Reading A Building – Warehouses

By John W. Mittendorf

Warehouse occupancies come in a wide variety of sizes, heights, floor plans, contents. Common considerations follow.

When you hear the term “warehouse” you probably think of a large building as most warehouse type buildings are used to store materials and/or contain a manufacturing process as well as store materials. Since there is a wide variance in warehouse sizes and floor plans, an initial size-up should include the approximate size as there is a significant difference between a warehouse occupancy that is 30 x 30 and one that is 150 x 300. When considering life hazard, when is the last time you lost an occupant inside a warehouse-type occupancy as opposed to a residential occupancy?

Normally, the name on the outside of the building will indicate the contents and fire load inside. If an interior attack is chosen, consider the presence of rack-tiered storage which will divide the interior into aisle ways, and the possibility of collapsing rack-tiered storage onto or behind interior attack personnel.

It is common practice for occupants of these buildings to construct a mezzanine over the office area (and probably not to code) and then use this handy out-of-sight area to store miscellaneous items. Unfortunately, if a fire occurs and the sprinkler system activates, this area can quickly become overloaded as the storage absorbs water. This condition can suddenly become important to companies who stretch hoselines through the office area to the rear of the building. There are not many buildings (other than warehouses and some commercial buildings) that have a mezzanine problem.

The typical warehouse building will often have minimal ways into and out of the it, and can have few or no windows. As an example, consider the typical concrete tilt-up warehouse with a single “mandoor” for access to the office area, and several loading dock doors. Additionally, most concrete tilt-ups have no windows. The lack of openings in these buildings should dramatically change your thinking regarding access-egress openings and your ability to mount an interior attack if conditions warrant.

Parapet Walls
If personnel are assigned to the roof for ventilation operations and the roof line is not visible, then consider the potential distance of the roof line below the parapet wall. If the distance is 5 ft. or more, then it will take two ladders for personnel to safely reach the roof (one ladder from the ground to the top of the parapet, and another ladder from the top of the parapet to the roof).

Built To Burn
What do you have when a building that is located in the industrial-commercial section of a municipality has an interior fire that has made some progress before being identified and reported, has minimal openings to allow access-egress for fireground personnel, has minimal or no partition walls and a moderate to heavy fire load inside, and has a lightweight roof? You have a building that was built to burn and will likely result in a new parking lot!

John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the books Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998) and Facing the Promotional Interview (Fire Engineering, 2003).

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