Saving lives with fire suppression

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Matthew Dumbill from Bulbeck Fire Industries outlines how fitting a fire suppression system can help save lives.

On-water fires can be devastating. They can cause tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage, put your crew and passengers in harm's way and even sink your valuable marine investment.

Most fires onboard boats and other marine vehicles begin in the vessel's engine bay. The majority of them also occur during cruising, often in open waters, where help is far away.

Common causes of fire include the ignition of potentially explosive fuel vapours, short circuiting or overheating electrical circuits, or the leaking of fuel or oil residue onto hot surfaces. Worn or faulty parts, frayed wiring and improperly installed battery cables can all result in ignition too. And once alight, even a small fire in the engine bay can spread quickly, engulfing the entire boat.

So what is your best defence against fires on your vessel? The answer is an effective fire suppression system. Without one, you're potentially risking your boat, your cargo and the welfare of everyone onboard.

How do fire suppression systems work?

Boat fire suppression systems feature four basic components:

  • A dual chamber cylinder
  • Pneumatic detection tubing
  • Discharge tubing and nozzles
  • An extinguishing agent

All these components are placed in and around your engine bay where a fire is most likely to start.

The pneumatic detection tubing is woven throughout the engine bay where it can monitor for ignition. The dual chamber cylinder, which houses the extinguishing agent, is secured nearby with the agent ready for deployment via discharge tubes and nozzles.

In the event of fire, the detection tube will burst at the hottest point (approximately 175°C), causing a sudden de-pressurisation which in turn activates the release of the extinguishing agent.

The engine bay is then flooded with the agent, suppressing the flames immediately and completely.

Testing and standards

When choosing a boat fire suppression system, look for systems which have been tested to SP Method 4912 Standards. This is your assurance of prolonged and professional testing.

Adhering to SP Method 4912 guidelines involves fire testing using a life-size replica of an engine compartment. The compartment and fire suppression system are both subjected to five different types of fire sources across 11 different fire test scenarios.

You should also ensure that your system meets Australian standards, specifically Australian Standard AS4587-1999: Water mist fire protection systems. It's important to select a system which meets our local standards, not just international or overseas ones.

At Bulbeck Fire, we choose to supply Vehicle Misting Compact Line Systems (CLS) for boats. These all-in-one systems are used onboard a range of vessels including small, medium and large boats, fishing boats, trawlers, yachts, cubby cabin boats and house boats.

Despite their small profile, these systems provide outstanding extinguishing capabilities. They are easy to install and deliver 100% automatic suppression of fire, with little maintenance required. They also meet both SP Method 4912 guidelines and Australian standards AS4587-1999.

We've investigated a number of different fire suppression systems but have found that Vehicle Misting Compact Line Systems represent the best performance and value for money.

About the author

Bulbeck Fire Industries are Australian specialists in fire prevention and containment systems.

This article was first published in the June-July 2017 issue of Marine Business magazine.

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