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What are advantages and disadvantages of diesel-engine and electric motor driven fire pumps, and when is each the appropriate choice?
Gayle Pennel, P.E. Schirmer Engineering Corp.

When the sites transformer is installed and owned by the utility, the cost is built into the rates charged. If the owner must pay for the transformer, its likely that a diesel engine fire pump will cost less than the total cost of the electric-motor-driven fire pump with transformer.

5. It should be noted that some events that cause a power outage, may also cause a fire (ex. lightning, tornados, hurricanes). This effect is not factored into this analysis. In areas that may be subjected to prolonged power outages, increased reliability may be justified at significantly lower exposed values than identified in this article. 6. Increased reliability should also be provided whenever there are significant life safety considerations. Many health care facilities, i.e. nursing homes and assisted living facilities, have immobile patients who are difficult to evacuate. Assembly occupancies have high population densities where crowd control and evacuation issues necessitate increased reliability,


Diesel-engine-driven fire pumps are more reliable than electric-motor-driven fire pumps with power from a single utility, or two substations. The reliability of a diesel-engine-driven fire pump is slightly less than an electric-motor-driven fire pump with power available from both a utility and an emergency generator. The simplified expected loss shown in the accompanying table provides a way of evaluating reliability. When exposed values exceed $10 million, increased reliability (diesel-engine-driven fire pump or electric-motor-driven pump with emergency generator backup) is clearly justified. A more sophisticated analysis is included in the complete white paper to compare cost and reliability. 1. In general, when the transformer is supplied by the utility and the feeder is not too long, electric-motordriven pumps with a single utility power source and utility-furnished transformer can be installed for less than diesel-engine-driven pumps. The cost differential is less when a reduced voltage starter is required for the electric-motor-driven fire pump. The other significant variable in the total installed cost of an electric-motor-driven fire pump is the length of the electric feed from the transformer to the electric motor. This can quickly make the electric-motordriven fire pump more expensive than the dieseldriven fire pump. When the exposed value is low (less than $10 million) the decreased reliability of an electric-motor-driven fire pump with power from a single utility may be acceptable (expected loss increases by $90,899). 2. Diesel-engine-driven pumps provide better value when considering installed cost and expected loss when exposed value is moderate ($10 million to $100 million). 3. Installed cost of diesel-engine-driven pumps is less than for electric fire pumps with a dual power source (i.e. an emergency generator or two substations), and provides nearly the equivalent reliability to a system with an emergency generator and greater reliability to two substations. 4. For high exposed value (>$100 million), dual pumps (two diesel-engine-driven or one dieselengine-driven and one electric-motor-driven) with independent water supplies are needed to provide suitable reliability.

Lastly, electricity demand charges have significant impact on yearly maintenance and present value cost for electric fire pumps. In general, in areas with significant demand charges for electricity, presentvalue cost for a diesel engine is less than for an electric-motor-driven fire pump when the pumps electrical demand exceeds electrical demand for other uses, and when weekly pump testing is conducted during peak demand hours.

For this study, it is assumed that the appropriate pump size is known. Cost of fire pump maintenance and operation is factored into this analysis, while requirements for fire pump maintenance are beyond its scope. Discussions of reliability are based on the following assumptions: Fire pumps are installed according to NFPA 20, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection. Fire pumps are maintained according to NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. Emergency generators are installed according to NFPA 110, Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems.

Primary considerations in selecting a fire pump driver are: Reliability Initial cost Maintenance cost Operating cost Design Safety

Reliability of Single-Source Electric Power for an Electric Motor NFPA 20 requires power supply to electric-motordriven fire pumps be reliable, but doesnt define reliable. Reliability of electric power is affected by many things including natural disasters, transformer or substation failure, utility grid maintenance, etc. In August 2003, much of the northeastern grid covering parts of New York, New Jersey, New England, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and several Canadian provinces was blacked out up to several days. Hurricane Isabel caused massive blackouts the following month, up and down the East Coast. Since 1999, the utility serving Chicago, IL, experienced various outages, some lasting 3 to 4 days. Downtown Chicago recently experienced outages involving multiple substations. Loss of power and the start of a fire cannot be viewed as entirely independent events, i.e. there is a higher likelihood of fire during an outage. Storms, lightning, tornados, hurricanes and terrorism may cause both a power outage and fire. Reaction to a power outage may result in a fire, too, as when using candles.

Reliability of Electric Power from Two Substations for an Electric Motor Providing backup power can increase reliability of electric-motor-driven pumps. Backup power can be from a different substation or an onsite generator. Theoretically, if one power source is 99% reliable, two totally independent power sources would be 99.99% reliable. However, while backup power from a second substation improves reliability, substations arent totally independent. Events causing loss of power at one substation may cause loss of power at other substations, as with the northeast outage. Reliability of Electric Power from a Utility and an On-Site Emergency Generator for an Electric Motor Properly installed and maintained emergency generators increase reliability of an electric-motordriven fire pump. However, there are significant differences between NFPA 20 diesel engine fire pump drivers and NFPA 110 emergency generator drivers. Then too, differences in installation and testing requirements make diesel engine fire pumps more reliable than emergency generators.

This study is adapted from the Schirmer Engineering White Paper on Diesel vs. Electric. To request a copy of the complete white paper, call 614.764.1224 or e-mail

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Failure Probabilities and Expected Losses With Different Pump Drivers

Item Power Supply Reliability Power from Single Utility Power from Two Substations Emergency Generator Pump Reliability Pump Driver Reliability Diesel Engine Fire Pump Driver Electric Motor Fire Pump Driver Electric Motor Driven Fire Pump Single Utility Two Substations Utility and Emergency Generator Diesel Engine Driven Fire Pump Dual Electric Motor Driven Pumps With emergency generator backup One Diesel and One Electric Pump Without emergency generator backup Dual Diesel Engine Driven Pumps Failure Probability Reliability Expected Loss with $10,000,000 Exposure 2

Causes of most fire protection system failures can be eliminated by installing fire protection systems and components according to NFPA standards, maintaining fire protection systems according to NFPA 25, and providing remote supervision according to NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code. Reliability of Fire Pump Diesel Engine Drivers Diesel-engine-driven fire pumps are not affected by power outages, and are designed to be more reliable than automotive, truck or standby diesel generator set engines. Most of the reasons that engines fail to start are minimized or eliminated in a fire pump installation. The fire pump diesel engine isnt subjected to cold temperature, backup batteries are part of every fire pump installation, batteries are monitored, and the engine is tested weekly for 30 minutes. The fuel level is supervised.

1.0%1 0.5%1 1.0%1 0.1%1 0.10%1 0.010%1 1.1089% 0.6094% 0.1200% 0.1999% 0.0101% 0.0022% 0.0004%

99.00% 99.50% 99.00% 99.90% 99.90% 99.99% 98.8911% 99.3906% 99.8800% 99.8001% 99.9899% 99.9978% 99.9996% $110,889 $60,944 $11,998 $19,990 $1,012 $222 $40

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1. Failure Probability based on authors best estimate. 2. Expected loss for a single fire, assuming a negligible loss if the fire pump operates and a total loss if the fire pump fails to operate. The expected loss is presented to aid in evaluating reliability issues. The exposed value includes the value of the building and contents, but also business interruption potential and liability exposure.

Fire Protection Products, Inc.