|Q - What are the current requirements for fire extinguishers in competing cars?
A - Within the regulations issued by the FIA for international events and by the MSA for national events, there are statutory requirements set down for fire extinguisher equipment. In both sets of regulations, the relevant capacities are clearly stated to be minimum requirements and competitors are perfectly free to fit or carry extinguishers of larger capacity.
Q - What level of fire protection is offered by the minimum requirements?
A - The primary purpose of this equipment is to enable vehicle occupants to buy a few seconds of time to help them escape a burning car. In some cases, this equipment will also extinguish a blaze and limit vehicle damage; in other cases, the ferocity of the fire will be such as to be beyond the capabilities of the minimum approved extinguisher. It should also be remembered that, to operate at maximum efficiency, the equipment must be installed and used as specified by the manufacturers.
Q - For many years, BCF has been the most widely-used extinguishant. Why is it now being phased out?
A - Although BCF (otherwise known as Halons) has been widely used in aviation, computers and many, many other applications, research revealed that it has an adverse effect on the earth`s atmosphere. This depleting effect on the ozone layer is such that BCF - despite its excellent fire extinguishant properties - is being phased out and in some countries is already illegal. The FIA no longer accepts BCF while, on UK national events, the MSA will continue to permit its use until the end of this year. As from 1 January 2003, the use of BCF/Halons will become illegal within the UK, except in a small number of specified situations (such as on-board systems fitted to existing aircraft).
Q - What extinguishant is being used to replace BCF?
A - There is no simple replacement for BCF and thus competitors must fit either a new extinguisher or a new extinguisher system. The most widely-used extinguishant available at a comparable cost is Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF). AFFF does not have the same ‘knock-down` properties as Halons, but in some cases can be more effective at preventing re-ignition of a fire. In terms of performance, albeit at a higher price, the closest approximation to BCF is VIRO3, a gas system which is commercially available and is FIA homologated for plumbed-in applications. Hand-held VIRO3 extinguishers are available, with FIA approval awaited. VIRO3 systems can be purchased from the Fire Extinguisher Valve Company (tel 01903 726367) or from Safety Devices (tel 01353 724202).
Q - What is the MSA doing to keep competitors informed of developments and can we expect better extinguishants in the future?
A - Over the past three years, the MSA has kept competitors aware of the situation via a nationwide publicity campaign. During the same time, the MSA and FIA have been working with manufacturers to find and develop alternatives to BCF/Halons. Both extinguisher and chemical companies continue to invest massive resources in researching the subject and alternative firefighting materials are being developed, some of which are getting closer to achieving the knock-down properties of BCF/Halons. The MSA is monitoring these developments and is fully committed to expanding the range of available extinguishants and systems so as to give competitors the widest opportunity of obtaining the protection they require - provided, of course, this meets or exceeds the laid down minimum standards.
For information only - no regulatory value/e&oe/ends/