Warehouse fire protection is difficult. Warehouses are constantly evolving, and changing in size and commodity.
To keep warehouses safe from fire, owners need to work closely with fire protection contractors. If the warehouse is storing different products/materials, or needs to expand in size, a fire protection contractor should be consulted to make sure that it still meets code.
Currently, there are about 600,000 warehouses in the U.S. Not including cold storage warehouses, the U.S. sees an average of 1,210 fires per year.
The NFPA reported that the cause for the warehouse fires were
3. Smoking materials
4. Exposure to fires
5. Heating equipment
Of these fires, 32% had fire sprinklers present and 84% of those with fire sprinklers reported that the wet-pipe fire sprinkler activated properly. This caused a reduction in civilian deaths by 61% (per 1,000 fires). For positive results like this, the fire sprinkler needs to be properly designed for the space and commodity.
Warehouses need proper fire sprinkler design
For proper fire sprinkler design, consider these three questions:
1. What product or material is being stored in the space?
2. What is the storage method?
3. How tall is the storage rack?
Depending on the product, different fire sprinkler requirements are needed.
Class I products are non-combustible materials stored on pallets, single-layered.
Class II products are non-combustible stored in wooden crates, multiple layered.
Class III products are made from wood, paper, natural fibers, and Group C plastics.
Class IV products are Group B plastics, or partial Group A plastics.
Warehouses usually have either Early Suppression Fast Response Sprinklers (ESFR) or in-rack fire sprinklers.
ESFR Sprinklers are appropriate for buildings with storage up to 40-45 feet. ESFR sprinklers have a fast response with high velocity. The head is faced down. The intention is for the sprinkler to not just control the fire, but extinguish it. In a warehouse, fires can become deep-seated fast. Fire need to be cut down quickly.
For warehouses with storage above 45 feet, additional in-rack fire sprinklers are necessary.
In-rack fire sprinklers
In-rack fire sprinklers are installed on a series of pipes that are installed within the racks storing the products. This type of fire sprinkler can protect facilities storing products as high as 100 feet.
In-rack fire sprinklers are mainly used in automated racks where mechanical equipment controlled by computers retrieves pallets. In-rack fire sprinklers only use about 30 gallons per minute (opposed to 100GPM), which reduces water damage.