Fire Protection Equipment & Systems to Improve Safety of Cold Storage, Warehouse & Distribution Facilities

On December 5, 2017, an early morning fire broke out at a refrigerated and dry storage building in Wausau Wisconsin. The 60,000 square foot facility included multiple storage rooms with individual temperature control settings used for the process of aging cheese. The fire was tracked to the attic and firefighters had to cut through the roof to extinguish the flames. Ultimately the roof collapsed, and the entire building was destroyed.

This example illustrates the activity taking place in the warehousing and cold storage industry along with the fire hazards that exist. As distribution models for perishable goods and pharmaceuticals adapt to the increase in demand for services such as grocery and meal-kit delivery, along with the increase in pharmaceutical products requiring refrigerated storage, the cold storage industry has been experiencing rapid growth. According to Grandview Research, the industry is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 13.4% from 2022 to 2033. With the opportunity for new infrastructure to sustain the growing warehousing, distribution and cold storage markets, business owners, designers, builders, and authorities having jurisdiction must confront the fire hazards these facilities present.

Engaging a fire protection advisor during the preconstruction phase of a project for the design and specification of fire protection equipment and systems can help you avoid potential pitfalls during the construction phase. At Ahern, we routinely see three issues occurring during the construction process that could be avoided: failure to recognize fire hazards, inadequate water supply, and not planning for a fire pump. Besides avoiding these setbacks, planning fire protection equipment and systems in the preconstruction phase can help with budgeting, cost analysis, conceptual design and more.

An NFPA study specified that 18 percent of warehouse fires from 2009 to 2013 were related to electrical distribution and lighting equipment. Other potential hazards in warehousing and cold storage environments include the products being stored, building materials, refrigerants, and highly flammable polyurethane and polystyrene foams that are often used to insulate cold storage facilities. Storage and packaging such as cardboard boxes and pallets can also be hazards that could fuel a fire. As more warehouses are being built or retrofitted for application-specific purposes, such as having multiple temperature-controlled storage rooms like the Wausau cheese aging facility, the challenge for proper fire protection equipment and systems becomes more complex.

Warehouses, distribution centers, and cold storage facilities commonly have high ceilings to maximize vertical storage space. Having more space under each sprinkler head requires large volumes of water for fire protection, therefore designing fire protection systems that can deliver a large amount of water in adequate time is essential. Careful consideration in the design of a fire sprinkler system for cold storage facilities is vital to make certain that the systems release water only when it is necessary as these applications are susceptible to freezing. For warehousing and distribution facilities that have a combination of ambient and temperature-controlled storage spaces, a combination of wet and dry systems may be recommended. Depending on the products being stored, a special hazards fire suppression system such as a foam fire suppression system could be installed to put out fires in areas where water damage could cause irreparable or costly damage to the products.

Given the complexity of fire protection for warehouse, distribution, or cold storage facilities, partnering with a fire protection advisor early on in the construction project is the best way to reduce risk of fire damage to your facility, keep occupants safe, and mitigate setbacks during the construction process.

When contracting Ahern for fire protection services, you receive a team of experts who install code compliant systems within your schedule. Our service team is trained to identify and inform you of potential hazards and code compliance issues that may adversely impact your systems. From design to installation, maintenance, inspection, and repair, Ahern has a team of NICET certified designers, in-house fabrication resources, and experienced field teams to meet your project needs.

We have 15 locations throughout the Midwest. Find a location near you and get in touch with us today!