Fire in Cold Stores – Invitation to Discussion

The subject of fire detection, prevention, and suppression in cold and freezer stores is increasingly problematic in South Africa, with many of our customers being told that they must install sprinkler systems that were never anticipated in their budgets. The costs are sometimes astronomical, especially when not planned for.


Safety, including fire risk, should be of great concern to everyone, and the installation of sprinkler systems is regulated by SABS 0287, a comprehensive set of commendably-highly-detailed rules and regulations drawn up under the auspices of ASIB and other private companies.


However these rules were drawn up with ambient situations in mind, and it is questionable as to how relevant they are to freezers? Cold-stores, and especially freezers, present entirely different circumstances and should be treated differently. For a start sprinkler systems are based on water, and as we all know water is not liquid at minus temperatures. Ice does not put out fires. This gives rise to a whole new set of issues that the sprinkler specialists claim to have overcome.


Moreover fire in cold stores is not easy or common. For a fire to start in an area where product is being stored at minus 25°C is difficult. For anything at that temperature to reach combustion heat requires very special circumstances. The product needs to warm up through at least 50 degrees before it even reaches room temperature, and then on upwards to combustion point. In the meanwhile the ice inherent in the frozen product will have melted and turned into water – thus (usually) automatically extinguishing the fire.


Fire in Cold Stores – Invitation to Discussion
The Complexity of Sprinkler installation in Mobile Racking


In UK and Australia, normally paragons of health and safety to the point of paranoia, sprinklers are not commonly used in freezer facilities.

We have visited several very large freezers in both countries that have no sprinklers, where uncertainty about effectiveness, costs, and the risks of having one’s facility (and product) turned into either a flood or a glacier ruled them out.


Instead, a rational fire plan, drawn up by specialist independent fire-engineers, incorporating sound construction engineering, good safety practice and training, approved smoke and/or fire detection and alarm systems, aspiration systems, adequate fire escape routes and exits, and ideally fire-resistant insulation panelling (PIR), is deemed more than enough for peace of mind – without the expense and risk of sprinklers.


Barpro believe that there is great opportunity to open discussions between all interested and involved parties – fire engineers and inspectors, consultants, refrigeration engineers, freezer construction contractors, et al. with the goal of sharing experience and understanding in order to reach consensus on the way forward in South Africa with this contentious issue.


Barpro would be happy to participate or convene a meeting of the relevant parties.

Please let us know if we can assist in this way.


Alan Moule –

Tel: +27 21 552 9190