When a business owner is storing industrial materials, from plastics to aerosols, there are detailed codes that designate how and where the material is stored in order to minimize fire damage. An area storing more than 500 square feet of combustible high-piled storage is considered a high-piled combustible storage area. These regulations were created in order to keep workers, business owners and the community safe from hazards that can be created by storing combustible materials in inappropriate ways. Both the International Fire Code and the California Fire Code have specific, and similar, regulations regarding high piled combustible storage.
When combustible materials need to be stored on racks greater than 12 feet in height, they are considered high pile storage. When the material is considered high hazard, such as Group A plastics, idle combustible pallets, rubber tires and flammable liquids the height minimum drops down to only 6 feet. So in short, the answer to how high is too high before needing a permit is 6 feet when dealing with hazardous material, 12 feet when dealing with regular combustible material. Specific certificates from the fire department are required for anyone storing high piled combustible material.
The International Fire Code deals with the specifics regarding high-piled storage materials and storage area. One of the main considerations for the storage area is the fire prevention system that is in place, i.e. the sprinkler system. The code goes into specific detail as to the type of sprinkler system that is needed depending on the specifics of what will be stored in the area. The main variables to consider are the fire detection system, building access, smoke and heat removal, how the aisles will be laid out, types of fire department hose connections that are needed and types of portable fire extinguishers that are best for the storage area. Building access, both entry points for firemen and exit points for workers, need to be adequate and conform to the code as well.
A fire marshal will come to inspect the system in order for a certificate to be issued. Inspectors will look for any fire hazards or non-compliance issues, and fines can be issued if the storage is not up to code in a timely manner. Fire inspection certificates are non-transferable, so if you buy a business where high-piled storage is on-site, you will need to apply for a new inspection certificate. Be sure and note that each state also has its own requirements and standards which may be different from the national standard. The California Fire Code, for example, also outlines the requirements for high-piled combustible storage.
Dealing with high-piled storage incorrectly can lead to the increased rate of fire expansion and the endangerment of human lives. Fire inspections are in important tool in keeping the risk to a minimum level. However, the fines can be heavy when fire inspectors find non-compliance. Keep yourself up to date with the current fire codes and keep your high-piled combustible storage compliant to protect your business, your employees, and your financial future.