Suppression gets most of the attention when the topic turns to protecting large warehouses, but the size and complexity of modern storage spaces is also driving a rethink of detection strategies. In the March/April issue of NFPA Journal, Amanda Kimball takes a "Harder Look at Detection."
Most types of warehouses are not required by current codes and standards to include automatic fire detection. A report NFPA published last year, Structure Fires in Warehouses, found that automatic detection was present in 22 percent of the warehouses involved in fires in the United States during the period between 2005 and 2009. The report also found that detection systems only operated in 15 percent of those fires. By comparison, automatic suppression systems were present in 36 percent of warehouses involved in fires between 2005 and 2009, according to the 2011 NFPA report U.S. Experience with Sprinklers.
In 2009 and 2010, the Fire Protection Research Foundation conducted workshops to address fire safety concerns in modern warehouses. Participants included warehouse users, insurance companies, fire protection engineering firms, researchers, fire protection system manufacturers, and codes and standards developers, including NFPA. The workshops explored the application of fire detection for early fire warning, fire location identification, and monitoring, as well as the potential benefits of quicker-response suppression systems, reducing water supply requirements, and minimizing the involvement of fire departments. (The 2010 workshop included proposals for forward-looking concepts for automatic control and extinguishment of fires in high-challenge warehouses, ideas that were published in “Warehouse Challenge,” the cover story of the July/August 2011 NFPA Journal.) One of the conclusions resulting from these workshops was that there is little research or guidance available on the use of fire detection technologies in warehouse environments.
To address this need, the Research Foundation has begun a research project focused on this issue. The first phase of the project, which included a literature review, hazard assessment, and development of a research plan, was completed by Hughes Associates and is now available online. It is expected that this project will continue to a second phase later this year, which would include full-scale fire testing to characterize design fires and to evaluate various detection technologies.