The National Fire Protection Association says that storage configurations within warehouse facilities often help fires to spread and make fire suppression difficult for firefighters. This is particularly true when the stored materials are combustible and the materials are piled high on pallet racking systems.
If you are the safety manager of a warehouse facility and your facility is installing new high-piled pallet racking systems from a supplier like Commercial Hardware, it's important for you to understand how the configuration of the new pallet racking system can change the dynamics of fire and life safety systems. That way, you are able to improve the safety systems, develop evacuation plans, and provide fire department accessibility in an ideal location. Here's what to consider when designing the new pallet racking system.
Flues in High-Piled Pallet Racking
High-piled racking systems need flues to combat fires. Flues are simply strategically planned spaces that allow heat, flames, and smoke to rise vertically or move horizontally. These natural flues work the same as flues inside chimneys and pull heat, flames, and smoke away from their sources. Flues help keep fires from spreading to nearby materials because they allow for sprinklers to reach fires. Without flues, sprinklers and other fire suppression devices will not be able to reach materials in tightly confined areas.
Fire & Life Safety Systems
The flues work in conjunction with your fire and life safety systems. Locate sprinklers on the ceilings directly above the vertical flues in the pallet racking system. Sprinklers can also be installed directly in the pallet racking system, which is important to consider if your warehouse stores highly combustible materials. You'll need to have the new configurations of your pallet racking and safety systems approved by the local fire code authority.
As part of the requirements for most municipalities, you'll need to provide the fire code authority with an updated employee evacuation plan based on the new configuration of your warehouse facility. When planning your new pallet racking system, it's important to keep the emergency fire exits in mind. Avoid storing highly combustible materials near the exits. Also, keep materials that emit noxious gases when burning away from the emergency exits. Don't forget to designate a safe area for your employees and others to meet after they evacuate the building during a fire or fire drill.
List of Combustible Materials
In case of a fire, the responding fire department will need to know what materials and chemicals they would be dealing with. Of course, signs indicating the presence of combustibles should be posted on the exterior of the premises in an area that is away from any potential damage that would occur during a warehouse fire, such as on chain link fencing that surrounds your building.
However, it's also important for the fire departments to know exactly where the items are located in the warehouse and that the items are located in a high-piled racking system so they know there are natural flues within the facility. Therefore, each shift manager should keep an updated list of all combustibles readily available and easily accessible to provide to the first responders. If there is a guard shack at the entrance to the property, keep a list of the combustibles there as well.
First Responders Training
Work with your fire code authority to plan a first responders training event for your facility immediately after the installation of the new pallet racking system. Include your employees in this event by giving them a fire drill. The fire department and other first responders will arrive and simulate fire fighting activities. This can help show where improvements, if any, need to be made so your facility and/or employees don't become part of warehouse fire statistics in the future.