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2 October 2023 in Commercial, Fire Protection

Why a Cold Storage Fire Sprinkler System Mitigates Risk


Recent years have seen a boom in the need for cold storage facilities. From supermarket chains offering home delivery to the growth of meal deliveries, cold storage space is in high demand. A cold storage fire sprinkler system is crucial for mitigating fire risks. Discover the fire hazards of cold storage, and how wet and dry sprinkler systems protect refrigerated and ambient storage spaces.

What are fire safety hazards of cold storage?

A transformer is an electrical device that changes the voltage from one AC circuit to another (or from one circuit to many). 

Transformers are necessary because electrical voltage must vary according to conditions. For example, a step-down substation transformer in domestic energy supply changes high-voltage power to lower-voltage electricity supply for your home or business.

Electronic devices of all sizes, from mobile phones to industrial equipment and machinery, use transformers to ensure stable, correct voltage. 

What are the hazards of transformers? Faults, fires, and leaks

Cold storage facilities contain multiple fire hazards:

  1. Flammable insulation. Insulation used in industrial refrigeration, including wall and ceiling insulation, is typically flammable material such as foam. Insulated metal panels create the additional hazard of contained insulation which cannot be extinguished easily should insulation catch fire.
  2. Accelerants that feed cold storage fire. Cold systems also contain refrigerants such as ammonia, which is a source of oxygen. As you may know, oxygen is one third of the triangle of sources – oxygen, heat, and fuel – fires require.
  3. Contained spaces with minimal ventilation. Refrigerated spaces are designed to keep out heat. Yet this is double-edged for fire risk, since if a fire breaks out in a contained space, smoke drastically reduces visibility while containment reduces accessibility for manual firefighting.

Insurance and cold storage sprinkler and dry dropper systems

Since there are many fire hazards in cold storage facilities, in addition to regular warehousing risks, there are many insurance requirements for fire protection.
Legislation requires, for example, that sprinklers for cold storage cover roof voids, and also are able to irrigate cold storage areas. Due to the challenging environment for fire suppression, it is also crucial to have standard fire hoses and hydrants installed.
In installing cold storage equipment, electrical cabling, and fire suppression systems, it’s crucial to follow safety standards and procedures. Installing an automated early warning system helps to avoid costly losses, since even a small fire may contaminate a large volume of perishable items with smoke.
For cold storage to comply with insurance requirements, safety management and preventative operation is critical. Combustible materials must not be kept close to panel walls or electrical points.
Another fire prevention and suppression aid is dry sprinkler systems.

What is a dry sprinkler system?

A dry sprinkler system contains pipes filled with pressurised air or nitrogen instead of water. This type of system is useful in preventing frozen or burst pipes in environs with colder temperatures (such as cold storage).
The first dry-pipe sprinkler control/alarms were patented in 1879, according to Asia Pacific Fire Magazine. Modern dry pipe sprinkler systems are often installed in a dual system that uses wet and dry sprinklers, since in cold storage temperature requirements (and the stress this places on piping) vary.

Crucial considerations for cold storage sprinkler systems

There are several things to consider in cold storage sprinkler system installation and maintenance:

  1. Colder environs need specialist design and installation. Standard firefighting equipment is effective up to a point, yet the chemicals and construction elements present in cold storage spaces make specialist fire suppression installation crucial.
  2. Envelope cold storage spaces need integrated sprinkler system design. Envelope cold storage spaces are designed so that the entire warehouse space is built for specific temperature and humidity conditions. In this type of storage space, your cold storage sprinkler system must be designed to specifications early. This ensures that the space has the right combination of in-rack and overhead sprinklers, as well as pre-action systems that require two-step activation in water-sensitive storage.

Mixed-use facilities require multi-application sprinkler systems

Many mixed-use facilities that have some cold storage and some ambient storage require dual application sprinkler systems.
A wet system will typically provide protection for the ambient storage area, and a dry dropper system will ensure that freezing temperatures do not threaten pipe integrity.
The type of sprinkler system used in a conditioned or refrigerated environment depends on the ceiling height and proximity of reliable water supply.
CMDA or ‘control mode density area’ sprinklers provide a controlled flow of cooling, according to density-area curves that specify the required flow of fire suppressant.
ESFR or ‘early-suppression fast-response’ sprinklers activate quickly and attack fires fast. These systems are designed to produce larger water droplets and activate sooner than standard sprinklers.

Ensure cold storage sprinkler maintenance meets standards

It is crucial to maintain cold storage sprinkler systems so that they are ready for action in the event of fire. Make sure you keep to a regular maintenance schedule. Contact ERF to schedule a site inspection and keep your facilities safe and insurable.

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