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Warehouse fires: the challenges faced and the solutions on offer from FireVu

04 September 2015

Warehouse fires can have catastrophic consequences, as recent events demonstrate. Online fashion retailer ASOS lost up to £30m in sales after a huge fire at its Barnsley warehouse in November 2014. ASOS had to suspend its website and stop taking orders for several days, as 20% of the total stock inside the premises – worth around £22m – was damaged by the smoke.

This is far from an isolated incident. There was another recent warehouse fire in Perivale, West London, in July of this year, which gutted the two-storey building. Thick plumes of smoke were visible for miles across London, with 120 firefighters and officers having to tackle the blaze.
It is hardly a surprise that fires of this magnitude inflict significant damage upon the national economy.

The UK lost £1 billion in GDP and 5,000 full-time jobs through preventable fires in commercial warehouses over the last five years, a clear warning of what can happen if the right form of fire detection is not in place.

Chris Connor, business development manager for FireVu, focuses on the difficulties of detecting warehouse fires and explains how FireVu’s technology can solve such issues.

The challenges

When it comes to ensuring fire safety in large warehouses – which can cover tens of thousands of square metres – it is crucial to identify a problem at the earliest possible stage, so that swift action can be taken by the relevant authorities to minimise loss and ensure business continuity.

However, for some detection systems spotting danger early can prove a challenge, as the voluminous spaces of warehouses present issues in terms of how long it takes smoke to reach conventional point detectors.

Smoke often takes several minutes to reach ceiling level in the process of smoke stratification, which occurs when smoke heated by fire cools down to the surrounding air temperature. In many cases, the smoke is no longer sufficient to displace the air above it and so levels out and hangs in the air. In extreme circumstances, the smoke particulates never reach ceiling mounted detectors.

Fire detection technologies which rely on sampling air and recognising smoke particles would subsequently be unable to detect smoke and therefore fire until the smoke has travelled to the detector’s location.

These technologies include systems which suck air from the environment via purpose built aspirating pipes and fittings. Unlike FireVu’s technology, these systems are unable to visually verify a fire and do not provide both flame and smoke detection.

Smoke stratification is clearly a serious threat to early fire detection, but one which must be overcome.

Detecting fire in warehouses is all the more important when you consider the high value of materials which are stored in these voluminous structures – take ASOS as an example – and the large workforce which must be led to safety. In the case of the ASOS Barnsley fire, around 500 workers had to be evacuated from the premises.

Moreover, the damage caused by a fire is often more long-term than just a few days, weeks or months – 30% of companies go out of business within a year and 70% within five years after suffering a major fire, according to Home Office Computing Magazine.

Whilst the onset of fire often cannot always be prevented, it is imperative to spot fire at its embryonic stage to lessen the long term damage to a business, the danger to workers, the financial cost of clean up and the strain on resources and manpower.

The solution

At FireVu, we recognise the challenges faced by the warehousing industry and have responded by developing a host of innovative detection solutions which identify fire early in order to reduce its potentially detrimental effects.

At present, we are making extensive efforts to provide measurable business benefits to the warehousing sector through our visual smoke and flame detection (VSD) technology.

FireVu ‘sees’ smoke and flame and so can analyse and identify fire at its earliest stages through a non-contact method of detection. By detecting fire visually, the threshold at which an alarm is raised is often lower than that of alternative “sampling” technologies and smoke stratification is not a barrier to early detection.

This feature differentiates FireVu from most other forms of fire detection technology which require some product of combustion, usually smoke, to come into contact with the sensor.
VSD offers full situational awareness by identifying the exact location, size, cause and possible associated hazards associated with a fire.

FireVu’s VSD solution in particular provides an on screen sequence of images alerting on-site personnel or monitoring operators to both the existence and location of the fire. This visual verification enables operators to carry out fast effective analysis and take measured appropriate action.

In terms of practicality, our VSD technology works effectively both indoors and outdoors, even in challenging environments containing substances such as smoke and dust. It can also be fixed in conveniently accessible places, both at ceiling and ground level, rather than needing to be positioned high up as is the case with conventional detectors.

The results

When fire originates in warehouses, or indeed in any voluminous buildings, it is essential to detect smoke and/or flame early and provide a visual verification of what is happening in specific areas.

FireVu’s VSD technology can do exactly this, as it understands the behaviour and movement of smoke. This ensures that rapid action can be taken, limiting any damage and disruption to the owner’s business, whilst crucially ensuring the safety of warehouse staff and members of the emergency services.

The earlier warehouse fires are detected, the sooner action can be taken and the lower the detrimental effects of these fires.

A fire detected and extinguished quickly means:
1.  The fire itself is likely to be smaller and less hazardous to tackle
2.  Fewer assets will be damaged by the fire
3.  The financial cost of clean up will be less
4.  The financial cost of asset repair or replacement will be less
5.  Business downtime will be less as will all associated opportunity costs
6.  The effect on Business continuity will be kept to a minimum.

To find out how FireVu’s technology can provide measurable benefits for your business, contact us on enquiry@firevu.co.uk or 01928 706422.


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