Addressing Warehouse Fire Protection as Industry Booms in Kansas City

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Summary: The Kansas City warehouse market is growing rapidly due to its location. Learn how these warehouses can be protected from fire.


  • The growth of the Kansas City warehouse market

  • How to protect warehouses from fire

  • The different fire hazards that arise with cold storage, automated, and warehouses that stack products high.

Did you know that 85 percent of the U.S population can be reached from a Kansas City location in two days or less? Situated right at the intersection of four of the country's major highways, Kansas City is the hub of logistics. Being centrally located can make you the life of the party in the eyes of e-commerce companies like Amazon, Jet.Com, and Overstock. It's one party that keeps getting bigger.

In 2018, holiday e-commerce sales pulled in $126 billion, up from an already great 2017 with $108.2 billion. With many companies promising fast shipping during high-traffic holidays, Kansas City’s proximity to the rest of the nation makes it possible.

The demand in warehouse space in Kansas City has seen recent incredible growth year over year. In 2017, the area ranked number 1 in industrial transaction growth rates.

Protection Against Fire Hazards in Warehouses

Fires are an ever-present but highly avoidable hazard that can threaten the safety of workers as well as a company’s entire inventory. In the five years between 2007-2011, 6,350 warehouse fires led to $188 million in property damage. A central location doesn’t matter if the inventory has been destroyed in a fire.

As companies like Amazon continue to expand within the region, both existing and new warehouses will have to adapt to the new workload and the fire protection it demands.

A properly installed sprinkler system can be all it takes to avoid a tragedy. The Bedford Park Warehouse fire is an excellent testimony to this. In 2015, 12 sprinkler heads extinguished a fire that engulfed a semi-trailer before emergency crews arrived.

Sprinkler systems are not one-size-fits-all. Fire sprinklers are designed to fit the specific needs of the warehouse, taking into account how the product is stored. Warehouses store products in several different ways from cold storage to high stacks and automated systems.

Cold Storage Warehouses

Kansas City is home to Subtropolis, the world’s largest underground storage facility. This giant, high-tech warehouse is built into the Bethany Falls limestone mine and boasts 6,000,000 square feet of available space for cold storage.

Cold storage presents its own unique fire hazards:

  •   Flammable insulators and refrigerants: to preserve the cold temperatures, polyurethane and polystyrene foam is often used as insulation. Ammonia-based refrigeration equipment is also standard. While effective, these chemicals are flammable.  The sprinkler system needs to be designed to contain fires before it can ignite and spread via insulators or refrigerants.

  •  Freezing: to prevent sprinklers from freezing, warehouses should employ pre-action or dry-pipe sprinklers. It's vital that the water supply is close to the sprinkler system to allow a quick reaction but far enough away to avoid freezing.

High Ceiling Heights and High Stacks

As real estate becomes scarcer, more warehouses are adopting a "the sky is the limit" approach to stacking product. Many are storing products over 45 feet in the air which can present a fire protection challenge.

Sprinklers need to be able to reach the source of the fire. High-stacked pallets can inhibit the success of fire sprinklers. The addition of in-rack sprinklers makes ceiling heights of 45+ feet safe and manageable. When expanding a warehouse upwards, consult with an architect and fire protection contractor to ensure the fire sprinklers can handle the height.

Automated Warehouses

Automated warehouses are no longer a gimmick; they’re becoming the norm. With this as our new reality comes unique fire hazards as well:

  • Electrical cables and wiring.

  • Waste materials.

  • Storage: automated warehouses usually store product openly or in plastic bins which are more flammable than the traditional cardboard and wood containers.

  • Rack design: the rack design diverts water from the containers, which is a likely spot for fires.

  • External hazards such as transformers, flammable liquids, and petroleum.

The solution? An in-rack modular sprinkler system. This design will reduce damage and cost by stopping the fire before it has left its container.

warehouse fire protection

Warehouse Fire Protection Saves Lives and Money

With the proper planning and design, customized sprinkler systems can prevent a fire from starting and from spreading into something catastrophic. Nobody wants a fire to destroy products. Even more important, nobody wants a fire to be the reason a worker is injured.

It’s an exciting time for warehouses in Kansas City and all over the nation. As the e-commerce landscape expands, so does the demand for efficient product storage. Amazon now has three fulfillment centers in Kansas City with over 2,500 employees processing around one million products a day. These stats alone speak to the retail industry’s confidence in the future of e-commerce and the consumer’s desire for a convenient transaction. If real estate is all about “location, location, location” then it doesn’t get any better than the Greater Kansas City region.

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