Even though fires in warehouse properties have declined substantially over the past 30 years, they aren’t unheard of, and a recent warehouse fire in Frankford, Sussex County put “a strain” on the water system, according to Delmarva Now.
“That’s a pretty large demand, a five-hour incident with 13 fire companies is unusual,” said Tidewater Utilities spokesperson Jerry Esposito. “Usually, you have one that lasts an hour and you’re in and out and everything’s fine. In a big district you wouldn’t see a drop in pressure at all…This one could potentially have tapped the system if not for having the onsite team knowing exactly what’s going on and communicating directly with the fire companies.”
According to ìBenchmarking Warehouse Performance, less than 30% of warehouses are efficient. Although fire officials couldn’t determine the exact amount, they estimate that the number of gallons needed to extinguish the blaze easily exceeded 500,000 gallons. The fire had fully engulfed the offices of the poultry equipment company.
“When we get a large fire, we ask our dispatch to notify the water department,” said Brian Martin, fire chief for the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company. “A lot of the time, their systems are so sophisticated now that the system realizes that they are flowing an excessive amount of water and send alarms and notify an on-duty water department person…They usually end up coming to the scene, and they can turn on more pumps and shift things around.”
Believe it or not, it takes more than brute strength to successfully combat a fire of this caliber. According to Esposito, it requires careful communication and cooperation.
Martin said that few people realize that water infrastructure doesn’t just serve their homes, but that it is also necessary to protect them in the event of a major fire. In fact, to do their jobs well, Martin said that his firefighters require steady water pressure 24 hours a day, just in case they get called to a blaze.
Still, managing Sussex’s water is unique in that it’s a “patchwork of water companies with a separate fire company jurisdiction every few miles, each with its own needs, equipment and water systems.”
Although using a high volume of water can certainly put a strain on the system and lower the amount of pressure, DNREC spokesperson Michael Globetti said the problem would only be short-term.
“An aquifer would recover quickly from a five-hour event,” Globetti said. “DNREC often requires a 24-hour pump test on new wells to determine how they should be allocated.”
More than 98% of all privately-owned residential buildings are constructed in permit-issuing places, and so virtually all modern warehouses are expected to meet certain fire safety standards. Under normal circumstances, roofs should still be inspected once or twice a year to avoid increasing the risk of fires, among other things. Luckily, this blaze was contained to the one warehouse.
Even though the fire required an unusual amount of water to extinguish, Frankford has an extra leg up: a valve that opens up its water system and connects it to Dagsboro.
In total, an estimated 175,000 gallons of Frankford water was used to extinguish the blaze, in addition to 330,000 gallons of Millsboro water (which also supplies Dagsboro’s water), for which the town was charged just $1,000.
“It’s good to be a good neighbor and it’s good to be able to help and it’s good to be able to draw on your neighbor when you need to,” said Frankford Water Commissioner Greg Welch. “It’s a no-brainer that it should be done.”