On October 29, 2007, a warehouse in Des Moines, Iowa experienced a massive fire and series of explosions stemming from a 300-gallon portable tank of the flammable liquid, ethyl acetate. An operator chose to place a weight on the fill nozzle, forcing it to remain in the open position. The operator placed a hose in the open nozzle and walked away to complete other work. The nozzle and hose fell off during the fill process and the ethyl acetate began discharging on the floor. The wood-framed warehouse was a perfect catalyst for the spread of the fire. A fire started, and as it spread, it ignited a large volume of flammable liquids being stored throughout the facility. The warehouse was destroyed, production was hindered, and two people were injured.
This facility did not have automatic fire sprinklers in the area where the flammable liquids were beingtransferred or stored. Due to the lack of fire suppression in the immediate vicinity, the fire grew too large to be suppressed once the fire spread to sprinklered areas of the warehouse. According to the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, “If a fire suppression system had been installed in the packaging area and the area had been separated from the warehouse by fire-rated walls and doors, this fire likely would have been extinguished or contained before engulfing the entire warehouse.” This facility was in direct violation of code NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids, Chapter 16, Automatic Fire Protection for Inside Liquid Storage Areas. They are not the only ones. Everyday facilities are cited for violating this code. Why are NFPA 30 violations so prevalent?
Insurance Underwriters are Focusing on NFPA 30
Currently, insurance underwriters are paying close attention to NFPA 30. Older industrial buildings that were previously used for manufacturing are now being repurposed for flammable liquid storage. These facilities were not designed to properly store flammable liquids and most do not have fire-rated walls and doors to ward off fire from the rest of the facility.
Even some facilities that are experienced in storing flammable liquids are earning violations. Flammable liquids and other hazardous materials have changed over time. Fire protection solutions that may have been adequate before are no longer capable of suppressing fires derived from newer more complex flammable liquids.
NFPA 30 is Complex
To give this code perspective, we will compare it to NFPA 13, The Standard for Installation of Sprinkler Systems. NFPA 13 is a code used for every type of Fire Sprinkler System solution.
In this code, there are 26 chapters. In NFPA 30, which has a significantly smaller population of users, there are 29 chapters, 14 annexes, 1 chart, and 1 form.
To determine each fire protection need, according to NFPA 30, facilities must answer a series of questions before coming to a conclusion. For example, to find out how high a facility can store flammable liquids in vertical stacks, facilities must research and answer the following questions:
1. Is it a liquid (fluidity, viscosity, water-miscible)?
2. What type of liquid is it (flammable, combustible, flash points, boiling points, etc)?
3. What is the liquid classification (IA, IB, II, III, IIIA, IIIB)?
4. What type of occupancy is the liquid stored in (healthcare facility, industrial, process, liquid storage warehouse etc)?
5. What type of container is the liquid stored in (drums, portable tanks, relieving, non-relieving, immediate bulk containers, etc)?
6. Is there an automatic sprinkler system protecting the space (design flow rate, density, foam/water, etc)?
7. What is the container arrangement (palletized, rack, maximum allowable quantity, etc)?
For each different liquid storage fire protection solution – sprinklers, detection, and a wide-array of physical storage requirements – several questions must be researched and answered. This can be extremely burdensome for facility staff with a variety of responsibilities.
With a combination of fire protection professionals and NFPA 30 provided charts and forms, it is possible to apply this extremely complicated code. If a facility chooses to take on this task independently, it is recommended to utilize figures 16.4.1(a), 16.4.1(b), and 16.4.1(c) (see below) from NFPA 30 to determine the correct section of chapter 16 to focus on.
However, even with the use of charts, many sections of the code have numerous exceptions and refer to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) as the point of reference.
It is advised that facilities do not attempt to apply the complicated NFPA 30 code on their own. Hire a fire protection solution provider that has a relationship with the AHJ and underwriters who can provide their expertise to ensure code compliancy. With the help of one simple seven question form (see below) and a fire protection solution provider, facilities can feel certain their buildings are code compliant.
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