Could the Plainfield Distribution Center fire happen to you?

On March 16, a massive fire destroyed a distribution center in Plainfield, Indiana (listen here to the fire radio traffic). The fire in the 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse was reported at about noon. It quickly spread out of control and burned for over 24 hours, collapsing most of the building. 400 firefighters from 30 agencies responded. A thousand employees working on site escaped. Thankfully, no civilians were injured and only one firefighter sustained a minor injury. The financial loss will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The economic disruption and loss to the community is not yet fully understood. The ATF National Response Team and state and local fire investigators are investigating the cause.

This is just one of at least four recent similar incidents where fire has significantly damaged or destroyed a large facility. With new warehouses being built every day, many in small and rural communities, the need to be properly prepared has become urgent for many departments. Is your department prepared to handle a similar fire? Have you pre-planned at all the relevant properties in your first due areas? Can you identify the hazards at these properties? Do you know why fully-sprinklered buildings like the Plainfield facility still can burn to the ground? Do you know how to interact with the automatic sprinkler systems in these properties to give you the best chance to control and extinguish the fire?

Don't fall prey to thinking that these types of fires are low probability events and therefore you probably won't have to ever deal with it. We have seen these "low probability" fire events happen several times in the last year and each time the loss has been catastrophic. Do not be caught unprepared, facing tough questions about your response, your preplanning, and your training. Free training in automatic sprinkler systems, pre-incident planning and response to large footprint properties is available on the FM Global Fire Service Learning Network.

Start the first Fighting Fire in Sprinklered Buildings module, "Automatic Sprinkler System Design and Function" today.

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