A fire in a warehouse is a terrifying thought. Flames can leap across racks and shelves extremely quickly, with stock going up in smoke in a matter of minutes. Boxes and pallets often contain highly flammable materials, such as tyres, aerosols and combustible liquids. Ensuring that fire extinguishing equipment is sufficient and in good working order is a crucial part of a warehouse manager’s job. Generally, fire extinguishers are complemented by a system of sprinklers installed in the ceiling – but a superior option exists.
In-rack sprinklers have been in use for over 50 years, and, with new designs and developments, are growing in popularity in warehouses around the world. These sprinklers are installed as part of a network of piping within racking structures, with the result that they provide a high level of protection. If a fire breaks out in one of the racks, the heat generated triggers the sprinklers to release water over the flames – even if it is a small fire. This ensures that the blaze is contained and limits the potential damage to surrounding stock – and the risk of injuries and burns for warehouse staff!
Often, a ceiling-based sprinkler system is exclusively relied on in a warehouse. This type of sprinkler set-up is known as an Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) system, and is effective to a point. However, it has some major limitations. One is that it cannot be used at great heights – such as where commodities are stacked in racks over 12 metres high. In-rack sprinkler systems can easily be used in very high racks – including where the rack supports a ceiling. They can also be used in automated racks.
Like standard roof sprinkler systems, in-rack sprinklers activate quickly and deliver water fast. However, in-rack sprinklers require a lot less water than other systems. Warehouse managers may be concerned because in-rack sprinkler systems involve a greater number of sprinklers to be installed, and they need to be positioned closer together than standard ceiling systems. However, the demand on water resources is greatly reduced. And these days, as in-rack systems are further tweaked and polished, the number of sprinkler heads needed is becoming fewer and fewer.
Warehouse managers may also be worried about the water from in-rack sprinklers damaging stock. After all, the sprinklers are positioned close to the stock units stacked in the racking. However, should a fire break out, it would likely be contained so quickly that stock damage would be minimised. It can take significantly longer for water from a ceiling sprinkler to reach the burning area – in-rack sprinklers can be thought of as being more focused; almost targeted in their response.
In-rack sprinklers are highly recommended for any warehouse that relies on extensive racking, particularly if it is high-reaching. They can be integrated with other fire prevention and containment solutions and can give warehouse managers, as well as general staff, peace of mind. A warehouse fire can put lives at risk, and significantly set back, if not devastate operations. All possible steps must be taken to ensure safety – and in-rack sprinkler systems can be a key part of that.