Earlier this year in Brooklyn, firefighters responded to a small fire in a storage facility with 1.1. million cubic feet of storage. According to an article in The New York Times, responders shut down the sprinklers—which had contained the blaze—in an effort to prevent further water damage. A few hours later, firefighters responded to a second emergency call at the same location—the sprinklers were offline, and the fire reached seven alarms.

The good news about warehouse fires is that, statistically, they have lower-than-average rates of injury and death than other occupancies. The bad news, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), is that they tend to be associated with much higher averages of property loss. Plus, the sheer size of the structures and amount of potential fuel inside can make a fire even more difficult to extinguish.

This year we’ve already seen several warehouse blazes across the country—in Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, to name a few—so let’s take a look at the steps we can take in understanding, preventing, and managing warehouse fires.

First and foremost, it’s important for warehouse owners to know that sprinkler systems are not one-size-fits-all. As dictated in a 2012 NFPA article, the type of sprinkler system used should be determined by the fire hazards found in that particular facility.

Factors that determine the type of sprinkler system necessary for a storage facility include:

  • Type and combustibility of goods being stored
  • Packaging, pallet, shelving, and structure type
  • Height of storage
  • Clearance to ceiling

It’s also worth noting that in the event of changes or modifications made to any of the aforementioned factors, the sprinkler system may also need to be modified accordingly.

While you may think this goes without saying, an effective sprinkler system must have a sufficient water supply in order to be successful at preventing devastating loss. And once the proper sprinkler system is installed, it’s essential that the water supply system it’s connected to be inspected, tested, and maintained on a regular schedule.

Warehouse fires have decreased significantly over the past few decades—down from 4,700 in 1980 to 1,200 in 2011, according to the NFPA. But warehouse fires are still causing millions of dollars of damage every year, and the Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), a research affiliate of the NFPA, conducted a project researching the matter. Phase I investigated fire detection technologies for modern warehouses, as fire safety solutions have become a growing concern; modern-day warehouses have become massive – they are taller and filled with more commodities – including a multitude of hazardous materials. It is not uncommon for industrial warehouses to exceed the length of 10 or more football fields and include high-piled rack storage reaching heights of 100 feet or more above the floor.

Phase II of the FPRF research project was going to characterize warehouse fires and evaluate the performance and effectiveness of the detection system against the design fires. According to an FPRF administrator, the second phase of the project was not conducted due to lack of funding, but the goal was to evaluate the overall effectiveness of available technologies, and to develop new standards for fire detection in warehouse facilities.

The fire protection engineers at Harrington Group are leading experts in developing fire protection solutions for warehouses and distribution centers. As these facilities evolve, we continue to provide innovative solutions for unique storage requirements through various tools, such as fire modeling.

Check out these examples of how we were able to help our clients save money with their warehouse and distribution facilities:

If you would like more information on how our fire protection engineers can help you with fire safety solutions in your warehouse or distribution center, fill out the form below, and one of our experts will contact you: [gravityform id=”1″ name=”Contact Us”]