Definition

hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) clean agent

Contributor(s): Meredith Courtemanche

Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) clean agent is a chemical compound that suppresses Classes A, B and C fires without water or harmful chemical residue. In 1994, HFC clean agents largely replaced chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) halon agents, which cause ozone damage.

Hydrofluorocarbons are organic compounds that contain hydrogen (hydro) and fluorine (fluoro), and can damage the environment. However, gases based on HFCs are nonflammable, low in toxicity, chemically stable with a long shelf life, and nonconductive to electricity, nor damaging to widely used materials such as copper and plastic. Therefore, HFC clean agents are safe firefighting and explosion dampening material for buildings that house valuable and sensitive electronic equipment, such as data centers, telecommunications rooms, military and life sciences installations and more. They are also commonly used for refrigeration, semiconductor manufacturing and in other specialized applications.

Portable fire extinguishers and pressurized fire suppression systems deploy HFC clean agent as a gas when triggered by a smoke alarm. Some deployments use HFC clean agent as a primary safety system with water sprinklers as a backup. Other options include dry pipe and pre-action sprinklers.

The National Fire Protection Association releases a standard for clean agent extinguisher design and operation. There are safety precautions to follow for handling and exposure to HFC clean agents, and a maximum concentration level for safe occupancy because HFCs can displace vital oxygen in a room's air space -- desirable for extinguishing fire, but potentially dangerous for people. If HFCs are released, test the atmosphere with an air monitoring instrument before returning to normal operations, and alert firefighting personnel to the chemicals in use.

Dupont is a major HFC clean agent supplier.

This was last updated in January 2015

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