The objectives of smoke control

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The danger of fumes

Dangers for people

Since the 1980’s, it is known that 80% of the deaths caused by a fire are due to the inhalation of toxic fumes. We can distinguish 3 main dangers. Hazards related to opacity, toxicity and temperature.

Opacity Hazards:

Fumes have a particularity which is their opacity. However, when a person is caught in a fire and visibility is reduced to less than 4 meters, it becomes almost impossible for them to find their way out and find the emergency exits.

In a state of panic, the occupant loses his or her bearings and acts as if he or she is trapped in a confined space, losing all sense of direction. If the person is not removed quickly from this atmosphere, the situation can quickly become fatal.

Photo de la perte de visibilité dans un couloir d'hôtel lors d'un incendie - désenfumage et fumée
Loss of visibility at the start of a fire

Toxicity Hazards:

A fire releases about 140 hazardous compounds, some highly concentrated, that can be fatal even after a short exposure. Victims must be rescued within 30 minutes of the fire. Toxic gases fall into two categories: asphyxiating gases (such as cyanides and carbon oxides) that depress the central nervous system, and irritating gases (such as chlorine and its derivatives) that damage the respiratory mucosa. Among the most dangerous compounds for human beings we find :

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen oxides

In the event of a fire, there is a significant reduction in the amount of oxygen available in the air, which can cause syncope or even death if the oxygen concentration drops below 6%. The fumes from the fire also contain toxic compounds that can cause rapid poisoning. A person in a smoky environment will cough, but this can make the situation worse by increasing their exposure to toxic substances.

In addition, the decreased amount of oxygen in the air can lead to impaired motor coordination and difficulty moving, which can put the victim at risk of death if not evacuated quickly. It is therefore crucial to take precautions to prevent fires and to know how to react in case of emergency.

Temperature-related hazards:

In a fire, the temperature can rise rapidly and reach levels lethal to the lung alveoli above 120°C, causing the victim’s death within minutes. However, the fumes produced have a very low density, which causes them to rise towards the ceiling and accumulate in layers with decreasing temperatures (a phenomenon called “stratification”).

Due to convection and stratification, it is recommended to move closer to the ground during a fire, where temperatures are lower, concentrations of toxic compounds are lower and oxygen levels are higher. In short, it is advisable to get close to the ground to maximize the chances of survival in the event of a fire.

Hazards to property

Smoke plays an important role in the propagation of fires because of its characteristics. During a fire, combustible materials are exposed to high temperatures in hot, oxygen-depleted environments, such as smoke or the interior of the flame. As a result, the materials decompose and produce combustible gases that feed the flames, this phenomenon is called pyrolysis.

In addition, the fumes are also corrosive, containing compounds such as hydrochloric acid, which are hazardous to building structures and property in the area affected by the fire.

The roles and objectives of smoke control

In short, the greatest threat to a person caught in a fire is smoke poisoning. It is therefore crucial to evacuate the smoke from the affected building, which is accomplished through smoke extraction. During a fire, the smoke and heat produced remain trapped inside the building, which can prevent the occupants from safely exiting. The purpose of smoke extraction is to evacuate a portion of the smoke from the fire to create an area of free air below the smoke layer.

The benefits of smoke control are many: it facilitates the evacuation of occupants by maintaining visibility and fresh air, it limits the spread of the fire by evacuating hot gases and particles, it allows firefighters to access the fire scene, and it helps reduce the risk of building collapse by limiting the temperature rise.

The concept of smoke control engineering

The decree of March 22, 2004 introduced the engineering of smoke control, which is used when the strict application of the regulations is not possible, as in buildings classified as historical monuments where certain modifications are impossible. This approach aims to simulate the evolution of smoke during a fire and its control by natural and/or mechanical smoke control systems.

Engineering studies must be performed by organizations recognized as competent by the Ministry of the Interior. These studies should include a comprehensive presentation of the assumptions made, simulations showing satisfactory smoke control, and a presentation of the results and conclusions regarding the effectiveness of the recommended smoke control systems.

In 2017, the Good Practice Guide for Smoke Control Engineering Studies was published by the Central Laboratory of the Paris Prefecture. This guide clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the actors, harmonizes the definitions, formalizes the process of smoke control engineering, defines imposed fire scenarios, harmonizes the predefined acceptability criteria and establishes the different methods of smoke control tests on site.

The constraints of smoke control

In order to meet the objectives stated above, several constraints must be respected to ensure effective smoke control. The first constraint consists in limiting the volumes to be cleared of smoke by using compartmentalization through the installation of firewalls and fire doors to reduce the propagation of the fire.

Large sales areas that cannot be compartmentalized will be reduced by creating containment screens to channel fumes to the exhaust systems. Moreover, it will be necessary to respect the stratification phenomenon by avoiding creating turbulences that could send the hot fumes back to the ground. Blowing speeds should never exceed 5 m/s. For an efficient scavenging, the fresh air intakes should be located at the bottom and the smoke exhausts at the top, avoiding any dead zone where a smoke plug could stagnate.

Finally, it will also be important to comply with thermal regulations to ensure optimal thermal comfort without having to resort to permanent openings to the outside.

The constraints of smoke control

There are two main principles for smoke control: sweeping and pressure hierarchy. The sweeping consists in circulating fresh air in the lower part of the volume to be de-smoked and in extracting the smoke in the upper part. This can be done naturally or mechanically depending on the type of drainage.

The pressure hierarchy, on the other hand, consists of establishing a lower pressure in the affected volume than in the adjacent rooms in order to create an equilibrium that prevents the spread of smoke. This method is often used in high-rise buildings and requires mechanical smoke extraction.

The different modes of smoke extraction

Natural smoke control

This is the most common type, which uses smoke vents or remotely controlled openings in the façade to evacuate smoke, and doors or openings to bring in air. The controls must act simultaneously on the exhaust and supply air.

Mechanical/natural smoke control

This configuration is less frequent and requires the use of a fan for the air supply when the volume to be de-scented is semi-buried or otherwise difficult to access. Air inlets must have an air velocity of less than 5 m/s, and smoke exhausts must be made from roof mounted outlets.

Natural/mechanical smoke control

Here, the extraction is carried out by one or more fans, while the air supply is carried out by remote-controlled doors or openings as for natural smoke extraction. The dimensions of the air inlets are calculated taking into account the total extraction flow.

Mechanical/mechanical smoke control

This type of smoke extraction requires both supply and exhaust fans. The air velocity at the supply ports must not exceed 5 m/s to avoid destratification of the fumes. The supply air flow rate must be lower than the exhaust air flow rate to respect the pressure hierarchy, generally up to 0.6 times the exhaust air flow rate.

Examples of CFD simulation applications

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Example of CFD simulation projects:

Modélisation CFD de la pollution de l'air par des poudres de médicaments

Pharmaceutical Laboratory – Dust

Modèle 3d d'une piscine

Swimming pool – Montreuil

Thermal comfort study – trichloramine diffusion in a children’s pool

Schéma de l'aéraulique de deux machines IS - Verrerie

Glassworks – Vosges

Illustration d'étude CFD - usine - eolienne

Plant – Wind turbine

Etude de l'aéraulique d'un entrepôt de stockage pharmaceutique

Cold Room – Leipzig

Simulation CFD transitoire de la dispersion du gaz NOVEC dans un data center

Data Center – GAZ NOVEC

Coupe des vitesses d'air CFD dans une chambre froide de ressuage non optimisée

Cold room – penetrant testing

Départ de feu dans un hôpital - simulation

Smoke extraction – CHU

Identification des panaches thermiques au dessus d'un four industriel

Industrial Workshop – Mexico

démolition par explosion d'un silo à grain en ville - poussières

Fine dust measurements

Etude des panaches de fumée de brulage de graisse simulation CFD - scalaire

Glass factory of the Loire

Simulation de la répartition des fumées dans des locaux de bureau lors d'un incendie

ISI – Offices – Grand Army

Simulation CFD permettant de visualiser le déplacement de l'air dans un laboratoire et d'étudier le confinement des sorbonnes

Qualification of fume cupboards – Laboratory

Simulation CFD Externe d'un data center - étude du vent - tube de courant - température

CFD-Data Center – Saint Denis

Modélisation de l'air chaud surchauffé en sortie de four industriel

Factory – glove production