Fire-suppression solutions supplier Fire & Security Techniques is eager to introduce the African mining industry to a new fire-suppression solution, Tunnel Safe, which will allow for safer evacuation of mineworkers underground during a fire.
CEO Neil Hughes tells Mining Weekly that Tunnel Safe was developed over the past three years in Denmark, in conjunction with the Danish Institute of Fire Technology, and is due to undergo approval testing for use as a fire-suppression solution in challenging tunnel environments. The company has recently acquired distributorship for the technology in Africa, with the target to begin distributing it to mining and other operations in Africa later this year.
Fire & Security Techniques aims to launch Tunnel Safe mid to late this year by engaging directly with the mining community through a detailed technical review of the product, which will likely be by the Danish developers and product demonstrations.
Hughes explains that the technology was designed to accommodate the lengthy specifications of tunnels. Tunnel Safe containers, holding an inert gas mixture, are placed at the tunnel/shaft entrance.
This gas agent is discharged in the tunnel only at a particular location if fire breaks out. Once discharged, this mixture causes a reaction in the space it is released, lowering the oxygen concentration in the area to starve the fire, thereby fully extinguishing it.
“For example, if a mineworker is in a tunnel when a fire starts and needs to get from point A to B, but is trapped, using Tunnel Safe will supress the fire, clearing the path, and keep the workers alive and able to escape safely.”
Hughes enthuses that this technology is a natural, three-dimensional (3D) product that surpasses the use of conventional two-dimensional (2D) wet systems using water. He elaborates that, with wet fire-suppressions systems, the water needs to be applied directly to the flames to extinguish the fire, whereas with Tunnel Safe, gas changes the conditions of its environment and, therefore, does not need to come into contact with the fire to extinguish it. Wet systems are relatively effective, but their 2D makeup prevents the extinguishing of fires in all places, whereas Tunnel Safe’s 3D makeup allows greater reach.
The gas contained in Tunnel Safe is human friendly and does not damage any equipment or appliances. Unlike wet systems, Tunnel Safe requires no clean-up following dispensing, enabling mines to resume operations immediately. Tunnel Safe extinguishes a fire completely and this particular facet could prove important especially for electrical machinery.
Moreover, Tunnel Safe is also safer than water-based systems, which create slippery surfaces, posing a danger to mineworkers, as this can cause accidents when people rush to evacuate.
The initial cost savings between the two systems are negligible, but, in the long run, Tunnel Safe is more cost effective because it allows for less downtime and enhanced mine productivity, as it negates equipment damage, and increases efficiency, as mining services can be immediately reinstated.
Hughes notes that the solution will not immediately replace water systems, but will slowly be implemented, either in conjunction with old systems or as a standalone solution to add effectiveness to existing fire-suppression systems, or where a risk analysis shows a high probability of fire incidents.
Although designed initially for tunnels, Tunnel Safe can be used across most mining applications, such as data centres and power generation facilities. While Tunnel Safe’s design is suitable for open tunnels and shafts, the conventional design is suitable for enclosed spaces only.
“I understand reluctance to be the first user, but the mining community needs to consider the benefits of alternative suppression agents.”
In business since 1994, Fire & Security Techniques has an established distributor network across Africa. As the company is a Southern African Development Community exporter, these countries do not have to pay duty fees on products imported from Fire & Security Techniques in South Africa.
The company also has a network of trusted installers and will assist clients where necessary, owing to its expertise in pressure equipment, says Hughes. Relevant training on company’s products is offered to ensure that mine personnel are informed on their proper use.