Fireproof Storage: Planning for Safety, Compliance

By Stuffey | January 5, 2020
Even in this digital age, nearly every industry stores paper and other flammable materials. Since planning for the worst simply makes business sense, it’s important to take into consideration the role fireproof storage can have in a fire protection strategy.
Fire protection concerns everyone from building architects and interior designers to building owners and employees. Code officials and insurance companies are at the ready to weigh in as well. Ultimately, though, they all share the same goals:
  • Minimize possibility of fire event
  • Reduce effects of fire event
  • Protect building, its occupants and contents.
There are many codes and compliance considerations to keep in mind when planning for fireproof storage. These include:
  • International Building Code (IBC) for storage facilities and buildings
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends automatic sprinkler protection for libraries and library collection storage
  • The US National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) requires facilities housing federal records limit fire damage to a maximum 300 cu ft of records in a single fire event.
Yet fire code compliance is only one of many factors that a team is juggling when building a new storage space, renovating or repurposing an old one. Collaborating with storage experts can offer engineers, architects, designers and project managers greater confidence their storage solution choices reflect the latest knowledge of fire protection issues.
Storage planners prioritize fire protection when designing the unique solutions to suit clients’ needs, whether in libraries, museums, federal buildings or business offices. This means designing with a deep understanding of how fire protection standards impact storage, including:
  • Combustibility not only of the materials stored but also of the storage equipment
  • Different considerations of mobile storage solutions versus static shelving against a wall
  • Height of storage equipment in relation to ceiling and/or ceiling sprinkler systems
  • Need for fire stops, which use storage equipment materials and/or create spaces to allow water penetration to better suppress a fire.

Standing by Product Design


High-bay storage minimizes the square footage required and offers a more efficient use of vertical space as well. Yet with the added height, storage planners often called for ceiling and intermediate height sprinkler solutions as fire protection. However, Spacesaver tested its high-bay product in a fire facility to gauge ceiling sprinklers alone success protecting documents, books, periodicals and other paper materials.

To ensure fire protection of high-bay storage applications, the company tested Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinklers and a 33-ft. high Spacesaver mobile records storage system. The fire damage was limited to “a very small volume of the records stored.” Less than 100 cu. ft. of the 11,500 cu. ft. of records installed on the shelving systems for the test were determined “lost or irrecoverable.”
The results supported the sufficiency of ESFR sprinklers, which further provide the cost savings benefit of exempting the storage building from needing automatic roof smoke and feat vents.

Tamping Out other Fire-Related Concerns

Beyond the positive test results, Spacesaver constructs its mobile carriages and shelving from non-combustible steel or aluminum. In cases where local code requires fire-retardant wood end panels (or steel end panels) and/or fire-retardant flooring between the carriage rails, that’s also available.

Of course some users are still concerned about putting in powered mobile systems as they contain electrical motors. Nevertheless, Spacesaver’s systems, in their entirety, are listed by Underwriters Laboratories (C-U.L.-US) and meet national standards for electrical safety.

When the University of South Carolina’s Law Library was moving into a new space with less square footage, Patterson Pope storage designers helped the university find the right solution to house its more than 300,000 volumes and regain valuable floor space to allow for collaborative work and student study tables and carrels. The new library’s nearly 8,000 square foot basement features a massive 27,000-linear ft.-plus electronic high-density mobile shelving unit with a number of safety features, including “Fire Park.”

Fire Park addresses a common concern with mobile storage carriers — that the units would impede sprinkler function. Connected to the building’s fire alarm system, the storage system is programmed to automatically open shelving units to even spacing if a fire alarm triggers. This spacing allows heat to rise and activate sprinklers and gives fire personnel clear views between the shelving units. It’s a feature that appealed to Stanford University’s athletic equipment managers when designing a storage facility for university athletes and the sports medicine department.

There were 96,800 non-residential building fires in the United States in 2016, for a combined loss of $2 billion, according to FEMA. The hope is that it won’t happen where you work. Still, anticipating the possibility and planning for fire protection and weighing fireproof storage options can make a difference. Let Patterson Pope help.


About Stuffey

To say that Stuffey was made for this role would be an understatement. A life long hoarder, Stuffey understands how the Laws of Stuff can wreak havoc in the real world of an organization’s space. Now as part of his reformation, he is committed to passing on to you his secrets in our battle against the tyranny of STUFF.

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