Changes Ahead for Industrial Protection

Changes Ahead for Industrial Protection

Fire Protection Engineer

In 1975, the average worker’s age will be 22 or 23. Now, it is 29. The post-war baby boom rocketed births from 2.4 million each year in the late 1930s to 4.3 million in the late 1950s. At this rate, about 80 percent of all Americans will be under 50 by 1975.

One result of this population growth will be the fantastic growth in industrial output to supply a youthful population with housing, clothing, transportation, recreation and elbowroom. Urban areas are overcrowded and industry has been moving to the suburbs and the country. Many industries are locating small factories in small towns and hiring local labor.

At the rate the land area in the country is shrinking, industry will have to come to grips with the inevitable problem of the country becoming a series of nearly contiguous megapolises. Where does industry go when there is no more land? The answer seems to be that industry must learn to fit into the megapolis. This will mean that industry must truly be a desirable neighbor.

Changes ahead

It may become necessary to decentralize many industrial processes into a series of relatively small plants devoted to one or a few operations. The serious business of automating plant production should be in full swing by the late 1970s. Processes now being performed by skilled hands will be giving way to punch cards, computer tapes and transistors. Many tape-operated machine tools are now operating. In these plants, a nucleus of trained people will operate many processes, probably from remote stations, using electronic signaling devices for eyes, ears, nose and feeling. With the normally limited manpower in automated factories, it becomes evident that fire prevention and protection as we know them today must change radically to avoid burning down the plants of tomorrow.

Already, there are those who speak of automating plant protection activities during plant down hours. Television cameras are replacing guards at plant gates and watchmen during night hours. Ultrasonic devices are being manufactured which not only detect intruders but also detect fire and other phenomena which disturb the sonic patterns in a room or building. There are sophisticated devices which practically detect a fire which is about to happen!

There is a sprinkler system which recently became available that shuts itself off after the fire is out. This development operates on the dry pipe principle, using heat sensors and fusible sprinklers. When the sensors detect sufficient heat, a signal is transmitted to the dry pipe valve, which admits water into the piping system. When the heat is sufficient, the sprinkler heads fuse and allow water to flow on the fire. When the fire is extinguished, the temperature at the heat sensors is reduced and a signal is transmitted to the dry pipe valve, which shuts off the flow of water. If the fire rekindles, the process is repeated until the fire is completely extinguished. During this process, the system will also transmit a fire alarm signal to a remote station, notifying fire fighters to respond.

Effect on response

While immediate response may not appear necessary, response cannot be ignored until a convenient time. There has been water flowing, which necessitates a cleanup, and overhaul and salvage operations are still required.

If we develop the principle of fully automatic fire protection, response might be unnecessary. Fully automatic fire protection would entail a system or series of systems which would detect the fire at its earliest stage, use the exact amount of extinguishing agent to extinguish it, overhaul, clean up any debris, restore the area and the fully automatic system to full service and await the next call to duty. With such systems, our fully automated factories of the future could be truly remotely operated masterpieces. Also, such systems would eliminate hand fire extinguishers and standpipe hose as we know them. Of course, such systems would require the highest degree of reliability, which in turn requires the highest degree of integrity of its components and an even higher degree of maintenance to assure that there are no failures.

Since we can perhaps look to the time when hand extinguishers will not be as popular, or as necessary, as we know them, what can be expected to replace them if the fully automatic system does not become a reality? It is logical to expect the use of small systems, such as COo or dry chemical that we now use for certain special hazards, to grow in popularity simply because there may not be people present in some factory areas. The small automatic system might be incorporated into every dip tank, spray booth, oil quench and other high probability hazard. It is probable that new extinguishing agents will be developed which will be superior to the ones we now depend on. No doubt there will be developments in extinguishers and extinguishing agents which would astound us now but which we will take in stride when the time comes.

Old problems fo continue

In spite of these developments of the ’70s, we will still be working hard for every fire protection dollar we need to install modern equipment. We haven’t yet solved the problems we have had for hundreds of years. We will have the problems of housekeeping, flammable liquids, ordinary combustibles, high stockpiling, oily rags, maintenance of equipment and all the other headaches we know so well. Add to these the new processes, new fire hazards and new ways to start fires, and our task grows larger. We will need fire protection people with enough imagination to foresee the probable pitfalls of developments before they become reality and with the depth and breadth of experience to develop better ways to make new processes our servants and not our collective downfall.

Automated factories to requi systems to do more fire fighting, as well as overhaul and cleanup

‘Fire prevention and protection as we know them must change radically.’

We can, no doubt, look forward to 35-hour, 32-hour or even 24-hour work weeks. One of the horrendous problems fire people will face with these shorter working hours is, how does a man spend enough time at his job to become proficient enough to be reliable? Imagine, if you will, a sevenshift fire department with each shift working one 24-hour duty tour each week. How could we expect any sort of professionalism from such a parttime outfit? If we also remember that the average age of workers will be under 23 in 1975, the fire departments of the future will consist of fuzzyfaced boys with fewer than 260 24-hour tours of on-duty time in five years as the protectors of life and property. The present fireman with a little over two years of service, working 56 hours a week, could equal a five-year veteran in the 1970s!

Industrial fire protection people can look forward to some equally sobering statistics. Using the 24-hour week, it would also be necessary to have seven shifts to cover a continuous operation. Proficiency in industry will be a problem, too.

Accent on prevention

The usual yardstick used to obtain shorter working hours or higher pay is increased productivity. This is a desirable criterion when the worker produces a tangible product, but fire protection operates somewhat in reverse. The less a fire department responds to fires, the more time it can devote to preventing them. It follows that the more prevention work done, the less time needed to fight fires and the more time devoted to prevention. This has been a magic circle for fire people up to the present, but it is a fact that we cannot exceed zero fires, at which time we spend 100 percent of our time preventing them.

Under these conditions, how do fire people show increases in productivity? Why shouldn’t those controlling purse strings decide that unfriendly fires have been wiped out? Therefore, why continue to support an organization which produces nothing, does nothing which can be measured and can only say it has prevented 100 percent of some nebulous number of fires? Try proving how many fires were prevented last year due to your prevention efforts.

It is felt the above is fanciful because, as was pointed out previously, we haven’t solved the problems we have had for hundreds of years. If we don’t solve these age-old problems, it then appears likely that we may well be addressing ourselves to the same tasks in which we are presently engaged except we will have created many more hazards than we now know.

Growth of noncombustibles

We should be able to look toward improvements in fire safety devices. Refinements can be visualized in many of our present devices and materials. Non combustible building materials would be a boon to the fire business. Such things as nonburnable plastics, steel structures with high heat resistance, lumber from which volatile content can not be distilled, fabrics which will not support combustion, and paper and paint which will not burn are all conceivable in the future. Why not have electrical equipment suitable for all hazard classes and groups at reasonable prices, or spray booths which won’t accumulate residues? Consider solvents with all the desirable properties but without low flash points or toxicity problems. We should consider safety controls on process equipment which will warn of impending unsatisfactory conditions rather than wait until an unsatisfactory condition exists. In the field of fire extinguishment, it is expected that new extinguishing agents will be forthcoming as well as new methods of application. For years, people have flirted with the notion that fire can be controlled by sound waves.

Fire protection engineers face the necessity of being visionaries while being aware of the world around them. Fire is rapidly being recognized as a professional field requiring professional people with professional approaches. We must look forward to the time when we will be using electronic computers as a regular tool. We must realize that we will be held accountable for our service, whether given for a fee or free. It is necessary that our advice be not only wise and practical but, most of all, correct.

Industrial fire protection must fill a series of voids which now exist. Many industries have no fire protection engineer, no fire protection program and no plans to start one. To many, a fire program is not only unnecessary (“We haven’t had a fire in 30 years!”) but is a waste of money that could be better spent on new machinery or other business necessities. In the 1970s, there will still be businesses which think this way, but they should become fewer if only through the pressure of statistics. Seventy-five percent of industries and businesses having serious fires never return to do business. It is the professional fire protectionist who must lead the way in breaking down the “I don’t need any” attitude of some businesses to one of recognizing that fire protection is not only desirable, but necessary to do business at all.

Protection as an asset

Fire protection can be compared to the building in which manufacturing is being done. The building is a necessity and if designed correctly can enhance the product flow with a minimum of dead space and provide the vehicle for smooth operation, low cost and fair profit. The correct fire protection program can be an equally superior asset to any business. Everything necessary to produce a product can be done more smoothly with the aid of a good program and flexible individuals who keep the desired result in mind when designing process fire protection. The other advantage lies in bettering the odds in favor of maintaining production by eliminating serious fires. These are truths today and they will be equally true in the ’70s, only more necessary to meet the competition which must surely get tougher as we progress.

Continued on page 152

‘We will have created many more hazards than we now know.’

Industrial Changes Ahead

Continued from page 133

The near-automation of production which was previously discussed demands that processes continue uninterrupted to justify the investment required to install them. Shutdowns due to fire cannot be tolerated for another reason. The component being made will likely be scheduled into a large, complex pipeline of other components necessary for a finished product. If one component is missing, the whole pipeline dries up and stops. In order for the fire protection engineer to look forward to the time when his advice is not only heeded but actively sought as a part of all process planning, it is imperative that we build our reputation now and provide the guidance management needs to enter the ’70s with the realization that fire has been researched, analyzed, classified, evaluated and minimized as a problem, and that the fire protection program is a production asset the same as facilities, equipment, material and manpower.

Our education efforts must start with management but must not stop there. We have a duty to educate the public in the dangers and consequences of fire, for a large segment of the public consists of our industrial employees. Programs must be initiated on a national scale to educate people about fire on a year-round basis. Home fire drills sound silly to many of our sophisticated population until the choking smoke creeps into a man’s own bedroom in the middle of the night. In the ’70s, we must not allow our employees to be killed in fires caused by their carelessness or that of others. We can expect that much more effort will be expended in this field simply because most fires are caused by people. We have recently seen a full-scale campaign aimed at highway safety with some result. Why not a similar one aimed at dramatizing the fire problem to save lives and businesses?

Whether existing businesses are saved from fire or not, there will be many born to fill the needs and wants of a youthful population.

Response risk to increase

With the great increases in population and the overcrowded traffic conditions in most large cities, fire department response will be an even greater risk in the ’70s than at present. Response is one of the factors used in grading fire departments and, if this important aspect of fire protection for industry becomes unbalanced, insurance rates are likely to increase because fire losses would be assumed to go higher due to delayed response.

The most important single task is to make industrial fire protection a true profession. We can do this by improving performance, by rendering sound judgments based on reason with one main goal in mind—accomplish the desired result. If we are conscious of the desired result in making decisions and applying standards, we will have made the first step to professionalism.

‘The correct fire protection program can be a superior asset.’

‘We must promote fire protection degree courses at more universities.’

We must encourage thoughtful, energetic, imaginative men to make industrial fire protection their profession. We must sell ourselves and our programs to management. We must show management that we are a valuable business asset by having a better idea, a better way, a cheaper way—or some kind of a way when none is apparent. Our efforts toward doing a better job and attracting better people can lead to our desired result—to make industrial fire protection a respected profession. . . . Respected enough to command the true worth of our services from a management demanding our best because it is paying for it on an equal footing with other producers.

Work to raise status

This state will not come about of it’s own volition; it must be made to happen. First, we must improve our personal performance by examination of what we are, how proficient we are and what our strengths and weaknesses are. We must work to cure weaknesses and build strengths. If education is insufficient, a correcting action program must be initiated. We must promote fire protection degree courses at more universities. There are fouryear degree courses at only two universities. Other engineering degrees are good, but does it not make sense for a man to earn a degree in the field in which he wishes to specialize?

The challenges of the ‘7Os in new fields demand excellence on our part. We must expand and grow or be swept along in the flood of new gadgets that are on the way. The present rate of growth demands we grow at a greater rate than the rest of the economy because, as a profession, we have some catching up to do. The true value of fire protection engineers has not been recognized, nor will it be until we can reverse the statistics of 12,000 people yearly who die in fires and losses of $2 billion.

Industry has always met every production challenge that has ever been offered. It has only been necessary to define the problem. Industrial fire protection must define the fire problem for management in terms management understands and the challenge will be met.

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