Thursday, August 2nd, 2012 9:08 am
By Shane Wells
of the Leatherhead Instructors, LLC
Self-storage facilities are everywhere. They are used by families, individuals and businesses. According to the Self-Storage Association, there are more than 49,000 facilities in the U.S (as of the end of 2011).
The variety of items being stored in these facilities is endless; they range from large RV’s and boats to small household items, such as mattresses, to small LP gas cylinders. Commercial contractors can store equipment, tools and other inventory.
Typically, these facilities are built on slabs and are of the lightweight category. They are mostly thin sheet metal covering a wood or metal frame, but they can also be built from concrete block. They are partitioned off inside with chain link fence, OSB, or metal siding. On the other hand, structures such as existing commercial buildings can be converted to self-storage facilities, such as old furniture warehouses that are multi story. They may or may not be equipped with a sprinkler system, standpipes, or fire alarms. Some may even have freight elevators.
In the case of a storage facility structure fire, multiple challenges exist. The most typical storage units are lightweight metal storage buildings with metal roll up doors with a padlock and are surrounded by tall chain link fence that is accessed by a multi code gate. These buildings can be 20 to 30 feet wide and sometimes 300 feet long. The units can vary in size from 4’ by 4’ to large enough to store a boat or RV. They are usually laid out in long rows with narrow access driveways between them, as the buildings are kept as close as possible to maximize the number of units on the property. This type of lay-out can make access to the buildings difficult due to the close proximity. Large apparatus, such as aerial ladders, may not fit into these facilities and may need left on the street, or positioned to protect exposures. The partition walls in these buildings sometimes don’t go all the way to the roof, which can cause problems in the way of fire spread. Fire attack can be expected to be tough from water supply to gaining access to the building itself. Water supply can also be a challenge to firefighters. For example, one facility in my area is almost 1,000 feet from the nearest hydrant to the end of the last building.
An experienced firefighter with a rotary saw can make quick work of the metal roll up doors using the inverted V pattern cut. Don’t commit apparatus between the fire buildings and plan to stretch a 2 ½ hand line to attack the fire. Most of these storage facilities are in commercially zoned areas and may go unnoticed for a while at night.
Remember that items stored inside these buildings are unknown and expect the unexpected.