Clean extinguishing agent helps save the Alamo

During a fire, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library saved numerous historical documents from the flames thanks to a solution called fluoroketone that would not damage or harm the older documents like other agents would.

By Information provided by 3M. September 22, 2011

Part of the historical Alamo complex in San Antonio, The Daughters of The Republic of Texas Library is situated within the Alamo compound. The library is used as resource for history scholars as well as a point of reference for educators, students, and interested visitors. It contains rare books, art by Theodore Gentilz and Julian Onderdonk, and historic photographs and primary resource documents. So when The Daughters of The Republic of Texas Library suffered an accidental discharge of its Halon 1301 fire suppression system, The Daughters took swift action.

Fortunately, no loss or significant damage was incurred by the discharge, but the cleanup process was substantial and costly, prompting discussions by The Daughters to replace the system with a more modern, efficient product that would ensure the protection of the library’s precious holdings and have a low impact on the environment. As a result, The Daughters undertook a feasibility study that included a comprehensive review and assessment of available fire suppression systems, along with a survey of 24 local and national repositories with special collections, and input from representatives of the San Antonio Fire Department and State Fire Marshal’s office. As the study revealed, an overwhelming number of facilities used a wet pipe sprinkler system, but the library was reluctant to follow suit because of potential damage from an accidental discharge. Instead, the library decided to evaluate Ansul SAPPHIRE fire suppression system using 3M Novec 1230 fire protection fluid as well as hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-based systems including Fike ECARO-25 and DuPont FM-200.

Because the library is housed within a historical structure historical, the goal was to seek out a replacement that would work with explicit regulatory codes and actual structure limitations, as well as the budgetary parameters of a nonprofit organization. The primary goals of introducing a new system included:

  • Protect valued historical library works from fire and minimize collateral damage in the event of a fire
  • Replace, in the event of a fire or accidental discharge, the existing, outdated protection system with a cost-effective solution that works within established building parameters
  • Adhere to regulations set forth by the Texas Historical Commission and reflect coding of a landmark property
  • Incorporate a suppression system that does not use water, is safe, and minimizes environmental impact.


To assist in the change, The Daughters hired experts at Ansul, a brand of Tyco Fire Suppression and Building Products. The system ultimately chosen as the best option, meeting all of the primary goals to protect the library, was the Ansul SAPPHIRE fire suppression system using 3M Novec 1230 fluid.

This fluoroketone is an advanced “clean extinguishing agent” fire suppression material used to protect high-value assets such as artifacts, documents, data centers, computers, and other critical devices where water would damage artifacts when extinguishing a fire. The agent does not damage sensitive electronics or delicate documents and does not leave residue upon discharge. Designed to balance industry concerns for performance, human safety, and the environment, the fire suppression fluid is ideally suited for the protection of libraries, archives, and document repositories because it can be discharged on books, invaluable artwork, artifacts, sensitive electronics, and other delicate items without causing harm.

A principal concern for use of water in fire protection for libraries and archival collections is the subsequent threat of promoting the growth of mold and mildew. For The Daughters, the defining advantage of the fluoroketone is that it is an inert clean agent. Although stored as a liquid, interestingly, the agent is discharged as a gas, leaving the contents residue-free and dry.

Having been satisfied with the performance attributes, The Daughters turned their attention to the environmental and safety profile of the possible substitutes. The fluoroketone has zero ozone depletion potential, an atmospheric lifetime of 5 days, and a global warming potential (GWP) of one (compared to HFCs that have GWPs in excess of 3500). In addition, it is typically used at concentrations of 4% to 6%, but its No Observed Adverse Effects Level (NOAEL) is 10%, which is the highest safety margin of all commercially viable chemical clean agents.

According to Joe Ziemba, marketing manager at 3M, there is a lot of regulatory discussion surrounding the desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in fire suppression. With the fluoroketone, The Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the library staff can be confident their fire suppression system is safe for people and the environment both now and into the foreseeable future.

The specification of the fluoroketone provided The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library with a degree of future proofing, but the manufacturer’s Blue Sky Warranty provides an extra level of assurance. The warranty states that if the fluid is banned from or restricted in use as a fire extinguishing agent because of its ozone depletion or global warming potential, the manufacturer will refund the purchase price of the fluid. This warranty is valid for 20 years, and the fluoroketone is the only product of its kind with this unique global warranty.

“The library houses many one-of-a-kind pieces representing the cultural heritage of Texas and that are irreplaceable and vital to the education of future generations,” said Leslie Stapleton, library director at The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library. “Fire safety is always a concern in a preservation setting, and fluoroketone is our insurance policy that lets us breathe a little easier.”


Ansul installed the fire suppression system and auxiliary equipment in two phases. The first removed the old halon piping and installed the new piping for the fire suppression system. The second added new smoke and fire sensors necessary for cross zoning, and updated the smoke and fire alarm system. Additionally, fire alarm pull stations and fire extinguishers are located throughout the library and adjoining Alamo Hall.

This new fire suppression system—installed throughout The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library, support offices, and library vault—provides continuous fire protection. Items in the library’s collections document various aspects of Texas and San Antonio history from the 1500s to the present. Some of the rare and one-of-a-kind treasures that are protected by the fluoroketone include artifacts relating to Austin’s Colony, the Battle of the Alamo, and the Texas Revolution, such as:

  • Two original copies of the Texas Declaration of Independence, of the 13 known to still exist
  • Items, including petticoats, that belonged to Alamo survivors Susanna and Angelina Dickinson
  • A letter written by Alamo defender Daniel William Cloud while on his way to Texas in December 1835
  • A letter written by Abishai Dickson, who was killed at the Battle of Goliad, while traveling to Texas
  • A map hand-drawn by Stephen F. Austin in the 1820s
  • A rare original copy of the Diario del Gobierno de la Republica Mexicana, the official newspaper of the Mexican government, announcing the fall of the Alamo on March 21, 1836
  • Spring Morning, the first painting of a bluebonnet scene by Julian Onderdonk, circa 1911. (Onderdonk later became famous for his bluebonnet scenes.)

The installation was approved by the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office. Ninety percent of the installation was completed within 15 days. The system became fully operational 67 days from beginning the installation.

Just as the battle at the Alamo helped Texas successfully declare its freedom, this fluoroketone clean extinguishing agent has helped give The Daughters of the Republic of Texas freedom from the possible threats posed by other fire protection agents. They have the peace of mind that comes from knowing their valuable assets are protected with a sustainable technology.

State Library of Pennsylvania sets the standard for preservation

After 16 months of research, the State Library of Pennsylvania selected a fluoroketone clean extinguishing agent to protect the closed stacks of the Rare Collections Library. The library houses the nation’s heritage, including the library Benjamin Franklin purchased that influenced the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The preservation environment was designed to protect the collection and sets the standard for libraries with one of the lowest maintenance and energy costs in the country.

  • At a maintenance cost of $0.15/volume/year, this high-preservation environment is more affordable than many newly built public libraries and is comparable to a typical Pennsylvania public library.
  • Initial energy costs for the Rare Collections Library have proven to be affordable at less than $0.08/volume/year.

The State Library of Pennsylvania’s holistic preservation system took into consideration routine maintenance, energy efficiency, long-term costs, environmental impact, lighting, air quality, airflow, security, fire protection, fire detection, and fire suppression.

Information provided by 3M.