All I Need is Rack for My Warehouse

There is an increasing awareness by City and County Fire Protection Departments of the unique pallet racking and fire sprinkler system design relationship in a 3PL environment. In the past, when a Supply Chain Logistics company would need a new warehouse/distribution facility they would follow the normal Permitting Process. They would start off with a required High Pile Storage Analysis to basically identify and compare the product, and its packaging to be stored, to the existing, or proposed, Fire Sprinkler System to make sure it is adequate. NFPA, RMI, CBC Engineering would then dictate the racking design and subsequent installation and facility operation would follow.

Not so anymore! In many cases, these City and County Fire Departments are now realizing that in a 3PL operation, the preliminary High Pile Storage Analysis only identified the products to be stored at that moment in time. That, by the very nature of the 3PL business, the Company’s next Client could have a completely different set of products to be stored and handled that would have required a different racking/sprinkler system than originally designed. So what’s to be done?

Commodities in a warehouse can vary in the way they burn and how much heat is produced. Therefore the fire code has divided these commodities into 5 categories. The range varies, with Class I being essentially non-combustible products to High Hazard, which includes large amounts of Plastics [Group A Plastics] which produce large amounts of smoke and heat. The fire protection requirements [including sprinklers, smoke and heat vents, access doors, etc.] in a warehouse varies depending on commodity, aisle widths, storage heights, ceiling heights, square footage, type of sprinkler head, etc. ESFR [Early Suppression Fast Response] sprinkler systems are the newer and better designed sprinklers in the industry. When designed correctly, it not only controls the fire, but it suppresses the fire without fire department intervention. While ESFR sprinklers may be the best solution for many warehouse protection systems, careful consideration has to be given to the type of ESFR. Some ESFR systems can only protect cartoned expanded [e.g. foam peanuts, mattresses, etc.] or unexpanded plastics [e.g. synthetic rubber handles, etc.]. Other types can only protect unexpanded plastics [non-foam type plastics] that are uncartoned. Ceiling heights and slope of the roof also can determine whether you can install and the type of ESFR allowed.

These upgrades, whether it is the sprinkler protection or smoke and heat vents, etc. can be costly. For example if there is not enough pressure in the system to make a sprinkler system function, underground piping may have to be replaced or fire pumps may need to be added, some of which are upwards of $100,000.00 or more. So who pays for these upgrades? That depends on the lease agreement between the business owner and the landlord.

Bottom line: do your due diligence. If you are planning an additional facility, talk to us and work with your racking supplier to get all these issues identified and priced out.