Storage Fixed Fir Protection and Final Extinguishment

Core planning meeting

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
11:00 am to 3:00 pm EST
Sheraton Braintree, MA
Meeting Report

Background on the Foundation and Meeting Goal: Kathleen Almand provided a brief background on the role of the Foundation as a facilitator of research in support of NFPA codes and standards, described the process for the conduct of research at the Foundation, and indicated that today’s meeting was an exploratory meeting designed to lay out an action plan to address the following goal: Explore need for training, research, and/or other strategies to mitigate fire loss in modern warehouses with a focus on the relationship between fixed fire suppression and final extinguishment by the fire service.

Fire Experience Context: Jane Bindas presented an overview of a recent major warehouse loss, focusing on the initial long period of fire control by the automatic sprinkler system without extinguishment, and the inability of the fire department to effectively control and fully extinguish the fire which resulted in the eventual complete loss of the structure. She challenged participants to consider a new fire safety design approach which recognizes the limitations of both built-in fire protection measures and manual intervention techniques, in particular because this type of warehouse facility is becoming increasingly common and more challenging.

Topic Review: Rich Gallagher provided a detailed analysis of the issues raised by Zurich’s loss experience with a focus on two specific losses. His presentation is attached. He challenged participants to address the question: Is final fire extinguishment by the fire service a realistic expectation? He then laid out a framework for consideration of the issues which could positively influence outcomes in light of the following three technology-related and one fire-service-response considerations: technology and related standards - detection, fixed fire suppression/related commodity classification, and automated storage and retrieval systems; and fire service practices and training.

Breakout Sessions: Participants broke into four groups to address the three technology related issues and one fire service response aspects. Each group reported on specific strategies to address a new paradigm to achieve effective suppression, control and ultimately final fire extinguishment, as follows:

Advanced detection systems available today can enhance fire safety in warehouse applications through a) Early warning to enable manual response and more effective automatic sprinkler response; b) Continuous feedback during the event to pinpoint fire location and direct fire service operations; c) embedded sensor technology in firefighter equipment to enhance fire fighter safety; and d) embedded heat sensors in automatic storage and retrieval equipment to provide continuous feedback on fire spread. Relevant sensor technologies are infrared, video based, air sampling, thermal, gas sensors, and oxygen depletion sensors.

Automatic Suppression
FM Global described their proposed technological solution to mitigate fire spread and damage in rack storage warehouses. They described a concept which they are currently evaluating to place high water density ESFR sprinklers at every rack intersection and flue space at selected elevations in a rack. This should result in more inrack sprinklers at the selected elevation, but fewer levels of inracks, fewer heads actuating, reduced water demand, and less smoke generated due to faster sprinkler actuation. Additional research is needed to validate this concept and others; more systematic assessment of recent loss data is also desired as is a more effective means of classficiation of modern commodities upon which to base sprinkler design. A need exists for design objectives and clear definitions in codes and standards for control, suppression, extinguishment.

Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems
Several design and technology solutions were proposed related to automatic storage and retrieval systems (ASRS). Provide a sensor rich environment to provide data on fire location. Harden the ASRS to operate in a wet, humid, and elevated temperature environment. Program the ASRS to remove storage beyond the fire area to limit and isolate involved materials. This may facilitate fire service access for manual fire fighting activities, or potentially equip the ASRS to perform final extinguishment activities. Other design approaches which are relevant to the storage condition in the building include limiting the combustibility of containers and limiting the footprint of the building through breaks, aisle widths, and fire resistant curtains.

Fire Service Operations
It is a reasonable assumption that during a fire at a large warehouse the fire service will not risk personnel and will choose an exterior rather than an interior fire attack. Further, it is possible with appropriate information provided to the fire service, to determine through a hazard assessment when the incident commander should make this decision. Factors should be considered such as commodity type, facility height and footprint, conditions at time of arrival, training, staffing and equipment of the fire service resources and type of fixed built-in fire protection. This situation can be improved if better site information is given to the fire department during a fire event; e.g. temperatures, fire location, water flows, structural condition, etc. Education on the issue is important – to fire departments, to developers and specifiers of built in fire suppression and to building owners.

New fire detection and suppression approaches can help mitigate loss in these situations. Other factors that can assist in fire fighter response are increases in upward accessibility, ventilation, aisle width, and other facility design characteristics. The group identified a series of gaps and needs:

  • Research on venting, protection as a function of height, detection, and level of existing protection;
  • Training on all levels;
  • Changes to NFPA 13E and NFPA 1620;
  • Change in facility operations to reduce ignition scenarios; and
  • Involvement from other organizations – IAFF, IAFC, RIMS, technical committees, facility owners, manufacturers, building code officials.
They recommended the following next steps:
(a) – Literature review on facilty trends, loss analysis, mitigation strategies, new technologies;
(b) – Fire service input on needs and parameters for training and equipment (include in NFPA 13E and NFPA 1620);
(c) – A re-examination of the water supply requirements for both built-in fire protection measures and manual intervention; and
(d) – Development and implementation of training programs

Summary/Next Steps: When the meeting reconvened, participants confirmed in consensus that there is a need to change our approach to fire and life safety in certain storage configurations based on the assumption that the fire service will not provide final extinguishment based on an interior fire attack. Kathleen Almand indicated that the Foundation would develop a specific set of recommended actions/projects to move toward this goal