Are you facing a storage limitation ENCUMBRANCE?

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David Kalinec

The Fire Marshal Says To Lower Your Storage

Imagine if....

You are a project manager for your firm, and you have been tasked with utilizing the warehouse to it's fullest.  You do your due diligence, consulting with multiple material handling equipment suppliers, supply chain consultants, and others to create the latest and greatest rack layout and picking strategy.  Based on this information, you purchase and install the racking system, implement your ERP system, and start shipping and receiving products to your customers.  Then a few weeks later the fire marshal walks in and rips away the top half of your storage.

Storage Height Encumbrance

As depicted in the above image, you could be severely encumbered by this limitation.  You did all that you could to get the best layout and maximize your storage, right?  So how could this have happened?  Unfortunately it's all too common because most equipment companies and consulting firms do not understand that the fire code is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  Each building and system is different, and it requires individual attention.  That is why it is critical that the equipment and professional service providers you hire know and understand the following:

  • Your commodity Classification.
  • The sprinkler protection of your building.
  • The fire code requirements as they relate to the local jurisdiction.
  • The operational permits required to validate the certificate of occupancy.

Commodity Classification

Why is commodity classification important?  Commodity classification determines the starting point for the rest of the project.  It dictates the use of the building and all of the protection requirements to ensure high-piled storage compliance.  What is commodity classification?  Commodity classification is the combustibility of your product as it relates to the fire code.  The fire code classifies commodities as follows:

  • Class I commodities
  • Class II commodities
  • Class III commodities
  • Class IV commodities
  • Group A plastic commodities
    • exposed, unexpanded
    • cartoned, unexpanded
    • exposed, unexpanded
    • exposed, expanded
  • Hazardous materials
    • physical hazards
    • health hazards

Class I commodities are considered low-hazard, Class II-IV commodities are considered moderate-hazard, and Group A plastics are considered high-hazard commodities.  

Fire Sprinkler Protection

So how do you do that?  One way is to hire a firm such as Active Industrial Fire Protection to assist your firm and design teams to make sure these items are accounted for ahead of the pallet rack design.  In addition to being code experts, Active Industrial Fire Protection is highly skilled in all types of material handling systems and can ensure that your building can support your storage and use.  A material handling  system interacts with a fire sprinkler system in the following ways:

  • Roof slope - less than 2:12 is required
  • Commodities being stored - commodity classification, packaging
  • Storage type - in cartons, encapsulated, wooden or plastic pallets, open-top containers
  • Flue spacing - no solid shelves`
  • Maximum storage height - sprinkler density, deflector clearance
  • Aisle spacing - single and double row racks, multi-row racks, aisles less than 8'

Fire Code Requirements

The way to confirm the above interactions are protected is through the fire code.   Almost all states have adopted a version of the International Fire Code, sometimes with their local amendments. The code points to standards, such as NFPA 13, for fire sprinkler, alarm, and other requirements.  The key is to confirm that all of the applicable sections are met by the existing conditions.  If they are are not met, then improvements to the building may be required. The following items must be taken into consideration when determining compliance:

  • Automatic fire sprinkler system - control mode or ESFR
  • Fire alarm system - detection and notification
  • Fire apparatus access
  • Firefighter access
  • Fire hydrant distance
  • Smoke and heat venting

Operational Permits

Once all of these factors have been determined, the permits can be obtained.  When most people refer to a high-piled permit, they are likely referring to the operational permit.  The fire code allows the fire marshal's office to require an operational permit and fees.  These permits are enforced by the local fire marshal's office.  Therefore, it is important to know what operational permits the local fire jurisdiction requires and to make sure they are obtained.  

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