Rental storage units represent a serious and unpredictable risk for firefighters. For example, hundreds of rented units at a three-story, self-storage warehouse in Manchester, United Kingdom, were recently destroyed by fire.
Fire in rental storage units
There were 125 firefighters and 25 fire engines called to the scene. There were no injuries, but hundreds of customers lost thousands of dollars in stored goods in the fire. Notably, the facility was not protected by a sprinkler system, which no doubt contributed to the scale of the loss.
The Manchester fire is far from the first to start in a self-storage warehouse. In 2017, a fire destroyed most of a self-storage building, as well as several other businesses in Tottenham, in North London. There were 20 fire engines and 140 firefighters involved, who spent hours extinguishing the blaze. One person was injured.
Self-storage warehouse fires
In 2018, a self-storage warehouse in Croydon, in south London that housed 1,198 rental units
In 2018, a self-storage warehouse in Croydon, in south London that housed 1,198 rental units was destroyed in a large fire. At the height of the fire on New Year's Eve, the whole of the four-story structure was ablaze, and there were 120 firefighters on the scene. There were no injuries.
When the new four-story replacement facility was opened, the owners decided to include sprinklers in the rebuild, although they are not required by building regulations. Lesson learned. In 2019, a storage warehouse in Bedfordshire was destroyed by a blaze that spread from a plastics factory next door.
Lack of barriers between units
Fires in self-storage buildings provide unique challenges. There may be little separation between the various units, so a fire can spread quickly. Lack of barriers between units makes it less likely a fire will be easily contained.
Furthermore, the contents of each unit are unknown, and some units may contain large quantities of furniture, tightly packed together and including flammable materials. In fact, the contents of any given storage building could literally be anything, which leaves firefighters perpetually uninformed about what they are dealing with.
The resulting large fires burn for a long time, create a lot of smoke, and can challenge the resources of the fire service, as past incidents in the United Kingdom illustrate.
Proactive use of sprinklers in rental storage units
Sprinkler systems help to control fires, by allowing fire crews more time to access and extinguish a fire
Sprinklers are a useful tool to slow the spread of fires in self-storage warehouses, and one that is not always deployed. Sprinkler systems help to control fires, by allowing fire crews more time to access and extinguish a fire.
Proactive use of sprinkler systems can minimize damage and avert the worst outcomes in the case of self-storage fires. In fact, a viewing of overall United Kingdom fire statistics reveals that 95% of fires can be controlled or even extinguished by the operation of fire sprinklers.
Importance of fire sprinkler systems
Fire sprinkler systems make buildings more resilient to the impact of fire, by automatically controlling or even extinguishing it, before the fire service arrives. Sprinkler systems have an operational reliability of 94%, evidence suggests.
The Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA) seeks to highlight the true cost of fire and to increase the number of business premises that have automatic fire sprinklers. The BSA is driving a culture change to ensure that sprinklers are understood and accepted, as the norm in UK business buildings.
Whether it’s in a self-storage building, a car park or an office, uncontrolled fire knows no limits. Proactive use of sprinkler systems can provide a level of control by delaying spread of a fire until firefighters can begin to play their important role.