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FIRE & GAS DETECTION AND

ALARM SYSTEMS

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Scope
This document provides assistance on the design of the fire & gas detection
system as well as for the alarm system in order to achieve the minimization of
risk and potential damage of a hazardous event. Key to the minimization of a
hazardous event is the isolation and shutdown of the system as rapidly as
possible. Therefore, detection of the release, transmission of the message and
remedial action are the three steps involved in the process.
The guidelines and recommendations provided herein are based on current
knowledge of industry practice and should be considered a starting point for
further development during the Front-End Engineering Development (FEED)
phase. During FEED, fire, smoke and toxic detector selection, as well as the
ensuing alarms should accommodate the results of the Environmental Impact
Assessment (EIA) study, process hazard reviews, vapor dispersion studies,
thermal radiation exclusion zones and noise pollution studies, as well as the latest
site data.
In addition, it gives a framework of prudent recommendations as to the types
and locations of detectors that should be deployed, and the reaction of the
system to an initiating event.

2.

Purpose
The intent of this design philosophy is to establish criteria for the detection,
communication and annunciation of hazardous events. The objectives are to
provide:

3.

Detection of hazardous conditions or events.


Communication of the hazard to a central location.
Provide means to initiate action to alert personnel of the hazard.
Allow for automated initiation of preventive measures as required.

General
The following provisions should apply to all fire & gas detection and alarm
systems:

The size and type of any fire & gas detection and alarm system is
dependent upon the size, location, hazards, personnel complement, etc.

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To prevent false alarming of the fire & gas detection and alarm system,
and thereby the unnecessary shutdown of operations, multiple sensor
arrangements may be considered.
The reliability of the fire & gas detection and alarm system needs to be
ensured by addressing and making provisions for the appropriate
arrangement of:
Power sources.
Coverage provided by the system.
Alarm function on loss of system operability.
Suitability of detection devices for the risk involved.
Testing and maintenance procedures.
Provisions for two highly reliable sources of electric power should be
made. An alternating current (AC) power supply, with a trickle charger
supplying a battery backup is the usual arrangement. Batteries should last
for at least eight hours on loss of primary power, that span should be
increased to twelve hours if the primary source of power is unreliable.
Power supply should be monitored by a power-on LED on the control
panel and a main power failure alarm.
Consideration should be given to interlocks of fire and gas detection
systems with related protection systems for the specific facility.
Human factors consideration should be addressed in system design and
arrangement of fire and gas detection devices, including alarms and
annunciators.

Detection
The basic principles for the detection of fire and combustible/toxic gases are:

Detection of smoke as an early warning of an emergency event.


Detection of heat or flame for the actuation of the isolation systems
and/or fixed fire suppression systems.
Detection of toxic gas for the protection of plant personnel and the
public.

Appropriate gas, flame, smoke and/or temperature detection systems should be


provided to indicate the nature of the hazard and its general location. The
detection logic should minimize spurious alarms and false responses while still
providing a high degree of safety.

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Fire Detection
Where provided, should alert personnel of potential hazards and possibly
minimize damage. Fire detectors may be integrated into a system that provides
signals to shutdown equipment and isolate hydrocarbon sources (e.g., wells,
pipelines, etc.), activate alarms and initiate fire suppression equipment (where
applicable).
The following provisions should be taken into consideration when designing the
appropriate fire detection system:

Equipment required to control fires (e.g., electric generators powering


fire pumps) should not be automatically shutdown by the fire detection
system.
The determination of the type of detector to be used should be based on
the types of hazardous material present, the electrical area classification,
the sensors, speed and any external effects that may cause false alarming.
Smoke detectors are used to detect the presence of products of
combustion. These detectors should be used in areas where
personnel are located or in enclosed areas which contain heat
sources. Smoke detectors should be used in control rooms,
switchgear rooms, motor control centers, offices, living quarters,
and certain types of shops.
Thermal detectors sense the presence of fire based on
temperature. Thermal detectors are commercially available in
57.2C and 93.3C (135F and 200F) settings in both the rateof-rise and fixed-temperature modes. Thermal detectors
should be used in areas where high-speed detection is not
required due to its relatively slow operation. Thermal detectors
can be used around engine or turbine drivers, above pumps
containing low flash point hydrocarbons, in certain process areas,
and in kitchen areas where smoke detectors are subject to false
alarms.
Flame detectors are optical fire detection devices.
Electromagnetic radiation can be detected at various spectral
ranges, such as ultraviolet (UV) or infrared (IR). Flame detectors
have a fast response time and should be used where speed of
detection is critical.
UV detectors monitor short-wavelength radiation at high speeds.
Due to the short-wave characteristics of UV detectors, these
devices are prone to false alarms that are caused by random
sources of UV radiation such as lightning, arc welding, etc.
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IR detectors monitor long-wavelength radiation. Since many


devices emit IR radiation (ovens, lamps, furnaces, engine
exhausts, etc.), various parameter analysis techniques are used to
prevent false alarms.
To minimize false alarms, devices that incorporate both UV and
IR detection in one instrument may be used. These devices are
sensitive to the segments of the UV and IR spectra that are
associated with hydrocarbon fires.
Flame detectors may be used in compressor buildings and
selected process areas. The specific type of detector used in each
location should be determined based on operating parameters,
loss potential and fire types.

4.2.

In on-site buildings that have central heating, ventilation and air


conditioning (HVAC) systems, the triggering of smoke and gas detectors
should close off HVAC dampers or shutdown the system to keep fire,
smoke and gas from spreading to other areas of the building.

Combustible Gas Detection


Electronic gas detectors reliably detect the presence of combustible gases. In
general, hydrocarbon gas detectors are used in enclosed areas where the
movement of gas is reasonably predictable and it is likely that the gas detectors
will encounter any gas that may be present.
The following provisions should be considered:

Gas detectors should be provided for local detection in certain


hydrocarbon process areas near high-hazard equipment. These areas
include gas turbines enclosures, low flash point hydrocarbon pump
buildings, gas compressor buildings, spill trenches and other low points
where LPG could travel or accumulate, and at or near large
concentrations of flanged control valves in flammable gas service.
Gas detection should be provided in control rooms, switchgear rooms,
and other electrical rooms where the accumulation of gas poses a
potential hazard.
In locating gas detectors, it should be considered whether the gas is
heavier or lighter than air and the wind direction, since these factors will
significantly affect its operation.
Combustible gas detection systems should be set to alarm at not greater
than 25% of the lower explosive limit (LEL) and, if appropriate, shut
processes down at not greater than 60% LEL.

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Open-path gas detection may be considered where the accumulation of


gas can be effectively detected across a wide area.
Gas detectors should provide both audible and visual alarms that indicate
when low-level concentrations of flammable or toxic gases are present,
especially in areas with high noise levels.
In on-site buildings that have central HVAC systems, the triggering of
smoke and gas detectors should close off HVAC dampers or shutdown
the system to keep fire, smoke and gas from spreading to other areas of
the building.

Toxic Gas Detection


Individual detectors in these systems are often referred to as gas sensors.
These gas sensors can be designed to detect a specific toxic gas or a number of
toxic gases.
The following provisions should be considered:

4.4.

Toxic gas sensors are typically used in plant areas where people could be
exposed and process components are likely to leak. Prime examples
might be pump and compressor seals, valve packing, expansion joints,
flanged connections, etc.
Toxic gas sensors should also be installed along egress ways from the
areas involving the processing of hydrogen sulfide gas.
A toxic gas detection system should provide continuous monitoring and
warn of a gas leak before it reaches critical concentrations, causes injury
to people, or exceeds regulatory thresholds.
Alarm setpoints vary according to the type of toxic gas monitored. Toxic
gas sensors installed to detect the presence of hydrogen sulfide shall be
set to activate audible and visual alarms at a concentration of 10 parts per
million (ppm).
In on-site buildings that have central HVAC systems, the triggering of
smoke and gas detectors should close off HVAC dampers or shutdown
the system to keep fire, smoke and gas from spreading to other areas of
the building.

Low Temperature Detection


In facilities handling LPGs and other refrigerated liquefied gases, thermocouples
or thermistors can be used as detector elements that may provide early warning
to personnel of a release. To minimize false alarms, the set points of such
detection elements shall be below the lowest anticipated ambient temperature.
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Low temperature detection elements are available in single point types that sense
temperature at one specific location, and in continuous strip types that sense
temperature along their length.
The use of these detectors is particularly useful along pipeways and around
processing equipment. Impounding will assure that a release will contact the
detection element. This type of detection is commonly used in facilities handling
refrigerated liquefied gases, but is rarely used in pressurized facilities.
Low temperature detectors are generally rugged, have a low false alarm rate, and
require little maintenance. They should be checked periodically for proper
operation, preferably by using a non-flammable liquefied gas, such as liquid
nitrogen.

5.

Alarm Systems
The alarm system should alert all personnel of a potential or actual fire hazard or
degradation in the safe working environment in the facility. Personnel, once
alerted, should take appropriate actions in order to contain the emergency event,
or to evacuate the area or facility.
The degree of sophistication and reliability of the alarm system should be
commensurate with the potential hazards involved and the training given (or to
be given) to the operating personnel. The system should be as simple as possible
to minimize the potential for confusion during emergencies.
Fire and gas detectors in each section of occupied facilities may be monitored by
a fire and gas annunciation panel where such system is installed. The fire and gas
annunciation panel, located in the main control room, should provide a display
of all fire and gas alarms as well as an audible alarm for each point or detection
zone during an event. The panel may also monitor the status and operation of
fire pumps and other automatic fire suppression systems.
The following provisions should be considered:

Local alarms should be provided to alert personnel to a fire, or the


presence of combustible or toxic material. Areas protected by the fire &
gas detection and alarm system should have sufficient audible and visual
alarms so that personnel will be alerted on an emergency condition in the
protected area, regardless of their location within battery limits.
The control room should be provided with one audible and visual alarm.
The alarm panel should be able to indicate the location and nature of the
emergency event, and should be provided with a printer for retention of
all alarms and time of alarm.

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The general alarm system for the facility should consist of one or more
air horns or steam whistles strategically located to ensure maximum
coverage throughout the facility. There should be three distinct alarms
signals, each indicative of the following alarm situations: combustible or
toxic gas release, fire, and personnel evacuation. The alarm signals should
be clear and distinctive from similar signals used for other purposes.
Suitable back up for general alarm should be provided.
The facility general alarm visual mode should have the following
presentation:
Flammable gas
Yellow optical beacon.
Fire
Red optical beacon.
Personnel evacuation
Blue optical beacon.

Manual Fire Alarm Stations


The following issues should be considered:

6.

Manual fire alarm stations for manual reporting of fires should be located
in important areas of the facilities.
In the case of unmanned facilities, the facility should be evaluated to
determine whether its size and complexity justifies the use of manual fire
alarm stations.

In addition to the alarm functions discussed above, a means of


communications should be continuously available throughout an
emergency. The ability to communicate is necessary for effective
combating of the emergency or evacuation of the facility.
In the case of unmanned facilities, the facility should be evaluated to
determine whether its size and complexity, as well as the frequency of
personnel visits justify the installation of a communication system.

Mitigation
Once detected, means too initiate hazard mitigation systems should be provided.
The Fire & Gas Detection System should provide the following functions as a
minimum:

Initiation of selected plant audible and visual alarms, as well as displays in


the main control room.
Activation of the primary fire water pump(s).

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Activation of the various hazard control systems (foam, dry powder,


water spray and/or CO2).
Activation of selected emergency shutdown functions and isolation via
the dedicated emergency shutdown system as required.

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Appendix A

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FIRE & GAS DETECTION AND


ALARM SYSTEMS

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Fire Detectors
Automatic fire detectors are not usually installed in process areas. However, these devices
shall be provided at remote, high-risk facilities such as offsite charge, shipping and transfer
pumps; crude oil tank mixers; computer rooms; and operations with limited manpower or
automated unattended operations.
Fire detectors operate on one of three principles: sensitivity to heat; reaction to smoke or
gaseous products of combustion; and/or flame radiation.
H e at D e te ctors designed to respond when the detecting element reaches a specific
temperature or a specified rate of temperature change is sensed. Heat detectors are the most
common type of detectors used, and have the lowest false alarm rate compared to other
types of detectors. They provide general spot and linear detection.
Proper location and spacing of heat detectors is crucial for proper area protection and can
have an effect on selection. Airflow is of considerable significance in the location of heat
detectors since heat has a tendency to be conveyed by airflow. Heat detectors are particularly
effective in areas where a high-rate-of-energy-release fire can occur (i.e., flammable liquidvapor fire). They are particularly ineffective where a low-rate-of-energy-release fire might
occur, such as in a control room or data processing area.
Heat detectors fall into the following general categories:

Fixe d -Te m perature H e at D e te ctors this type of detectors are designed to


respond to temperatures as low as 57.2C (135F) to temperatures as high as 301.7C
(575F). Fixed temperature heat detectors can be used for area coverage or to protect
specific equipment. Equipment protected by these detectors is typically equipment
for which a postulated fire would have rapid flame spread and high rates of heat
release. Examples of such equipment are cooling tower, lube-oil storage and transfer
equipment, and diesel engines. Fixed-temperature heat detectors are available in
seven types: bimetallic, fusible-element, quartzoid bulb, thermoelectric, fusible
thermal wire, linear thermistor, and heat-sensitive tubing. The first four are spot type
detecting devices and the remaining three are line type detecting devices.
Bim e tal
l
ic D e te ctors uses two metals bonded together, each having a different
coefficient of thermal expansion. When the device is heated, the differences in
expansion of the two metals cause the metal to flex and close contact to complete a
circuit. This type of detector is self-restoring and can be in a bimetal strip or bimetal
snap disc configuration.
Fusib l
e -e l
e m ent D e te ctors uses a eutectic metal (alloys of bismuth, lead, tin, and
cadmium) that melt rapidly at a predetermined temperature. This principle is
commonly used in sprinkler elements and in fusible links for releasing devices, such
as fire doors. When the elements fuse, the fluid in the piping is allowed to flow out.
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This type of detection is sacrificial and must be replaced after exposure to a fire. This
type of detector is used in pilot-head type heat detection systems.

Quartzoid Bul
b D e te ctors uses a sensing element consisting of a quartzoid bulb
filled with a liquid capable of significant expansion, in volume, in response to
temperature increase. When this liquid is heated, it expands and breaks the quartzoid
bulb. This principle is commonly found in sprinkler elements and fusible links for
releasing devices, such as fire doors. Bursting the bulb of sprinklers allows the fluid
to flow out of the piping. This type of detection is also sacrificial and must be
replaced after a fire. This type of detector is used in pilot-head type heat-detection
systems.
Th erm oe l
e ctric D e te ctors uses a thermocouple to produce an increase of
voltage, with an increase in temperature. When the voltage increases at an abnormal
rate, the detectors actuate.
Fusib l
e Th erm alW ire is a line-type detecting device with a sensing element of
two current-carrying conductors separated by a heat-sensitive insulation that softens
at a specific temperature. The two conductors are connected in a normally open
circuit to a control panel. When this insulation fails, the conductors make electrical
contact, completing the circuit. A meter on the control panel indicates the location
of the short circuit in terms of cable footage. This type of detection is sacrificial and
must be replaced after exposure to a fire.
Linear Th erm istor D e te ctors are line sensing elements (or continuous thermal
sensors) with a cable-like tubing containing a concentric conductor. The conductor is
insulated from the outer tubing by a semiconductor material (typically ceramic
powder, glass, or aluminum oxide with a eutectic salt compound) whose resistance
changes with temperature. The thermistor assembly is electrically connected to a
sophisticated control panel that powers and monitors the change in resistance of the
semiconductor material. An alarm is initiated when any segment of the cable is
heated to the setpoint temperature. Thermistors can generally detect any specified
alarm temperature up to about 1,093.3C (2,000F) at any point along their length.
Some thermistors are electrically classified (approved/listed) for use in hazardous
atmospheres.
H e at-sensitive Tub ing is a line-type detecting device with a sensing element of
heat-sensitive tubing under pressure that softens at a specific temperature. When this
tubing is heated sufficiently, it fails, releasing the pressure. This type of detection is
sacrificial and must be replaced after exposure to fire.
Fusible-element and quartzoid bulb detectors are used in dry pilot head detection
systems with air at 377.1 - 446.1 kPa gage (40 - 50 psig) in a closed-piping network.
The system contains closed-head sprinklers (pilot heads) similar to those used in
sprinkler systems, but the closed heads are used for detection only. Actuation of the
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suppression system is accomplished when a pilot head fuses. The fused pilot head
releases air pressure in the piping network that is connected to a deluge valve. All
movement in this type of actuation is by mechanical means, and no electrical power
is required for the release. The deluge valve may be connected to sprinklers, spray
nozzles, or mechanical foam-making equipment.
Bimetallic or thermoelectric spot type heat detectors are electrically connected in a
low voltage circuit to a control panel to form a fixed temperature spot detection
system. Each detector can be wired to be monitored and alarmed individually, in
parallel, or multiplexed when the number of detectors is large. Many fixed
temperature spot detectors incorporate a rate compensation feature, which allows
proper operation regardless of the temperature rise rate.

R ate -of-R ise H e at D e te ctors actuate when the rate of temperature rise exceeds
6.7 to 8.4C (12 to 15F) per minute. Rate-of-rise heat detectors are available in four
types: pneumatic, thermoelectric, linear thermistor, and bimetallic expansion. Linear
thermistor is a line type detector and the remaining are spot type detectors.
Pn e um atic D e te ctors are either tube or a chamber in which heated air expands
and exerts mechanical force on a diaphragm. Actuation of an alarm occurs when the
device is heated at a sufficient rate to cause the diaphragm to expand and close a set
of contacts. The contacts are electrically connected in a low-voltage circuit that is
powered and monitored by a supervisory control unit. Typically, pneumatic rate-ofrise detectors are found in plants that were built prior to the 1960s. The use of this
type of detectors in new system is forbidden.
Th erm oe l
e ctric D e te ctors operate on the same basic principle as thermoelectric
fixed temperature heat detectors. When the voltage increase at an abnormal rate, the
detectors actuate.
Linear Th erm istor D e te ctors actuate on the same principle as linear thermistor
fixed temperature heat detectors. The rate-of-change of resistance is monitored by
associated control equipment, and an alarm is initiated when the rate of increase
exceeds a preset value. These detectors offer a more practical, modern-day approach
to rate-of-rise heat detection.
Bim e tal
l
ic Expansion D e te ctors are designed on the same basic principle as the
bimetallic fixed-temperature heat detector. The outer case of the detector is designed
to expand at a faster rate than the inner contact struts. When the temperature rises at
a rate faster than the predetermined rate, the case expands and causes the contacts to
close. This detection principle can be set so that the detector will not exceed a
predetermined fixed temperature without alarming. Normally, this detector is
referred to a rate-compensation detector and is the preferred rate-of-rise heat
detector.

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Sm ok e D e te ctors designed to respond when the detection device senses a predetermined


obscuration of the atmosphere it is monitoring. Smoke detectors are not considered
expensive to purchase and install. Smoke detectors are the most common types of detectors
used to protect occupied areas. Smoke detectors have a history of false alarms. However,
these false alarms are usually the result of misapplication, poor maintenance, and cleaning
activities. Smoke detectors are available to provide general spot and area detection. Smoke
detectors can detect a fire incident in its early stages before significant quantities of heat are
produced. There are two main types of smoke detectors:

Ionize d Sm ok e D e te ctors contain two chambers in which the air is made


conductive (ionized) by a radioactive source emitting alpha radiation. As current
flows through the ionized air chambers, it is measured by circuitry within the
detector assembly. One chamber is used for reference and the other is used for the
sample. The two chambers are constantly monitored and compared. The difference
in electrical conductivity between the reference and sample chamber causes the
detector to send an alarm signal. Ionization smoke detectors are good for general
spot and area detection. The detectors are self-restoring and have adjustable
sensitivity. The sensitivity of these detectors can be affected by air velocity, humidity,
altitude, and high-ambient radioactive levels. The sensitivity of these detectors also
tends to be more sensitive to the early stages of a fire than to open, flaming fires.
Ionization detectors are used primarily in rooms and buildings that house expensive
electronic equipment.
Ph otoe l
e ctric Sm ok e D e te ctors there are of two types: light-scattering and lightobscuring. Both types of photoelectric smoke detectors are susceptible to false
alarms from steam and fog (from cold detector contacting warm, moist air).
Ligh t-scattering D e te ctors consist of a light source and a photosensitive device.
During normal conditions, the light source rays do not fall upon the photosensitive
device. As smoke particles enter the detector, the light source rays are scattered (by
reflection or refraction) onto the photosensitive device. This causes the sensing
electronics of the detector to initiate an alarm. Light-scattering detectors are good for
spot area detection and are self-restoring. Light-scattering detectors are best suited
for smoldering fires that produce relatively large smoke particles such as cable
insulation fires.
Ligh t-ob scuring D e te ctors (Be am D e te ctors) consist of a light source on one
side of the potential hazard and a receiver containing a photosensitive device on the
opposite side. As smoke enters the path of the light beam, the intensity of the light
reaching the receiver is reduce. This causes the sensing electronics of the receiver to
initiate an alarm. Light-obscuring detectors are good for large, open areas and are
self-restoring. Typically, these detectors are used for high-ceiling or large, open area
applications.

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Fl
am e D e te ctors designed to work by measuring a specific range of electromagnetic
radiation emitted as a by-product of the combustion reaction in the UV, visible, and IR
spectrum emitted by flames and glowing embers. Flame detectors are considered expensive
to purchase and install. Flame detectors are the least common types of detectors used. Flame
detectors are extremely fast, responding instantly to open flaming; but have a history of false
alarms. However, these false alarms are often the result of misapplication, poor maintenance
and cleaning. Flame detectors can be ultraviolet (UV), infrared (IR), or combination UV/IR
type. The UV/IR combination is preferred over either the UV or IR type.

UV Fl
am e D e te ctors consist of a viewing aperture and a sensing element of
silicon carbide, aluminum, nitride, or gas-filled tube. When UV light, having a
wavelength between 0.17 and 0.30 micrometers, enters the viewing aperture, it is
sensed by the detector and alarmed by a system controller. UV detectors are quick
acting, good for wide area coverage, and outdoor areas because they are inherently
insensitive to visible light. However, UV detectors are not suitable for use in outdoor
areas where welding and cutting operations or electrical storms occur.
IR Fl
am e D e te ctors consist of a lens system with a filter to screen out unwanted
wavelengths. Incoming energy is focused on a photovoltaic or photoresistive cell that
is sensitive to IR energy (typically 4.0 to 4.4 microns). Controllers for IR detectors
are capable of analyzing dual frequencies from individual detectors so that a true
hydrocarbon fire can be identified by its "flame flicker ratio". This feature helps
screen out unwanted energy sources such as welding. IR detectors are used in areas
where other forms of optical detection are not practical (i.e., where dust, oil, or
grease can accumulate on detector viewing apertures), where arc welding is common,
or where harsh salt-water conditions exist.
UV/IR Fl
am e D e te ctors sense UV radiation using a vacuum photodiode tube
and a selected wavelength of IR radiation using a photocell. The combined signal is
used to indicate a fire. These detectors require both types of radiation to be present
before an alarm signal is generated. By using two different wavelengths to discretely
detect a fire, the false tripping problem associated with both single radiation types
has been largely overcome. This detector is reliable, fast acting, and suitable for
indoor and outdoor area coverage. Care should be taken when specifying a UV/IR
detection system in a small, enclosed area that has a constant source of IR radiation
from hot equipment; e.g., the interior of a turbine engine module. The constant
source of IR radiation can saturate the IR portion of the detector and decrease the
sensitivity. The manufacturer should be contacted for specific detector application
recommendations.

Flame detectors are used in general area detection, are self-restoring, have a high degree of
sensitivity, and a high speed of response. Generally, flame detectors are used in high-hazard
areas, high-ceiling areas, industrial process areas, and in areas where explosive atmospheres
can occur.
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Combustible Gas Detectors


Combustible gas detectors are used to continuously monitor potentially hazardous areas.
Combustible gas detectors are available in five main types:

Infrare d A n al
yze r D e te ctor uses a pump to draw in atmospheric samples from
various plant locations to a central point where the infrared analyzer is located. These
sample streams are sequentially injected into the infrared analyzer to determine the
combustible gas concentration at each sample point. This type of system is rarely
used due to maintenance problems with the sampling system and the time delay
required to convey a gas sample from the sample point to the analyzer.
Sol
id State El
e ctrol
ytic Ce l
lD e te ctor operates on the principle of allowing the
combustible gas molecules to diffuse into a porous extrinsic semiconductor, thereby
decreasing its electrical resistivity. The magnitude of the resultant current flow is
related to the concentration of combustible gas molecules. The current flow is
sensed by the control indicator module and is displayed on a meter in terms of
percent of the lower explosive limit (LEL). This type of detector can perform in inert
and chemically reactive atmospheres, and is widely used for detecting H2S.
Catal
ytic Be ad D e te ctor employs a heated ceramic bead coated with a catalyst.
Combustible gas molecules are oxidized on the catalyst. The heat of combustion
raises the temperature of the bead that increases resistance of the platinum heater
wire within the bead. This bead and an identical but uncoated bead (no catalyst) form
two legs of a Wheatstone bridge circuit. The presence of a combustible gas alters the
resistance of the coated bead only. Resultant imbalance in the bridge is monitored by
the control/indication module and it is displayed on a meter in terms of percent of
the LEL.
Catalytic bead sensors are the types usually chosen for use in petroleum facilities;
however, they do have limitations. They will not work in inert atmospheres because
they need oxygen to support combustion on the catalyst; they are inaccurate when
the combustible gas concentration exceeds 100% LEL; and they can be very
misleading if the gas/air mixture exceeds the stoichiometric ratio. They are also
subject to giving false alarms, especially when exposed to gusty winds.
Catalytic bead detectors require a high level of maintenance. The catalytic bead
sensing elements have a short life expectancy and must be replaced periodically
(approximately yearly). They must also be calibrated periodically (usually monthly)
with a standard calibration gas.
The heated beads operate at a high temperature, well above the auto-ignition
temperature of most liquefied gases. Therefore, a sintered metal disk frame is placed
between the beads and the atmosphere. The gas and air molecules must be able to

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FIRE & GAS DETECTION AND


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pass freely through this flame arrestor. It is very important that it not be painted
over. Water, oil, or other liquids should be kept away from the flame arrestor since
they can seal it shut, thus rendering the sensor inoperative.

Portab l
e Gas D e te ctors generally incorporate a catalytic bead detector for 0 100% LEL measurements, and a thermal conductivity sensor for measurements
above the LEL. The thermal conductivity detector is similar to the catalytic bead heat
type, but the active element is not catalytic. The reference and active elements are
both heated and, with no gas present, they are at the same temperature. When
combustible gas is present in the air around the active element, the temperature of
the active element decreases because the gas molecules conduct heat away from the
element faster than air does. This temperature decrease changes the active element's
resistance and unbalances the bridge. The current flow through the bridge is related
to the gas concentration.
A thermal conductivity meter can measure gas concentrations from 0 to 100%, and
can be calibrated to work in an inert atmosphere. Portable gas detectors require
periodic (perhaps monthly) calibration using a calibration gas. Each time a portable
gas detector is to be used, it should first be exposed to a source of flammable gas.
This helps ensure that the meter is working, although it does not check its accuracy.

Laser R e fl
e ction D e te ctors is one of the newest types of gas detectors. This type
of detector uses two infrared beams; one that has a wavelength that is absorbed by
the gas, and one with a slightly different wavelength that is not absorbed by the gas.
The two laser beams are projected as parallel beams. A sensor between the two laser
emitters measures and compares the intensity of the beams once they have been
reflected (back scattered) back to their source. Combustible gas in the atmosphere
will absorb the one wavelength, thus decreasing the strength of the reflected beam.
This decrease is related to the gas concentration. The system can scan over a wide
area of the plant, thus providing broad coverage from a single point. The output
from the detector can be superimposed upon a television image of the area being
scanned, resulting in a visual representation of the gas cloud size, concentration and
location. Because the path length of the laser beam is quite long, it can detect very
low gas concentrations.
Unlike the other detectors, the laser reflection system does not just sense gas at
discrete points, but senses over the entire path length of the laser beams. Thus, it can
detect gas leaks from a large facility. The system is very sensitive and can detect gas
concentrations in the parts per million (ppm) ranges. The system is said to be free of
false alarms since the dual beam concept compensates for fog, rain, beam blockage,
etc. The most significant current drawback to this system is the new technology
involved and its expense.

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Toxic Gas Detectors


Individual detectors in these systems are often referred to as "gas sensors". These gas
sensors can be designed to detect a specific toxic gas or a number of toxic gases. Detection
of toxic gas is accomplished by the electrochemical-cell type, semiconductor type, or infrared
beam type detection principle.

El
e ctroch e m ical
-ce l
lD e te ctor air samples diffuse (or are pumped) through a
gas-porous membrane into the sensor cell. The cell electro-oxidized the sample in
proportion to the partial pressure of the toxic gas within the sample, generating an
electric signal proportional to the concentration of the gas in the air.
Se m icon d uctor D e te ctor primarily used for the detection of hydrogen sulfide
(H2S), the presence of the toxic gas causes a large decrease in the resistance of the
semiconductor. Signals from both detector types are sent to a system controller (also
called a "monitor"). The controller provides readout, alarms features, and may
provide for remote calibration of the sensors and automatic actuation of other plant
safety equipment, as appropriate.
Infrare d Be am D e te ctors (open or cl
ose d path ) operate similar to infrared
beam type combustible gas detectors. The toxic gas to be detected must have a
definable infrared absorption spectrum. Ammonia and nitric oxide have particularly
defined infrared absorption.

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