How do you suppress an industrial electrical cabinet fire?

Depending on the size of the electrical cabinet and the voltage of the electrical service, fires in electrical cabinets can be challenging. Fires in electrical cabinets are an enclosed special hazard and cannot be extinguished by conventional means such as using water. [WARNING: The application of water is NEVER recommended for ANY electrical fire.]

The following are general steps to be taken in the event of an industrial electrical cabinet fire, but in all cases, facility emergency response procedures should prevail.

1. Sound the alarm!

The first step in any fire is to sound the alarm, evacuate people from the area, and notify the fire department and/or plant Emergency Response Team (ERT).

Photo courtesy of JuxDotCom

Photo courtesy of JuxDotCom

2. Isolate the power.

Many electrical cabinet installations have built-in sensors or circuits that automatically isolate the power in the event of a fire or other electrical emergency.
Power isolation is vital since the heat from the electrical current will sustain the fire as long as it is energized.

If automatic isolation does not occur, power isolation should only be attempted by qualified personnel from power operations or utility departments.

3. Let an installed fixed system suppress the fire

Ideally, the electrical cabinet(s) or room(s) housing them are protected by a special hazard condensed aerosol fire suppression system.

Photo courtesy of Fireaway Inc.

Photo courtesy of Fireaway Inc.

These systems deploy a fire suppression agent which suppresses the fire in seconds. They typically work automatically and do not require any human intervention.

Condensed aerosol fixed systems are the preferred choice around any type of specialized or heavy electrical equipment. They eliminate the need for personnel to enter the fire area, and being automatic (in most cases), they are on-duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

4. If necessary, utilize portable fire extinguishers.

Portable fire extinguishers are an option if the cabinet is not protected by a fixed system. They should only be employed if it is safe to approach the fire. A disadvantage of portable fire extinguishers is that they require the operator to be in close proximity to the fire.

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While electrical cabinets are designed and engineered to prevent the occurrence of fires, they still can and will occur. Different from most traditional residential and commercial fires, the danger and complexity of industrial electrical cabinet fires requires special tactics and equipment. Fixed fire suppression systems are uniquely designed to utilize systems rather than people to extinguish industrial electrical cabinet fires.

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