SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal Issue - JULY 2017

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 53 of 102

Flame-Out! Motorsports looks to new technologies to improve fire suppression systems while also being environmentally conscious By Dan Sanchez Spectators and racers love the sport of off-road racing and know there are always dangers. One of the most unexpected is a fire that can erupt in the vehicle, or during a pit stop. While most teams take the necessary precautions, there’s a number of new fire suppression systems that can improve the speed and efficiency that a fire can be suppressed. Top fire suppression experts agree that fire safety should always be a high priority to race teams. Unfortunately, there are many mistakes that are made that can be easily avoided. According to Rob Biberstine, President at International POD LLC, makers of Cold Fire Suppression Systems, one of the biggest mistakes teams make is a fire suppression system that is not large enough to handle both the driver and the vehicle. “Most teams are worried about the size and weight of the fire suppression system,” says Biberstine. “Teams are usually not looking to protect the driver as much as the vehicle.” Pat O’Keefe, President, and CEO at Safecraft Safety Equipment agrees and also stresses, that teams need to think about fire safety all the time. “There is no less fire danger during testing than racing,” says O’Keefe. “It’s imperative that people think about fire safety every time they enter the vehicle. This extends to the proper attire. Many drivers only wear their helmets during testing and not their full safety gear.” Suppression Agents In order to get the most performance from any fire suppression system, it’s important to know the basic agents used to put out a fire. Over the years, fire suppression agents have ranged from simple water to a variety of wet and dry chemicals. While there have been significant changes to the type of suppression agents, there are some advancements in recent years that improve the residue and environmental effects of chemicals. For example, Safecraft uses an agent called Novec™ 1230™ which is both effective and environmentally safe. “Novec™ 1230™ is a fire suppression agent that was developed by 3M to replace Halon,” said O’Keefe. “Novec™ 1230™ has the similar fire-fighting capability as Halon but has no global warming effect. In addition, Novec ™ does not leave any residue, does not harm electronics (i.e. the agent does not conduct electricity), and it is safe for the occupant since it is also non-toxic. In addition, Novec™ 1230™ has an atmospheric lifespan of one day,” says O’Keffe. “So it essentially has zero environmental impact.” Other systems like ColdFire is a liquid agent that can be used by itself or added to water to improve the speed in which fires can be suppressed. “ColdFire is a liquid that is safe and can be sprayed on the occupants without any worries for the driver safety,” said Biberstine. “ColdFire is totally green and we use Nitrogen to charge the system which is also totally green.” As a chemical, suppression agents like ColdFire has other unique properties. “It not only puts the fire out but will not allow re-ignition and cools the area,” said Biberstine. This can be an advantage for off-road motorsports teams where it takes time to get to the scene of an accident where a fire broke out and can re-ignite. “When you are far away from any other help you want to make sure that the fire suppression system will put the fire out and protect the driver. If ColdFire is sprayed in the vehicle and on the occupants, it will help keep them from being burnt in most fire conditions and won’t harm them in any way.” Another new type of suppression agent is based on potassium Nitrate. Products like the Element fire extinguisher that utilize a potassium nitrate agent are compact, allowing it to be 80 percent smaller than a traditional fire extingusher but has ten times the discharge time. These new style of extinguishers work much like a flare stick, and are available in 25, 50, and 100 second discharge times to put out class a, b, c and k type fires. Protecting The Occupants First One key element to the latest fire suppression systems is that they can be designed to protect the occupants by operating automatically, should the occupants become incapacitated and can’t exit the vehicle. A variety of systems includes detection tubes that react and put the fire out without having to be handled. “The Detection Tube has given us the ability to make a fire system that can protect the driver from fires even if he is unable to respond during an accident,” says Biberstine. “We feel it is more important to protect the occupants in the vehicle over just trying to put the fire out, which means we actually want to spray some of the ColdFire in the occupied space of the vehicle.” “A significant step forward in technology is the availability of automatic/thermally-activated fire suppression systems,” said O’Keefe. “Historically, most fire suppression systems were driver activated, but in the event of the driver being unconscious or incapacitated, the system would not activate. With the new automatic systems, they will automatically activate since it can sense heat caused by the fire.” While many might think that automatic and thermally activated systems are expensive, there are many alternatives available. Both Safecraft and ColdFire make systems for everything from SCORE Trophy Trucks to Class 1 buggies and even UTVs, but there are some systems that are inexpensive and offer hands-free fire suppression. BlazeCut fire suppression systems, for example, use the next generation of Halon called HFC-236fa, a clean agent, which leaves no residue like typical hand-held chemical fire extinguishers, making it safe for electronics. It is maintenance-free and non-toxic and comes in a pressurized, flexible tube that can be installed under the hood or in the vehicle occupant compartment. When a fire erupts and reaches above 248 degrees Fahrenheit, the tube melts and it releases the agent. According to the manufacturer, BlazeCut is rated for Class A, B, and C fires and is not a replacement for a typical hand-held fire extinguisher. Rather it complements it by giving you time to react to an engine fire. Ideally, the system is widely used in VW applications where it is installed in the engine compartment to put out fires quickly and giving the occupants time to exit the vehicle. For SCORE Class 5 and Class 11 vehicles, a system like this is inexpensive and comes in two, three, and four-meter lengths. Hand-Held Extinguishers Are Not Outdated All of the fire suppression manufacturers we spoke with, agree that any automated fire suppression system should be used in conjunction with a hand-held extinguisher for optimum fire safety. “A very important part of off-road fire safety is having handheld extinguishers as well,” said O’Keefe. “There is no better way to fight a fire than to physically spray a fire suppression agent directly on it. The occupants of the vehicle should each have a portable extinguisher within reach while belted in, and there should be exteriorly mounted extinguishers as well.” While this means mounting fire extinguishers to the vehicle, the product must also be able to handle the rigors of the terrain that are unique to off-road racing. “Most people use cheap dry powder extinguishers that are available at any auto parts or home improvement store,” says O’Keefe. “While these extinguishers will likely put out the fire, they leave an acidic residue that destroys metal and wiring so many times the damage caused is more so from the extinguisher than the fire. In addition, the powder tends to pack down into a solid cake at the bottom of dry powder extinguishers over time due to vibration. It is very common for a dry powder extinguisher to have no agent come out when the handle is depressed due to the powder being compacted. Finally, many of the cheaper dry powder extinguishers have a plastic handle which gets sun-weathered and tends to break off when it is used.” Companies like Safecraft, ColdFire, Element and many others who make systems for off-road racing and recreational use, know that durability requires higher-quality components. This is one of the reasons why you will see the use of CNC billet aluminum components, machined fittings, and clamps, as well as stainless braided hose that ensures the product functions after being subjected to mud, dirt, rocks and being hit by bushes. “When off-roading for recreation or racing, you have very limited or zero access to support in case of an emergency,” said O’Keefe. “Being self-sufficient is critical. In addition, understanding that there are violent bumps, extreme heat, water and mud to deal with, means we design our products so they are tough enough to handle the conditions that are unique to off-roading.” In self-contained systems, it’s also important to realize that the use of an internal bladder versus a dip tube can play a crucial part in fire suppression while driving off-road. If a vehicle lands upside down in a rollover, the fire suppression agent won’t come out in a standard dip tube design. Bladders allow the system to be evacuated no matter what the orientation of the vehicle. While upgrading to the latest fire suppression systems may not be in the budget for every team, one of the most important things these manufacturers agree that everyone should do, is check the condition of the suppression systems you currently have. “It is important to check to see if you fire system and portable extinguishers are in good working order,” said O’Keefe. “Some of the top teams in off-road were not maintaining their fire systems until we started to educate them. For SFI rating, which is required for race teams, a fire system needs to be re-certified every two years and replaced every six years. Regardless, the system needs to be inspected during every prep to make sure it is fully operational.” Companies such as Safecraft offers training seminars for teams who can simply call and request one. Other companies such as the Stand 21 Safety Foundation, also provide seminars that go deeper into all aspects of safety to educate racers and teams to the latest products, technologies, and research that help make off-road motorsports safer. SJ

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