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topic 46934

Fire suppression regulatory requirement in a plating shop


Q. We have been required by the Fire Marshall to add automatic fire suppression to our plating shop. We do not use any flammable chemicals in this area and our buildings are made up of concrete and steel. Since we really don't have anything to burn in these buildings, the automatic fire suppression requirement seems to be illogical. To be more specific, our City has adopted the International Fire Code. The problem I see in the code section 2705.1.8 is that it requires automatic systems in any buildings that contain hazardous chemicals. By the definition almost all plating chemicals are hazardous and there are no exceptions for hazardous chemicals that are not combustible or flammable. It is at this point that we believe that the code defies common sense. Of course, I know that regulations aren't required to make sense, but I was curious if any of the other plating shops have run into this issue and if they found some way out of it.

Jon Barrows
Large plating job shop - Tulsa, Oklahoma


A. Hi, Jon. I saw you from a distance at Sur/Fin but you were tied up; sorry we didn't get to say hello this year. If you search the site using the word "sprinklers" I think you'll find some discussions on the subject.

My most practical suggestion is that you get a copy of the NFPA Handbook and read the chapter on sprinklers. Because you just might convert yourself to the belief that sprinklers are a good idea even in this circumstance -- and then things will be easier for you because you'll be agreeing with the fire marshall's less costly proposal :-)

Speaking for myself, I read that chapter several years ago and it immediately and permanently changed my mind to where I think every plating shop should have sprinklers for fire suppression despite any points that are made about overflowing tanks, etc. For about the last ten years I've been the "plating shop fire specialist" for a consulting company that provides assistance to insurance companies after fires, and it has only reinforced that opinion. A fire from sopping up nitric acid with newspaper; numerous fires from electric heaters in polypropylene tanks; a devastating fire costing tens of millions of dollars, spread by the PVC exhaust system; a still-unexplained "explosion" in an electroless nickel plating shop, etc., are evidence that you don't need a flammable building to have a serious fire.

Ted Mooney, Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey


thumbs up signThanks Ted. I know you are right, I have seen two polypro tanks along with PVC exhaust burning within the last 7 years. I just can't help thinking about the potential environmental disaster from tanks running over, mixing with cyanides and flowing down the street. The fire marshall's response to that protest is that I can use CO2 systems instead of sprinklers. That would be extraordinarily cost prohibitive. So, we are stuck with putting in the sprinklers with the hope that they will never go off. Maybe my question should be- have you ever heard of an environmental incident that was clearly made worse because of the sprinklers? If not, then my protest is exaggerated.

Jon Barrows [returning]
Large Aerospace Job Shop - Tulsa, Oklahoma


Such cases certainly may exist, John, but I'm not personally aware of any. It's like the fact that refusing to wear a seat belt could save your life in an accident but is much more likely to cost it.

The most important thing to remember about sprinklers is "a stitch in time". You have a smaller, more localized fire to fight, far less consumption of water, and thus a reduced chance of environmental consequences. We platers know our jobs and the environmental exposures, but fire marshalls know their jobs too. It may be that they do foresee the environmental risks of sprinklers, even though we may think they don't -- but that they appreciate more viscerally than we do how vital it is to fight a fire absolutely immediately :-)

Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey


A. Hi Jon,

I wanted add my knowledge of the codes and requirements. My first thought would be, why is the fire marshall questioning an existing facility that would be grandfathered by the code in affect at the time it was constructed? Is this for a new project or building addition? If not, then you may have a leg to stand on when responding to the fire marshall's request. I have known several facilities that just installed a system as to not cause any future instances with the code officials.

Now to the meat of the discussion. You are correct that you must follow Chapter 27 for new construction or renovation of facilities if that is the code that your City has adopted or will adopt by the end of construction. This Chapter covers general provisions for storage, construction, etc.

You will also need to look further at Chapter 31 for Corrosive Materials, Chapter 34 for Flammable and Combustible Liquids, Chapter 36 for Flammable Solids (some nickel strippers use this), Chapter 37 for Toxic and Highly Toxic Materials, Chapter 40 for Oxidizers, and Chapter 44 for Water-Reactive Solids and Liquids. All of these types of chemicals can be found in a plating shop. So a little more investigation may be required. You will also need to assess the given quantities on the site, to see which activities or requirements will be triggered.

Also, In response to your sprinkler discharge comment, it is required by NFPA to also have segregated containment capable of holding the entire contents of the single largest vessel plus a 20-minute discharge at the design coverage rate.

Best of Luck.

Ira Donovan, M.S.F.
Kansas City, Missouri

January 30, 2008

I would support putting in the fire sprinkler system. There have been 3 plating shop fires in San Diego in the last 2 years. One burned beyond repair, one other to the ground and mine, the fire was out before the fire department even entered the building,the other shops had no sprinkler system. One fire sprinkler head at 28 GPM put out the fire rather quickly. The fire was limited to one large piece of equipment, which was completely destroyed. Based on post fire clean up there was about 2 hundred gallons of water the was dispersed on the floor out side of containment area (walk way) etc. The equipment that did burn was in containment, which was built to hold 30,000 gallons with the largest vessels at 900 gallons, well, well beyond what the law requires, so I thought I was good.
Something I did not think about, was what about the fire suppression water that sprayed from over head being sent in all direction, over containment walls, walk ways, offices, and any other area not in containment. So for $8000.00 dollars I had installed 1 1/2 high 23 wide containment berms at all 7 roll up doors and numerous fire exits. Now I have the entire foot print of the building contained, which gives me another 13,000 gallons. To me well worth it. After these fires the local hazmat chief called me, who I know, and said Dale what is going on with all the plating shop fires, I said we may have no flammable chemicals on site, but that all the containers that we put them in (Polypropylene) are very flammable. We are smart ones.

Just goggle plating shop fire, there are lots of them every year.

Dale Watkins
Job Shop - San Diego, California

August 6, 2010 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. I know everyone is busy but I need help. Are most plating shops required to install sprinkler systems in their shops or do the local zoning require foam?

Tamea Franco
plating shop employee - Roanoke, Virginia

August 6, 2010

A. Hi, Tamea. As you see, we appended your inquiry to a rather similar thread which you might find helpful. I can't answer what "most" local codes require, but I do reiterate my personal opinion, from having been an investigator for the insurance industry of a good number of plating shop fires, that sprinklers are the best way to go. And when you add all the good reasons for sprinklers presented in the NFPA Guide, that employees who might be in the area are better served by water than by suffocating gases :-) . . .


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey

June 17, 2013 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Hi,
I understand the need for sprinklers in a plating shop however; I haven't been able to find any information on how much a PVC liner or tray is required to contain.

Jeremy Philbrick
- Milford, New Hampshire, USA

June 26, 2013

A. Hi Jeremy. We appended your letter to a thread where Ira Donovan says containment requirement is 20-minute discharge plus the capacity of largest vessel. Ken Vlach says the same thing in letter 42969. Good luck.


Ted Mooney,
Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Are electric heaters now safe, or still a fire danger?

August 22, 2016 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread

Q. Hi Everyone. Not to long ago electric heaters and fire's were to common names together. We are in process of building a new line. We currently use boiler heat. Looking at electric heaters was never an option in my opinion until I seen these Anyone have any experience using these?

Casey Weizel
- Tempe, Arizona. USA

August 2016

A. Hi Casey. As mentioned earlier in this thread, when I did consulting I was the "plating shop fire" guy for a company that assists insurance companies with technical expertise for fires. Of the dozen or so fire sites I audited, the majority were caused by electric heaters in polypropylene tanks (I've also seen data with larger sample sizes supporting the same thing) ... it certainly is a very real problem because tanks spring leaks, or for some other reason the level gets low over the weekend, and radiant heat from the heater sets the tank on fire.

I saw these heaters at Sur/Fin a few years ago and I was enthused by them; I don't know the full technical details of this particular solution, and it's not the only possible solution, but I would not put electric heaters in plastic tanks without some sort of modern fail-safe device like this or some redundant system.


pic of Ted Mooney
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Pine Beach, New Jersey
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