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Set Ablaze! Officials Develop New Standards for Pallet Storage to Prevent Catastrophic Fires
Proposed International Fire Code changes would impact outdoor storage of idle pallets, limiting the amount of pallets that companies can be stored on a yard, which could particularly affect pallet recyclers and repair depots.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 6/1/2013
Thenumber and severity of fires occurring in pallet yards over the last severalyears has continued to get worse and has caught the attention of fire officialsaround the country. Seeking to reduce the fire hazard in outdoor pallet storageyards, representatives from the International Code Council (ICC) recentlyapproved changes to the International Fire Code that will then go on for afinal vote in October of this year. The ICC is one of the two main bodies inthis country (the National Fire Protection Association – NFPA is the other)that develops codes and standards that are then adopted across the country bylocal and state governments.
RobertDavidson of Davidson Code Concepts, LLC drafted the new standards for the ICCbased on existing ones used by fire officials in Clark County Nevada. Davidsonsaid, “These changes are in response to the large fires that we have beenexperiencing over the last several years in facilities storing lots of idlepallets. Previously, local jurisdictions have been attacking the issue withpiece meal changes.”
Davidsonadded that this code change, which would take effect with the 2015 edition of the InternationalFire Code, attempts to harmonize those changes in one national standard.Previously, fire code officials applied general storage regulations orrequirements for dimension lumber associated with lumber yards or woodworkingfacilities if they enforced anything atall.
The newrules spell out the fire flow (the amount of water that must be available atfire hydrants), the road access for fire vehicles, storage patterns and otherrequirements for idle pallets. Section 2810 of the code has been proposed toinclude a number of provisions, and the stacking pattern guidelines are likelyto impact pallet companies the most. Pallets will have to be stored in a gridpattern to provide access for fire crews as well as natural fire breaks. For a complete description of the proposedfire codes, see sidebar 1 on page 57.
Whilethese guidelines are doable, they are certainly not standard at most palletrecycling yards and many other pallet companies today. Dr. Mark White,president of White & Co and a noted pallet expert, said, “It is certainlytrue that many pallet companies do not comply with these storage practicestoday.” He added that if adopted by local or state governments the new storagerequirements may force some pallet companies to decrease inventory, increasethe size of the pallet yard or take other costly steps to comply.
Whileit is not a forgone conclusion the proposed changes will be approved, it israre for proposals that have reached the current state to get overturned. Also,it is up to individual localities and states to decide if they will adoptand/or enforce new requirements. It will likely take many years before any ofthe new codes are enforced, but it is something that pallet facilities withexterior storage need to consider.
Davidsonexplained the idea behind the new grid system. He said, “The pattern createsfire breaks and limits the size of individual groupings of pallets.”
Officialsalso have proposed changing the ICC International Fire Code sprinklerrequirements for high piled storage to more effectively comply with NFPA 13,which has already become the defacto standard on this issue. Also,
the revisions include the addition of a new testing standardwhen deciding if a plastic pallet shall be treated as a wooden pallet fordetermining required sprinkler protection. This addition gives more options byadding FM 4996 to UL2335 as the testing standards that are available fordetermining if a plastic pallet does not require a one class upgrade comparedto a wooden pallet.
Improperlyprotected pallets add a significant fuel load to any building and can lead tocatastrophic loss in the event of a fire. The extreme high heat releaseassociated with a fire in a stack of pallets creates a high-velocity plume offire gases. These rising gases can carry much of the sprinkler water away fromthe fire, and the high temperatures generated in the intensely burning arrayevaporate much of the water that does not penetrate the plume. This process canallow the fire to grow to levels that are hard to control without overpowering inadequatesprinkler systems. Generally, pallets stored inside a building havecomprehensive requirements to comply with that address storage arrangement,height limitations and sprinkler flow density, storage in racks require an Early Suppression FastResponse (ESFR) sprinkler system according to NFPA 13. ESFR systems allow forprewetting of nearby pallet stacks to contain a fire.
Firesat pallet yards have become a significant enough problem that code officialsfelt they couldn’t ignore it. Davidson commented, “The problem with largepallet fires is once they get going they are hard to stop.” This tends to occurbecause the large amount of surface area and the open nature of a pallet designcreates the perfect geometry to foster a fast developing fire with a very highheat release.
The newrules apply only to outdoor storage although they do cover both wooden andplastic pallets. The ICC publicly posted the proposed changes this past Marchand held hearings in April. Although this does appear to be just another in along line of regulations to impact the pallet industry, the increasing numberof fires does indicate a problem. While this may not be a regulation that islooking for a real reason to exist, that doesn’t make it any easier when itwill likely increase storage costs for pallet operations.
WOOD AND PLASTICPALLET STORAGE AND REHABILITATION
Applies to allfacilities with either storage or rehabilitation of pallets (both wooden andplastic).
Fire Flow. Theminimum required fire flow in pallet storage yards exceeding 3200 sq. ft. ofpallet storage areas shall be not less than 2,000 gpm. For storage yards withstable piles greater than 6,200 sq. ft. the required fire flow shall be notless than 3,000 gpm. Pallet storage yards shall not exceed the available firehydrant flow and spacing.
Fire Hydrants.Fire hydrants required for fire flow purposes for pallet storage arrays shallbe
installed in accordance within 300 ft. of pallet locationsmeasured along unobstructed access paths.
Fire DepartmentAccess. Fire apparatus access roads shall be located within 150 ft. of allportions of the pallet storage array(s). Permanent delineation of on-site fireapparatus access roads shall be provided as required by the fire code official.
Exterior palletrepair and storage areas greater than 3,200 sq ft. Exterior pallet storagearrays greater than 3200 sq. ft. shall comply with all of the following:
1. Stacks shall not exceed a heightof 18 ft.
2. Stacks shall be no closer thaneight ft. to any property line or a distance equal to the stack height, whicheveris greater.
3. Stacks shall be no closer thaneight ft. to any other on-site storage area.
4. Stacks shall be no closer than15 ft. to any on-site structure.
5. Stacks shall be arranged to formstable piles.
6. Piles shall not contain morethan 6,000 cu. ft. of pallets.
7. Piles shall be separated fromother piles by a minimum distance of eight ft.
8. Piles shall be arranged in agrid system to form pallet storage arrays with a maximum dimension of 50 ft. by50 ft.
9. Pallet storage arrays shall be separatedby a minimum distance of 24 ft.
Exterior storage notgreater than 3200 sq. ft. in area. Exterior pallet storage not greater than3200 square feet shall comply with all of the following:
1. Stacks shall be no closer thaneight ft. to any property line or a distance equal to the stack height,whichever is greater.
2. Stacks shall be no closer thaneight ft. to any other on-site storage.
3. Stacks shall be no closer than15 ft. to any on-site structure.
Exception: Whereapproved by the fire code official, stacks located closer than 15 ft. to anon-site structure shall maintain minimum horizontal clearances based on thequantity of pallets and the level of protection provided by the buildingconstruction as follows:
1. The minimum horizontal clearancefor 50 pallets or less adjacent to a masonry wall without openings locatedwithin 20 ft. horizontally of the pallet stacks, or adjacent to a masonry wallwith two hour fire-resistance rated protected openings shall be zero feet.
2. The minimum horizontal clearancefor 51 to 200 pallets adjacent to a masonry wall without openings locatedwithin 20 ft. horizontally of the pallet stacks, or a masonry wall with twohour fire-resistance rated protected openings shall be eight feet.
3. The minimum horizontal clearancefor 50 pallets or less adjacent to a wood or metal building equipped throughoutwith an approved automatic sprinkler system shall be eight ft.
4. Stacks located less than 15 ft.from an exterior building wall shall not exceed a height equal to 30 inchesbelow the roof line elevation, or 15 feet, whichever is less.
5. Stacks shall be arranged to formstable piles. A stack is an individual stack of pallets, a pile is a group oftwo or more stacks of pallets grouped together.