How to prevent smoke spread, the biggest cause of fire damage in data centres

In data centre fires, smoke is the biggest cause of damage and operational failure. Smoke carries a cocktail of corrosive chemicals produced by burning combustibles, such as cables and electronic components. These by-products can include hydrogen chloride, hydrogen cyanide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, among others. The damage is both physical and chemical.

Smoke particles from fire travel fast, at around 10 metres per second, and can quickly fill a room or data centre hall. Under the microscope, these particles have jagged edges. As they spread through the air and enter servers and other equipment, these minute fragments cause scratching and damage. 

Smoke residue continues to cause corrosion problems days after a fire

Unfortunately the deterioration does not stop there. Smoke settles on all surfaces of data centre equipment, even after the fire is extinguished, leaving a residue. Micro-pitting begins to occur on metal surfaces and although cleaning operations may initially look successful, the smoke residue that remains continues to react with moisture in the air, causing corrosion. Isolated faults typically begin to appear within a few days and can develop into much larger problems over time.

How water mist dramatically reduces smoke spread

Among all the fire suppression solutions available, water mist is the only one to effectively reduce smoke spread. Water mist uses a system of pumps, valves, pipes and nozzles to deliver a spray of micro-fine water droplets, directly to the source of fire.

With water mist, the water droplets are approximately 1000th of the size of a regular drop of water. The atomised droplets are drawn to the base of the fire, expanding in volume and transforming into steam. This steam rapidly reduces the temperature around the fire thanks to its heat absorbing properties – and forces oxygen away from the flames. Without heat and oxygen, – the fire is suppressed quickly and reignition is prevented.

Water mist also has unique smoke neutralisation properties. Smoke particles combine with the airborne water particles, falling harmlessly to the ground. This action dramatically reduces smoke damage to equipment and provides a survivable environment for any personnel that may be in the building.

Data centre continuity

Water mist is the most locally acting fire suppression solution, allowing the remainder of the data centre’s operations and equipment to be kept up and running even during fire suppression. As the system uses much lower water than sprinklers, hardly any traces of water remain after activation.

Areas do not need to be sealed off and power and HVAC systems can continue to run during fire suppression. Moreover, watermist is proven in tests from independent standards bodies, not to affect the smooth-running of computers and servers in operation, even when in use for up to 30 minutes.

Proven experience in data centres

At Fireworks we have been designing and installing water mist systems in a variety of critical sectors, for 25 years. We were the first company in the UK to install water mist solutions for data centres and today we design, deploy and maintain water mist systems for some of the largest data centres in the country. The systems we use are FM560 approved for data centres.

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