Expert opinions, TECHNOLOGY

How to prevent fires in warehouses and reduce consequences

In the six months of 2023, 25 large fires occurred in Russia at warehouse real estate facilities. In the same period last year, only 9 similar incidents were registered. What causes the increase in fires in warehouses, what problems exist in the fire extinguishing system and how to minimize the risk of fire in warehouses?

RIA Novosti / Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Russian Federation

Why the number of fires in warehouse complexes is growing

The increase in the number of fires in warehouses depends on the number and quality of inspections and control of the state of fire safety by the owners of the facilities. Since the beginning of the covid restrictions, a moratorium on business inspections has been introduced. Now the features of public and municipal control until 2030 have been established.

In particular, planned supervisory measures carried out in accordance with Federal Law No. 248-FZ can be carried out only in relation to control facilities classified as extremely high and high risk, production facilities of hazard class II, hydraulic structures of class II.

I believe that the introduced moratorium on inspections of the state of fire safety reduced control by the owners of the facilities, which contributed to the growth of fires.

What causes fires in warehouses

The main problem is the lack of high-quality control of fire safety standards by the owners of the structures. Some responsible persons are negligent in monitoring the state of various systems, which include:

  • automatic fire alarm;
  • warning and control system for evacuation of people in case of fire;
  • automatic fire extinguishing unit;
  • smoke protection system;
  • internal and external fire water supply systems.

For example, automatic fire alarms and a warning and control system for the evacuation of people in case of fire are the most important tools for the prevention and evacuation of warehouse personnel. If these systems are faulty, then the fire cannot be detected on time, and people will not have time to evacuate before blocking exits from the building, which can lead to human casualties. Therefore, these important systems should be checked regularly and their health should be monitored.

Today, Aluf serves fire safety systems at more than 300 facilities, including shopping centers, administrative buildings, residential buildings, parking lots, offices, production facilities, including especially dangerous ones. In controlled structures, unfortunately, fires occur at least 3-5 times a year. But thanks to the competence of specialists, and the tuned operation of all fire systems, they always work, preventing material damage and warning personnel, saving lives.

In seven out of ten cases, insufficient control or its complete absence from the responsible person becomes the cause of fire, three cases happen due to high financial costs for the implementation of fire protection.

These problems will be solved by an integrated approach, including strengthening control, training of personnel, improving fire safety systems, proper and regular maintenance of buildings. For a more prompt response, you can output a fire signal directly to the fire department.

Are there any difficulties in supplying fire fighting equipment to the country

Today, water fire extinguishing is most often used in Russia, more often than foam and powder. Sometimes only fire water supply is used in general. Basically, Russian-made equipment is involved, which does not depend on imports from abroad, that is, there are no difficulties with its supply.

The main task is to ensure the operability of this equipment for a long period, which is possible only thanks to regular checks and maintenance. For example, if you do not eliminate quickly a minor malfunction, then in the future the system may exit automatic mode or completely disconnect, that is, it will not work at a crucial moment. If faults or failures in fire fighting systems are detected in time, they can be eliminated quickly.

The most popular technologies and materials for providing fire protection in warehouses

Particular attention during the construction of warehouse complexes should be paid to the protection of metal bearing structures. In case of fire, they quickly heat up and after 15-40 minutes reduce their design strength characteristics by about 2 times. If the fire is not eliminated in time, then the metal structures can completely collapse. Steel products lose their bearing capacity at a critical temperature of 500 ºC.

For fire protection of metal elements, heat-insulating screens are created on their surface, withstanding high temperatures and direct exposure to fire. Such screens slow down the heating of the metal, which allows the structures to maintain their functions for a certain time.

Fire protection of steel parts can be performed in the following ways:

  • concreting, brick lining, plastering to create a protective layer;
  • application of flame retardant intumescent coatings (paints, mastic);
  • installation of heat-insulating shields (lining made of slab and sheet materials).

For example, light flame retardant plaster is used as a heat insulating material for metal columns, beams, and staircases. Intumescent flame retardant coatings are an optimal and relatively inexpensive option for increasing the fire resistance rating of metal structures. The fire-retardant properties of such materials are manifested by increasing the layer thickness by 25-30 times and changing the thermophysical characteristics under thermal impact under fire conditions. Porous layer has low thermal conductivity and prevents metal heating.

Special fire retardant paints are easier to apply than plastering or brick metal elements. This shortens the construction period and relieves additional loads on the structures. The coatings have an aesthetic appearance, so open metal elements can be left in the interior.

Complex physical and chemical processes are involved in the operation of thin-layer fire-retardant coatings, which are activated in case of fire. As a result, a foamed layer appears – a coked melt of non-combustible substances with heat-insulating properties.

Fire retardant paints and other compositions are presented on the Russian market in a wide range. Environmentally friendly fire retardants are considered the best. But the most effective protection of the supporting structures is achieved by using rigid non-combustible mineral wool plates from molten basalt rocks. Such materials withstand temperatures up to 1000 ºC and last up to 50 years, protecting metal elements not only from fire, but also from corrosion.

Thus, the use of fire retardant plasters is possible for columns in buildings of the I degree of fire resistance of industrial and warehouse purposes. Application of intumescent paints is more justified when the minimum fire resistance rating is 1.5-2 hours. If the supporting metal structures need increased fire protection, then the use of heat-insulating mineral non-combustible plates will be most effective.

How to minimize the risk of fire and its consequences

You can minimize the risk of fire in the warehouse with a number of measures and recommendations that I want to pay attention to:

  1. Install the fire alarm system and check regularly its operability. Ensure smoke detectors and fire detectors are functioning properly.
  2. Use the latest materials and technologies. In the field of construction and fire protection, new materials and technological solutions are constantly emerging, which, most often, are more efficient and safer than old ones.
  3. Conduct training sessions. Train employees on how to respond effectively to hazardous situations and use fire fighting equipment. Set clear evacuation procedures. Competent training of personnel and the creation of a workplace safety culture are important aspects of fire safety.
  4. Create a zoning in the warehouse. Divide the warehouse into different areas according to the fire hazard class of the stored materials. Mark these areas with clear pointers. For example, areas where flammable or chemical substances are stored require separate safety procedures and special attention from the owner of the facility.
  5. Check electrical equipment regularly. Perform maintenance and inspection of the entire electrical system, including electrical wires, panels, and sockets.
  6. Use fireproofing coatings and materials. Consider special fireproofing on the walls, ceilings and floors of the warehouse.
  7. Keep order and cleanliness. Remove debris and combustible materials from the warehouse. Limit the use of open fire and smoking in the warehouse area.
  8. Install a reliable fire extinguishing system. Place fire extinguishers in visible and convenient locations. Check their performance and service regularly.

In addition, sometimes the problem can be in the design and layout of the building itself, especially if it is old or ancient (for example, an object of cultural heritage). In such cases, the legislation provides for the development of special technical conditions that allow creating compensatory measures to reduce fire hazard.

Minimizing fire risk is a process that requires constant attention and effort. Regular inspections, employee training and compliance with all safety measures will help reduce the likelihood of fire in warehouses and its devastating consequences.

By Alexander Gelman, CEO of Aluf

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