Construction Concerns: Flammable Liquids Storage

Article and photos by Gregory Havel

The storage of flammable and combustible liquids inside buildings is a key element in the design of fire protection and detection systems and must be of interest to firefighters. The presence of these hazardous materials inside a building significantly increases the risk of fire. If a flammable liquid escapes its container, it can be easily ignited and cause a fire that will spread rapidly, with a high rate of heat release. If a fire starts in another part of the building and spreads to the area with flammable or combustible liquid storage, the containers will fail, the contents will ignite, and the fire will spread even more rapidly.

To reduce the risk of fire involving the flammable liquids stored inside buildings, the
fire codes require that they be stored in
specially designed cabinets that will reduce the risk of ignition and that will contain small amounts of products that may escape their containers.

Photo 1 shows a flammable liquids storage cabinet that is typically found in businesses and factories that use small quantities of flammable liquids in production and cleaning processes. This cabinet has adjustable shelves so that it can accommodate small containers of up to five gallons (18.93 liters) each. Cabinets of this size, and both larger and smaller sizes, are available from many manufacturers and are designed to meet the requirements of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code.


Photo 2 shows a flammable liquids storage cabinet designed to store 55-gallon (208.2 liters) drums of volatile, low flash-point flammable liquids on pallets, stacked two drums high. The roll-up fire doors on the front permit access to the drums by forklift and will be released by fusible links if there is a fire while they are open. This cabinet is so large that its interior has been equipped with automatic fire sprinkler heads that are part of a foam system with water supplied from the building’s wet sprinkler system. A cabinet of this size is unlikely to be found anywhere except in a large factory or chemical plant and deserves a note on the prefire plan.


Photo 3 shows the signs next to the door of a combustible liquids storage room that was designed to store 55-gallon drums of less hazardous flammable liquids (Class II and Class III) than the cabinet in photo 2. This room has a roll-up fire door that allows access inside the room by forklift. The bottom sign, “Only trucks marked ‘EE’ beyond this point,” means that only
electrically powered forklifts are permitted to be used inside the room. The “EE” rating means that all of the forklift’s electrical equipment is fully enclosed, the electrical system is designed to prevent sparks and limit surface temperatures, and that it is protected against inherent fire hazards. This is one of 11 classifications of forklifts established by ANSI B56.1 American National Standard for Powered Industrial Trucks, which is incorporated by reference into Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard 29 CFR 1910.178.


The requirements for flammable and combustible liquid storage cabinets and rooms are detailed in NFPA 30, Chapter 9, and NFPA 1, Chapter 66. NFPA 30, chapter 10, exempts flammable and combustible liquids in small containers for retail sale from the requirements for storage in rated cabinets or rooms. The requirements for outdoor flammable liquids storage, covered in NFPA 30, is a topic for another time.

Gregory Havel is a member of the Burlington (WI) Fire Department; a retired deputy chief and training officer; and a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He is a Wisconsin-certified fire instructor II and fire officer II, an adjunct instructor in fire service programs at Gateway Technical College, and safety director for Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. Havel has a bachelor’s degree from St. Norbert College; has more than 30 years of experience in facilities management and building construction; and has presented classes at FDIC.


Subjects: Building construction for firefighters

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