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Warehouse fire safety: are you doing enough?


Warehouse fire safety: are you doing enough?

Are storage areas in your warehouse really as fireproof as they could be? Are you providing adequate and cost-effective fire protection when you:

* Change the mix of stored products or method of storing them?

* Build a new, higher warehouse?

* Remodel an older facility?

Are you staying on top of warehouse fire research?

Warehouse fire safety issues implicit in these questions were explored recently at a symposium in Norwood, Mass., sponsored by the Factory Mutual Engineering Organization (FMEO). Executives from FMEO and its research division, Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FMRC), briefed business press editors.

Item: FMRC statistics for 1983-87 count 168 storage fires with losses totalling more than $130 million. In these losses, additional sprinklers were needed to halt fire damage or sprinklers were not installed. Separately, FMRC data for these years show 164 fire incidents where sprinkler protection was adequate. The loss total? Only $25 million.

Item: Increased use of plastics--either in products stored or in packaging these products--generally increases fire hazards. Stored goods containing combustible plastics stacked in racks or pallets to heights of 20 to 25 ft, says Cheng Yao, FMRC vice president, "can produce heats of combustion two and one-half times that of (less combustible) materials."

Item: Storage configurations of plastics or less combustible materials affect the threat of fire, too.

Fires in rack or palletized storage usually are more challenging to put out than solid pile storage. As rack storage heights increase, there's more fuel to burn, should a fire occur. Rack as well as palletized storage both offer horizontal channels for air access and fire to spread.

Item: FMRC has pioneered new automatic sprinkler technology--early suppression-fast response (ESFR) sprinklers. These sprinklers activate sooner than standard sprinklers--can extinguish fires, rather than just control fire spread.

Because ESFR sprinklers need only be installed on the ceiling, in many applications, they can provide more warehouse flexibility. They also offer equal fire protection--at 50% to 75% of the cost of conventional ceiling sprinklers supplemented with in-rack sprinklers, Yao says.

The ESFR sprinklers protect most common materials stored up to heights of 25 ft in buildings up to 30 ft. They protect materials stored in palletized and solid pile configurations as well as portable rack storage in open-frame single-row, double row, and multiple row configurations.

Item: FMRC tests starting this month may lead to methods to stop fires of combustible materials stored at higher heights--up to 35 ft in a 40-ft-high warehouse. The first tests will simulate fires starting in the same "high-challenge" warehouse commodity (plastic cups packed in cardboard cartons) used in the original ESFR tests.

FMRC will test the ability of ESFR sprinklers, installed on a 40-ft ceiling, or 10 ft higher than current limits, to stop these fires, explains Robert Zalosh, FMRC assistant vice president. The ESFR sprinklers will operate at a higher water pressure, 75 psig, instead of 50 psig, and will deliver 22% more water from each sprinkler.

"We know from earlier tests," adds Zalosh, "that we cannot protect storage of the cartoned plastic cups in a 40-ft-high building with ESFR sprinklers at the lower pressure." The higher pressure will present design problems for existing facilities, he notes. But he suggests a 75-psig ESFR sprinkler system "will be an attractive option for new warehouses."

Other tests planned for late 1989 and 1990 include examining the effectiveness of 50-psig and 75-psig ESFR sprinklers on rack storage of exposed plastic commodities. Examples are polyethylene crates for soft drink bottles and expanded polystyrene egg crates. The egg crates will be tested in cartons and exposed with thin shrink wrap.
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Publication:Modern Materials Handling
Date:Oct 1, 1989
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