MS in Fire Protection Engineering
College of Engineering
Frederick Mowrer and Christopher Pascual
Warehouse facilities are part of the backbone of American industry. The vast amounts of varying goods stored and distributed as part of American business has always driven the need for large, voluminous warehouses. And the increasing size of these facilities over the decades is very closely linked to the capabilities of and advances in fire protection knowledge and technology. Today’s modern distribution centers easily and often exceed one million square feet in area, and the heights are ever increasing. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, most warehouse facilities were built to an approximate height of 30 feet; this, at the time, was the extent of the fire protection (i.e., sprinkler) knowledge and capabilities. Factory Mutual (now FM Global) developed the early suppression fast-response (“ESFR”) sprinkler in the 1980’s and buildings have been increasing in height ever since. Many applicable standards list multiple design criteria for various storage configurations in building with roof peaks up to 45 feet. Just recently this year, Viking released a nominal K-28 ESFR sprinkler that is listed to protect rack storage as a ceilingonly design option (i.e., without the need of costly in-rack fire sprinkler systems) in warehouses having a maximum roof height of 48 feet, and it is unlikely that this trend will stop. The industry will continue to research and develop safe design solutions that will allow more and more storage in a cost effective method, and as such, building and fire code will likewise evolve to accommodate. However, in the meantime, architects and engineers work to design these facilities within the parameters of governing building and fire codes, and when necessary, use performance-based design approaches when the building does not fit inside the box.