How to Kill the Market for Clean Agent Fire Suppression

The Air Up There : By John Demeter

March 2010

 Wouldn’t you like to be Ford Motor Company right now? Your domestic competitors, having just emerged from bankruptcy with the help of the U.S. taxpayer, are controlled by the federal government and the United Auto Workers and your biggest foreign competitor is beset with quality problems so serious and profound that it will take them a decade to recover. Ford, on the other hand, having returned to profitability, seems to have a brisk tailwind at their back.

 The good news for all of them, however, is that the growth and stability of the automobile market depends more on the strength of the economy than it does about what Ford says about Toyota or Chevy. The world will continue to need cars and while market share may shift from one manufacturer to another, it is unlikely that the market will shrink due to problems suffered by any one of its participants.

 Not so with special hazard fire protection!

 Recently, Tyco Fire Suppression and Building Products gave wide distribution to a paper entitled, “HFC’s in Fire Protection Systems: An Invisible and Unnecessary Climate Threat” by one George Dyer.  Even if you didn’t read the paper (which you can by clicking here:HFC’s in Fire Protection Systems) the title gives you some hint of the author’s predisposition. He doesn’t like HFC’s.  Though he doesn’t mention trade names, because he deals with fire protection, we suspect he means FM-200 and FE-25. And while he deals specifically with clean agents used in fire systems (total flooding), we suspect that he would not like the streaming agents FE-36 and Halotron as well.

 This paper is wrong on so many levels that its makes our head hurt to think about them. For example, Dyer says “There is little doubt that the economic performance of HFC systems is compelling (note: we really don’t know what that means.) But the potential climate impacts are real, and the level of uncertainty around the ability to control HFC emissions from such systems is significant.” (Our emphasis) This is nonsense! The Halon Alternative Research Corporation (HARC) has been tracking emissions of HFC’s from fire protection systems for the past eight years and has documented that even with the significant growth of installed systems, emissions have remained flat. (See chart below) If any industry has a handle on its emissions, it’s the fire suppression industry!

Further, Dyer states, “It remains to be seen if a sufficiently robust system can be designed to control these emissions (from a large and growing installed base), but without such a system, and in observance of the precautionary principle, we must assume that a significant portion of the installed base will be emitted within a time frame relevant to the climate crisis.”  Two points here. Attend any fire equipment trade show and  you will find more companies involved in controlling emissions (both ODS and GHG) than there are suppliers of suppression systems. We call it the recycling industry. Second, the idea that all HFC’s used in fire protection will be emitted within the next 50 years flies in the face of our experience with ODS. Nearly two decades after the end of ODS production in the developed world, there is still a robust market for the recycling and re-positioning of these valuable fire protection products. The only time we found emissions (that weren’t the result of a fire or false discharge) were when market forces were trumped by foolish regulatory mandates.

We are not surprised that there are Dyer’s out there who feel this way about HFC’s. We are surprised that Tyco, a company with a sizeable market share in special hazard fire suppression including both HFC’s and non-HFC would publish such a non-objective article on such an important subject. Unlike the auto industry where the sale of somebody’s model car is pretty much inevitable, special hazard fire suppression is most often a non-code required, upgraded insurance policy, purchased to offset a small risk of fire, and hopefully never used. While the cost of a fire in these critical facilities is devastating, we know from our service and recharge business that the actual likelihood of a fire event in any particular facility is decidedly small. Like healthcare insurance (a topic for another time, don’t get us started…) if the ‘insurance’ is too complicated or controversial, it becomes much easier to go without entirely and place one’s faith in the hope that it won’t happen to me.

 “Honey, I shrunk the fire suppression market!” Anyone want to make this their motto?

 It is said that the Climate world is divided into three: the climate atheists, the climate agnostics and the climate evangelicals. We are climate agnostics. It looks like Tyco may be climate evangelicals! Will their own special hazards business be their first sacrificial lamb?

To Reference a PDF of this Article, click the following link:How to Kill Clean Agents March 2010

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