Have you ever comprehended the several negative environmental events occurring at a fire scene (whether a single-family house or a factory)? Have you been at a fire scene and been aware of the types and amounts of toxic materials spewing into our atmosphere, the amount of debris that is going to be added to our landfills, or tried to calculate the amount of fire fighting water used? Water, whether turned into steam or as runoff where a significant amount is contaminated and often toxic. Where is it being directed left to flow to; into our aquifers, waterways, reservoirs?
What is the inherent water conservation benefit from having automatic fire suppression? What is the total negative impact to our atmosphere? What is it that we are not calculating into our Carbon Footprint of the city in which you live, the U.S., or globally? Should the various environmental interest groups be taking a closer look? Many of us in the fire protection industry think so.
There are many questions regarding exactly where automatic fire protection fits into the green community and although we may not find the answers here, these and other questions need to be raised. To assist in finding answers and the fire sprinkler industry’s best interests, the National Fire Sprinkler Association has developed a Green Committee to start to investigate.
The Built Environment Impact and the Need for “Green”
According to the USGBC’s presentations available on their web site (www.USGBC.org), the built environment is impacting a major part of our total environment. In sources cited by the US Geological Survey and Environmental Information Administration, past building designs and construction practices, before “green”, could we rightfully and seriously expect a healthy future if we did nothing to adjust?
In the United States alone, buildings account for:
• 72% of electricity consumption,
• 39% of energy use,
• 38% of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions,
• 40% of raw materials use,
• 30% of waste output (136 million tons annually), and
• 13.6% of potable water consumption.
Anyone that understands automatic fire protection knows also it is a benefit to our environment. Fire sprinklers have been stopping fire growth, minimizing greenhouse and toxic gas production for over 130+ years without any credit of the green nature.
Which one or two items do you think the automatic fire protection positively impacts the most? Looking at CO2 emissions and potable water consumption are two obvious choices.
It is doubtful traditional fire fighting suppression impacts are calculated in a given city’s water consumption when developing a green document such as the USGBC’s LEED green building certification processes. It will be in the code process, but not at present in the green process.
How about waste from buildings without the benefit of having automatic fire protection? What volume of burned or non-recyclable structural material, interior finishes, and furnishing as the result of fires are being thrown into the landfills?
How much new product is produced to replace the burnt structural material, replacement of lost commercial operation machinery, process materials, and furnishings? What is the energy consumed to manufacture the needed replacements? How much energy is needed to transport and install? What amount of energy is being used to transport workers and tools to rebuild or replace fire damaged structures? Burnt building materials should be evaluated for recycling if the opportunity is given, but most likely will end up in the landfill as many modern materials that are burnt will be beyond recycling or reuse capabilities. Not just the burnt material is discarded from a structure involved in a fire. The peripheral materials will also need replacement either by code or design of the new part of the structure or by insurance and liability driven issues for the contractor in order to guarantee the new work. Some undamaged items may be able to be sorted and sent to an appropriate recycling facility.
For example, if a roof is damaged by the fire and firefighting operations, the roofer is not just going to patch a hole. The roofer is going to inspect the damage and replace a significant area beyond the damage or possibly the entire roof to be able to warranty the work and new material. In many cases involving a single- or two-family home, the whole roof of a home may be replaced due to age or condition after a fire or heat exposure. Many times exposed neighboring structures have radiant heat damage and will also produce discarded building materials to our landfills.
How much fuel and energy is consumed by fire apparatus operating at a fire scene? (Very conservative estimates for “pumpers” figure approximately 4-6 gallons of diesel per hour, aerial devices (without a pump) about 3-4 gallons of diesel, and heavy rescue vehicles with an 8 KW generator in operation about 1-2 gallons per hour). According to the EPA, 99% of 1 gallon of diesel fuel will oxidize producing 2,778 grams of Carbon.
Next time you see a fire scene on television or pass by one in your travels, take a quick count of how many vehicles are operating there. According to OSHA, 25% of all hazardous particulate air pollution is from fuel combustion comes from diesel engines. Diesel exhaust is not only suspected of contributing global warming gases, but toxins such as sulfur dioxide, arsenic, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, benzene, lead, phenols, mercury, manganese and so on.
According to a CalOHSA study, which is also cited by OSHA,
• Emissions from diesel-fueled engines are mainly composed of particulate matter and gases, which contain potential cancer-causing substances such as arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, nickel, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.
• Emissions from diesel-fueled engines currently include over 40 substances that are listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) as hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and by the ARB as TACs.
• Particulate matter (PM) from diesel-fueled engine emissions is small enough to be inhaled deep into the lungs.
• Approximately 27,000 tons of PM10 from diesel-fueled engines are emitted into California’s air each year.
Returning to the water issue; if the fire department arrives and dumps 2 or 3 million gallons of water into a burning building…does it all just disappear? An X number of gallons will assuredly turn into steam, but most of the fire fighting water and water used during overhaul to hit spot fires and cool the remains will settle into the aquifer or run off into streams and lakes. This run off will carry large amounts of toxic substances with it. Where do you get your potable water from? If you are in a rural or sparse suburban area this may not be a concern, but in the suburban shadows of NYC, water quality and water supply is quite a concern.
As a former volunteer firefighter in northern NJ, I remember a case in a nearby community where a paint manufacturer’s fire had well over 4 million gallons of water applied to extinguish. There was a gully located approximately 50 feet from the building. The gully fed into a stream about a ¼ mile away and the fish were jumping OUT of the stream onto the bank because of the toxic, irritating material that was mixed in the runoff from the firefighting operations.
How many less fire injuries and fire deaths would there be in a fully fire sprinklered United States? We know that we are all going to die someday and the environmental impact of a fire death is probably not much more than that of a death of other types. What about fire injuries? Initially after the injury, there will be quite a bit of medical waste in the caring for each of the new burn patients in the US annually;
• 1,200,000 people are burned annually in the United States.
• Over 500,000 burn injuries receive medical treatment each year; 83,300 are under the age of 14.
• 40,000 require hospitalization, with 25,000 admitted to burn centers.
• 20,000 survivors have burns affecting at least 25% of their total body surface.
• Only 8% of hospitals in the U.S. have a burn center. This means many survivors do not have access to nearby burn center or support services.
• Burns are one of the most expensive catastrophic injuries to treat.
• 31% of patients are uninsured, underinsured or private/self-pay; 25% were insured by government programs.
Medical waste does not go to the landfill, but is incinerated due to it being classified as a Bio-Hazard. Incineration takes energy, precious energy that could be conserved or used elsewhere. The materials produced to treat burn patients, the energy used for incineration of the medical waste produced, and the energy and fuel used to transport burn patients to years or possibly a lifetime of care and rehabilitation could nearly be circumvented with the universal acceptance of fire sprinklers in all new construction.
Greenhouse gases, most notably CO2, are significantly reduced when unwanted fires are addressed by fire sprinklers. Dr. James Marsden analyzed the fire problem of the County of Greater Manchester, UK. His estimates were based on 1.86 ounces of CO2 released per 1.2 yd2 per second of burning material. Plus the assumption of a radiant feedback of 66 kW/m2 and an estimated arrival and extinguishment time of 15 minutes for the fire department. Estimates of burn areas were 24 yd2 for dwellings, 7.2 yd2 for cars, 4.8 yd2 for rubbish fires, and 120 yd2 for industrial or commercial fires. Calculations showed 300,000 metric tons (330,693 US tons) of CO2 released just in that one region from unwanted fires in 2006-07. Fire sprinklers will not guard against automobile fires or most outdoor rubbish fires (yet), but just taking into account the structure fires and the possibility of significantly reduced CO2 output from one metropolitan region in one year. Now, imagine this globally.
The point here is that automatic fire protection has positive impacts on all the items listed above regarding the built environment. It is not simply the impact of fire protection systems and their cost during construction and the anticipated life time of the structure, which is what the LEED AP® or contractors may be concerned with. It is more the fire protection systems’ positive impact just by their very nature. It is what they DON’T allow to happen. It is a multitude of environmental and energy saving benefits these life saving (and life style saving) systems do not presently get credit for (with one small exception noted later).
Just as fire sprinklers can down size the ripple effect to local economies after an unwanted fire in any community, fire sprinklers also down size the ripple effect that impacts our environment and also assist in energy conservation. The application of early fire suppression has tentacles that are far reaching beyond the structure and the unwanted fire. Positive impacts are realized on several energy and environmental issues, plus lives are less disrupted or changed in a negative fashion.
It simply comes down to this, “the greenest thing we can do is put the fire out”.
Any Fire Sprinkler requirements to work in a LEED project?
It is a question that the fire sprinkler industry receives almost daily from Engineers and fire sprinkler contractors.
Parts and pieces of the fire sprinkler systems sometimes thought to come under the “Material & Resources” credit sections 3 through 5 covering Material Reuse, Recycled Content and Regional Materials in the USGBC’s Green Building Design & Construction Guide for LEED v3 do not. LEED v3 specifically notes, “Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing components and specialty items cannot be included in this calculation…”. I interpret this to mean that the fire sprinkler system components are exempt from LEED point calculations for materials being used in the project. I have also received an e-mail from the USGBC and a letter from another party that inquired about fire sprinklers being considered a “specialty” supporting this interpretation. As in my research, once again our industry is already in the lead regarding MR Credits 3 through 5 as they stand now, sans the exemption. However, due to a specific calculation used in MR, specialty items skew the results. A new equation would need to be developed for specialty items and possibly a new Section added to MR in a future version. This will be an advantage to the LEED AP®.
In conversations with and research of fire sprinkler manufacturers and other allied manufacturers, most materials produced for our industry (pipe, hangers, fire sprinklers, valves, etc.) are coming from recycled materials. CPVC is recyclable according to the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Assn. CA Dept of Housing and Community Development noted in a report in 2006 that due to the inexpensive aspect of obtaining CPVC (as compared to copper), voluntary recycling of post-consumer CPVC scrap needs to be encouraged. Meeting the LEED requirements may be that avenue.
There is reported use of the “Innovation in Design” section of the LEED checklist to obtain one credit by using fire sprinklers (code driven or a voluntary installment). This section can gain one point more toward their desired level of LEED Certification for exceptional performance above the LEED requirements. The LEED AP® will need to document and apply the strategies and measures of the fire sprinkler concept to obtain that one credit. The AP® must spell out the environmental and health benefits.
Credits Regarding Fire Protection?
Many fire protection professionals and code officials have asked about the fire sprinkler credits in the LEED checklist and reference guides. Actually, as found in LEED New Construction, a project cannot obtain the LEED Credit in Chapter 4 for having a clean agent fire protection system. The claim is for NOT having a HCFC or CFC system in the project. There is a difference. A project can install a CFC system and still obtain a LEED Platinum rating for the project, it’s just that this individual Credit cannot be claimed in the point scheme and it is not a mandatory prerequisite in LEED Chapter 4.
Having automatic fire protection recognized in the future may not come without some trading. If a LEED document is to recognize fire sprinklers, what would the impact be if water used during flow tests of must be captured in gray water? What are the impacts if all testing water must come from gray water? Gray water retention, tank or pond (which opens up an entire different area of a technician’s imagination)? Who will be responsible for the economics of and coordination of the proper size and construction of tanks or ponds? What may be the challenges to circulate with enough velocity to perform a proper flow test?
These are challenges that the NFSA Green Committee will be listing and discussing in months to come.
The Fire Pump Question
The question arises regarding testing of diesel fire pumps and the environmental impact as well energy use of electric fire pumps during tests. Most large projects will already have Codes requiring fire sprinklers and the equipment needed for a properly operating system. Many projects that a LEED point for automatic fire protection could be smaller projects that would have systems that may not require a fire pump. Also, as noted earlier, a project can still obtain Platinum and not take seek a particular LEED Credit.
In a quick search for Diesel Fire Pump use, I found every increment of diesel gals./hr from 1.7 gals./hr. to a high example of 17.8 gals/hr. The Cummins CFP11E-F10 Fire Pump Driver EPA Tier 2 Emission Data shows that this particular driver for a 3,000 GPM pump at 1,760 RPM shows consumption as 17.8 gals./hr. Carbon Monoxide produced at 1gram/kW-hr. Are diesel consumption and emissions higher in this example than fire apparatus? Yes. The question is will any additional fire pumps be required in a green document or code and be more advantageous as we reduce numbers of fire apparatus responding and operating at unwanted, uncontrolled fires in structures that would otherwise have been a structure unprotected by active fire protection. Again, fire pumps may not come into play than is already required in buildings meeting code thresholds.
NFPA 25 (2008) 8.3.2 requires a weekly test of at least 10-minutes each test for diesel fire pumps.
Maybe more electric fire pumps and less diesel fire pumps? What are the advantages in this case? No diesel exhaust, no fuel tanks for sure. Less maintenance? If the building is generating its own power, you now have what may be considered a “reliable power source” and reduced environmental impact.
Is There Data from Fires Available?
There is a lot of data on how material burns and what gases materials release and I’m sure most of us can subtract 30 GPM representing a fire sprinkler or two operating from 95 or 250 GPM from the discharge of fire hose lines, but an actual “green” approach has just recently taken place as of this writing. The Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition and FM Global teamed up in Oct 2009 and burned two identical 15’ x 20’ living rooms fully furnished with today’s items, one with fire sprinklers and one without the benefit. A report of the findings should be released early 2010 and we expect small percentages of water usage and gases released and captured by the calorimeter in the fire sprinklered burn as compared to the non-fire-sprinklered burn.
In speaking with staff and members of the USGBC and members of the ICC’s Sustainable Building Technical Committee developing the 2012 International green Construction Code (IgCC), this data may be what we need to open dialogue to look closer at the benefits automatic fire protection has to offer.
Where Do We Go From Here?
One NFSA initial focus is to work with the USGBC to develop 1 Credit for fire sprinklers in future editions of LEED “Water Efficiency” Credits in the “LEED New Construction”, “LEED for Homes” documents and other LEED documents as appropriate. The fire sprinkler industry working with the USGBC TAG could easily develop language for a new Credit that would reap environmental benefits.
A possibility for later consideration is a new MR Credit. As noted earlier, manufacturers in the fire sprinkler industry have already attained a level of intent as outlined in the existing MR sections and other trades should be stepping up to or already “at the plate”. Lastly may be a one point for having a voluntary fire sprinkler system where not required by code or local ordinance.
The inherent environmental advantages are obvious and the time has arrived to explore what the inclusions could be and should be for fire sprinkler systems and other automatic fire protection.
The NFSA has developed a Green Committee in 2009 to explore experiences and what the future may hold, or should hold for the industry.
Whether involved in green projects or not, I sincerely hope that all fire protection professionals and contractors are operating in an environmentally friendly way. Everything we leave behind does not disappear when we are gone…our children, grandchildren inherit all of it, whatever “it” is and how much there is of it.
*USGBC- “Case for Green Building” presentations- http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=1720
*Dr. James Marsden, Engineer with Greater Manchester (UK) Fire & Rescue Services- “Carbon Foot-printing Within the Fire & Rescue Services” presentation, May 2008.
*Fire Apparatus- Diesel consumption estimates from fire officers in the Albany, NY region.
*FAMA info- http://www.fama.org/img/pdf/2007%20Diesel%20Emissions%20Impact%20on%20Indoor%20Air%20Quality%2002-11-083.pdf
* OSHA- http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/dieselexhaust/recognition.html
*EPAEmission Facts: Average Carbon Dioxide Emissions Resulting from Gasoline and Diesel Fuel EPA420-F-05-001 February 2005
* The 2007/2010 EPA regulations place limits on four main pollutants for diesel engines. These limits can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations 40CFR§86.007-11. This code can be searched on the web at http://frwebgate6.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/PDFgate.cgi?WAISdocID=413485409288+1+2+0&WAISaction=retrieve
*Diesel Pump Data examples-
* Official test results are posted on the EPA website at www.epa.gov/otaq/certdata . The download lists the results submitted by the engine manufacturers that were used by the EPA to verify compliance to the 2007standards.
* Burn stats provided by American Burn Association & Safe Kids USA.
Dominick G. Kasmauskas is the NFSA New York Regional Manager, Secretary of the NFSA Green Committee, a member of the USGBC, taking part in activities within the USGBC New York Chapter. The NFSA is as well a Corporate Member of the USGBC. Dominick can be reached at 914.414.3337 or Kasmauskas@NFSA.org with comments, suggestions or ideas for future articles regarding the fire sprinkler industry and impacts in Green Construction.