Importance of fire and smoke detection systems for warehouses
What causes warehouse fires? There can be many reasons a fires starts in a warehouse. In a study conducted between 1994 and 1998 in he USA alone there were over 22,900 fires in storage facilities.
The best approach to fire safety is to prevent them entirely. Although smoke alarms and monitoring systems can save lives by early warning for evacuation they don’t stop the fires and the consequential financial damages. To prevent fires starting it is important to have a good understanding of what the fire risks are and how to manage those risks.
The leading cause was intentional setting of the fire (arson). The deliberate fires can be attributed to petty crime or insurance fraud and account for 18% of total warehouse fires. The primary causes of accidental fires were :-
- Electrical fires from overheating or malfunctioning transformers and wiring. A very close second place to arson, these fires are typically less damaging than the deliberate fires, but still constitute a huge problem.
- open flames and embers from torches from welding and other heating activities. around 8% of warehouse fires were caused by direct heating.
- Chemical reactions between incompatible chemicals resulting in exothermic reactions.
- Contact with hot engine parts of forklift trucks
A fire breaking out in a warehouse is a nightmare scenario for a business. It is important therefore that steps are taken to mitigate fire risks within your warehouse. It’s not just the threat of losing business equipment and stock, warehouse fires also endanger the lives of staff and put people at risk of injuries. In most countries there are fire safety standards that should be adhered to. In the UK for example, it is a legal requirement to carry out a fire safety risk assessment under the Regulatory Reform (Fire safety) Order 2005.
It can be seen from the below graph that the number of fires in the US has been steadily declining since 1977. The number of structural fires however reached a plateau around 1997 and has been steady at around 500,000 fires per year since then. This decline can be mostly attributed to improvements in building code, fire safety standards, improved flame retardant construction materials and technology.
Common causes of warehouse fires
Understanding the common causes of warehouse fires puts you in a good position to do the best possible work you can do for fire safety – preventing them before they have the opportunity to start. Some of the common causes are fairly predictable, but others might surprise you.
Warehouse Fire Prevention
Here are three key things that you need pay attention to in your warehouse that can prevent a fire occurring in your facilities.
- Fire risk assessments – identifying that the relevant risks are in your facilities. Are you storing flammable chemicals or materials? If so, what steps can be taken to ensure they do not ignite? What is your building structure made from, and is it flame retardant? Check your electrical wiring, checking circuit breakers and transformers. Testing your fire alarm detection and early warning systems
- Smoke detectors – installing smoke detectors across your warehouse, paying special attention to any areas that may be vulnerable to fire. Some warehouse operations managers worry about the prospect of putting detectors in place with a sprinkler system because they are concerned an overzealous system could be set off incorrectly, resulting in damaged stock. However, it is always more important to think about safety and prevention of fires.
- Fire extinguishers – Fire extinguishers in appropriate locations. There are different types of fire extinguishers for different fires. Electrical fires, chemical and so on require different fire extinguisher types. Staff should be knowledgeable about fire extinguishers and their use. Fire extinguishers should only be used appropriately.
Digital Pressure Gauges in Fire Sprinkler Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance
Analog models don’t provide the same benefits when faced with variable pressures, multiple units of measure, and extreme conditions Analog pressure gauges can be upgraded with digital equivalents. These provide 24/7 monitoring, graphing and alerts when pressures are out of range.
Out-of-date pressure gauges are one of the most common fire code violations in fire sprinkler and standpipe systems. A building fire and sprinkler system can have a lot of pressure gauges! They’re everywhere, connected to equipment and components as varied as fire pumps, sprinkler system piping, hydrostatic test pumps, and flow-testing pitot gauges.
The most common gauges are “analog.” They use springs, tubes, and a complex arrangement of other mechanical parts to measure pressure (bourdon tube gauge).
These traditional gauges face competition from the modern alternative: digital pressure gauges. And while both have their place in standpipe and fire sprinkler inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM), electronic pressure instruments can:
- Simplify tests and inspections through automation and centralized monitoring
- Assist in gauge calibration, digital gauges tend to have a higher level of accuracy and can be used to calibrate and identify incorrect readings from analog gauges.
- Provide legible readings in poorly lit spaces, digital gauges have backlights and can be viewed on handheld mobile devices.
- Reduce the number of devices contractors need to perform their duties effectively
At least six gauges are visible in the image above of fire sprinkler system. (source image https://www.qrfs.com/blog/176-guide-to-dry-sprinkler-systems-part-5-daily-weekly-and-monthly-inspections/)
NFPA has issued revised guidelines on fire protection and maintenance of building fire systems in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As the COVID-19 pandemic plunges the world in an unprecedented crisis, inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) of fire protection systems remains essential.
As the COVID-19 pandemic plunges the world in an unprecedented crisis, inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) of fire protection systems remains essential. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is urging government officials and property owners not to exacerbate the situation by ignoring critical tasks that increase the threat of fire.
ITM during the coronavirus pandemic: NFPA guidance
The NFPA is a global leader in fire and life safety. They published guidelines which have been sent to government officials, emphasizing that ITM of fire protection systems remains critical during the pandemic. Neglecting system maintenance can add to an already stressed emergency response and increase the risk of injuries, deaths, and damage from fire.
“While communities are focused on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot put additional strain to our overburdened emergency response capabilities by not ensuring buildings are protected with the very equipment that saves lives and property,” writes Jim Pauley, president and CEO of NFPA. “First responders rely on commercial and multi-occupancy residential buildings in their communities to have a full array of fire and life safety systems such as working fire detection, alarms and sprinkler systems.”
Stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions have left many buildings near empty or dramatically underused. Warehouses left vacant are now particularly vulnerable to vandalism and arson. On the other end of the spectrum other building such as Hospitals are overflowing with higher numbers of critically ill patients who can’t evacuate easily during a fire. Residential buildings that are vacant such as college dormitories, schools, and convention centers are being transformed into makeshift field hospitals for the same at-risk population. This heightens the need for fire protection systems that work.
The ability for fire departments to respond is also being diminished. At the same time as the risk of fires increases, COVID-19 is set to hit fire departments hard, straining resources while increasing emergency calls. Some firefighting organizations are speculating that as much as 30% of the fire fighting workforce could be put out of commission as first responders fall ill or go into quarantine after exposures.
On March 26, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro reported that 170 members of the New York City fire department had contracted COVID-19, adding, “I have no reason to believe that number won’t continue to rise.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever to ensure fire protection and life safety systems work for public and first responder safety. But limitations on movements and visitors to buildings as well as financial pressures from under occupancies and business attempts to cut costs during the pandemic have some facility owners and managers delaying ITM.
How can AKCP Help?
AKCP Smoke Sensors (SK00) will immediately detect the presence of smoke before the fumes can spread and a devastating fire breaks out. These alerts can then be sent to each individual on call via email, SMS or voice calls who can react and alert the local fire department.
Combine AKCP Temperature Sensors for monitoring your warehouse temperature for hot spots.
Use AKCP In-Line Power Meter to monitor AC voltage and Current in power strips and other AC equipment to prevent over-voltage and current which could cause electrical fires
Article sponsored by AKCP
AKCP established in the USA in 1981. We have 30+ years experience in professional sensor solutions. AKCP created the market for networked environmental and power monitoring in the data center. AKCP has over 150 employees and 200,000 installations worldwide. We are the world’s oldest and largest manufacturer of networked wired and wireless sensors.
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