Mind the Gap – the Hidden Threat of Failing Passive Fire Protection

David Hunter is Managing Director – Global Distribution of Mascoat.
This article originally appeared in CoatingsPro Magazine.

Facilities that process flammable materials face unique challenges. Oftentimes, a facility must process the volatiles at high temperatures and pressures, as well as store large amounts of flammables on site as feedstock. In the event of fire or explosion in a facility, the risks to personnel and assets can be extreme.

Hot Enough For Ya?
Hydrocarbon fueled fires often come with something even more exciting: explosions. These are always fun to watch and include tapping into a basic human instinct: self-preservation, followed immediately with a strong urge to run.

Hydrocarbon-based fires have another contrasting characteristic when compared to cellulosic-based fires. Hydrocarbon fires exhibit a very fast temperature rise of the burning fuel source (less than eight minutes) to reach an ultimate temperature approaching 2000°F (1093.3°C), whereas a cellulosic fire may take two hours to reach this temperature (based upon configuration).

For clarity, a hydrocarbon fire has a hydrocarbon- (petroleum) based fuel source, whereas a cellulosic fire has typical building materials as a fuel source, such as wood, paper, plastic, etc. The problem with fires at these temperatures is that they significantly reduce the yield strength of steel. If steel loses yield strength (the load at which steel starts to deform and buckle), the structure could collapse (see Photo 1). Collapsing is all fine and well, unless you are in the structure, in which case you are dead on arrival. The other down side would be if you own the structure, in which case you are out a lot of money. The money side is interesting, since not only do you have the financial burden of replacing all the “stuff” that collapsed, but you also lose significant revenue. In the case of a refinery, this revenue could be between $1 to $3 million per day, or roughly the gross domestic product (GDP) of Madagascar, whichever units you find more meaningful. So death and collapse of assets have a down side. What is a person to do?


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