Your facility’s freezers and coolers store and protect valuable inventory from spoilage. While you may not think these spaces are prone to fire due to their cold temperatures, fires can, and do, occur. Here are five things you should know to help reduce the risk of freezer and cooler fires.
1. Your frozen products may not be the cause.
While refrigerated or frozen products may not themselves pose a fire hazard, other items such as packaging, storage pallets, or construction materials may significantly increase the fire load, or combustibility, of a space in the event of a fire. Additionally, the low temperatures in these environments can reduce a sprinkler system’s effectiveness.
2. Your type of sprinkler system matters.
Sprinkler systems are designed to limit fire damage to your business. However, certain systems are better suited than others to protect specific areas. For example, while properly installed and maintained wet pipe sprinkler systems provide adequate protection for general areas, they are prone to freezing and should not be used in very cold locations. The appropriate choice for a freezer or cooler is a dry pipe or preaction sprinkler system.
- A dry pipe system is filled with pressurized air or nitrogen gas that is released and replaced with water when the sprinkler operates.
- A preaction sprinkler system is also filled with air but uses supplemental fire detection devices (such as heat detectors) to activate the preaction valve and allow water to enter the piping.
3. Regular sprinkler inspection and maintenance are critical.
It’s important to conduct regular inspections and maintenance of your sprinklers and pipes in accordance with National Fire Protection Association standards to keep your system in good working condition. Poor maintenance can cause:
- External ice buildup, which can lead to the weakening or collapse of piping and structural supports
- Internal ice buildup, or ice plugs, which can obstruct piping and delay or prevent the flow of water when the sprinkler operates
Be sure to remove ice from sprinklers and pipes as soon as possible. Do not use torches, welders, or other flame-producing equipment on installed piping, as these tools can create ignition sources.
4. Ice plugs can cause major damage.
Ice plugs, which form when water freezes inside a pipe, can obstruct the release of air or flow of water in your sprinkler system. Properly designed systems limit moisture and allow water to drain from all piping, which should prevent most ice plugs from forming. Filling pipes with pressurized air that has low moisture content, such as air drawn from a very cold freezer or artificially dried air from a dehydrator, can also prevent ice plugs from forming. Should ice plugs form, disassemble pipes and move them to a warm area to thaw. Contractors may also use steam or hot water to remove ice from installed piping.
5. Insulated wall panels also pose a threat.
Wall panels with combustible insulation are often used in the construction of freezers and coolers. These materials increase the fire load and can accelerate the spread of a fire. Using fire-resistant or low-flame-spread panels and installing sprinklers above the entrance and inside walk-in freezers and coolers can help safeguard the stored contents as well as the building structure.