Fire Damper replacement protects IT connections
A fire damper replacement project carried out by Brakel Airvent has ensured vital IT connections will remain safe for years to come, at a key banking centre.
The work has eliminated the potential for fire dampers to slice through vital computer cabling, threatening an interruption to major international bond and share trading systems.
The project, at the Bromley offices of a major international banking organisation is typical of the sort of vital preventative work that is sometimes necessary, to prevent future problems. Fire dampers are typically concealed within ceiling voids, and often left unchecked due to maintenance shortfalls. This, combined with ad hoc changes to building systems, can lead to situations where business-critical operations and / or vital fire safety provisions are put at risk.
In this case, cabling contractors had installed new IT in the building, more than five years previously. With the need to run cables from one department to another, they opted to place them in the ceiling void, using air duct pathways as the easiest route through fire break walls.
The problem with their solution was that some of the cables passed directly through fire damper assemblies. These particular assemblies are designed with a spring-release shutter that slams closed to prevent the passage of smoke and fire between compartments, usually activated by a thermal fuse. The mechanisms, designed to be triggered by heat, have a habit of failing without warning, if not regularly maintained, tested and replaced where necessary, (as with all fire safety systems, in accordance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, there is a mandatory legal requirement for Smoke & Fire Dampers to be serviced annually and certified accordingly, by a suitably trained and experienced specialist service provider).
In addition, the presence of the cables meant that the fire dampers would not be able to close properly during a fire, increasing the risk of fire spreading quickly throughout the building. Apart from the danger to occupants, such a failure would also have been problematic if and when the issue was raised following a routine Fire Risk Assessment.
The consequences of a damper dropping on the cabling was noted, during one such inspection. But, with the cables carrying vital business trading connections around the clock, the challenge was how to remedy the risky situation, without cutting the cables.
A team from Airvent came up with a solution that satisfied the brief and, following an approval of the solution and the work programme from the bank’s head office, the remedial work began.
The existing damper assemblies measuring typically 1000mm by 300mm were cut through, allowing the cables to be dropped clear and rerouted in the ceiling void nearby. New fire dampers were then installed into the existing fire break openings, and of the building’s eighty fire dampers, twenty three had to be cut and replaced.
To avoid interruptions to staff working in the offices, the remedial works were undertaken overnight or at weekends, with the Airvent team ensuring that all work areas were left in a clean and tidy condition at the end of each shift, ahead of the following business day.
“Many people are inclined to take short cuts if they are in a hurry,” says Charles Hurdman of Brakel Airvent. “In this case, cabling contractors had, quite innocently, put the building and its occupants at risk, by compromising the fire safety system in the offices. The cables they installed were also, over time, at risk of being damaged should a damper have failed – an interruption that could have cost the bank millions in lost trades. Our retrofit was complex to achieve, but has left both the building’s fire damper installation and vital IT connections in a safe state for years to come.”