“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” or so the song goes… and “The Nightmare before Christmas” for everyone in fire protection and risk management. As we approach the end of the year, common sense seems to go out the window for most retailers and warehouses in terms of the basics of fire protection.
With the increased focus on consumer shopping experiences, like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the holiday shopping season seems to start just that little bit earlier each year. As people rush to stock up on sales or supplies for December, retailers anticipate for the demand and cater for it.
First, we store well in excess of what the sprinkler systems are capable of handling, then we obstruct the sprinklers by storing hard up against them, or by hanging decorations such as tinsel, glitter stars and, sometimes, entire reindeer from them.
We completely understand the logic of store managers and companies across the nation in this regard, yet this situation leads to an often overlooked problem. A sprinkler system is designed for different materials, stored or stacked at different heights, with a variety of additional factors to consider. In order to accommodate more stock on display for consumers, the storage arrangements change drastically in a retail outlet or warehouse.
The increased amount of stock on display results in potentially nullifying the sprinkler system’s effective design. As boxes or goods are stacked higher and higher, a sprinkler will operate differently than intended. This is due to several factors that are now changed.
The spray or discharge pattern of the sprinkler head is now affected by a closer proximity of stock. This means the area over which the sprinkler is intended to operate is decreased significantly, resulting in the calculations that were used to originally design the system becoming irrelevant to control or suppress a fire.
We understand why this happens in stores - real estate costs money but the underlying factor here is this doesn’t only happen in November or December. Throughout the entire year, storage arrangements are often changed with little regard to the sprinkler systems designed specifically for that system. In the event of a fire, the installation will not act as intended which is an oversight we see daily on inspections throughout the country.
The first step in combating this phenomenon is being aware of it, of which many store managers are not. The most wonderful time of the year just means the risk of fires is increased exponentially over this period.