also for engine versus cockpit, or SFI versus FIA homologated systems (which often define other system design factors as well). Nozzle count in FIA systems, which isn’t defined as it is in SFI systems, is more of an element of overall system design, not more is better. Tubing length, diameter, and operating pressure play a critical part in system design and performance. When installing a fire system, it is also important to follow your body’s rulebook as well as your system instruction manual - this is critical to achieving the intended performance. Other factors will enter your decision on fire system purchase, including vehicle size and volume, airflow, activation method (including mechanical, automatic, electrical, and auto-electrical), system size and weight constraints, rulebook requirements, and budget. Once equipped, your fire suppression system must be properly maintained, just like any other vehicle part, to remain effective and compliant. The SFI and FIA require that fire systems be serviced by an authorized dealer every two years. Additionally, if you have installed a water-based foam system, ensure that your vehicle isn’t stored in freezing conditions or that your manufacturer has incorporated an antifreeze in their suppressant. In summary, fire protection is critical in making our sport safer and more sustainable. Choosing the right system for your vehicle and type of racing shouldn’t be daunting, but there are more factors than we can touch on in this article. If you don’t have a clear answer to what is correct for you, engage your supplier or manufacturer to ensure that you are getting the protection you are paying for. A fire system spends 99.44% of its life riding around as ballast, but when you need it, you’ll be thankful that you invested the time in choosing the correct one. SJ About the Author James Clay is a professional sportscar racer and has been involved in the racing industry since 1997 as the President of BimmerWorld and BimmerWorld Racing. In 2015, James and the team expanded their racing industry footprint with the start of Lifeline USA, the American arm of the UK fire suppression manufacturer, Lifeline.

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