Fire-Prevention Series Part Three: Getting a Handle on Storage
Once a fire starts, regardless of the cause, it needs fuel to keep going. Flammable materials combined with wide-open spaces, like cathedral ceilings, school gyms, or camp mess halls, can be a dangerous combination. That’s why proper storage is an important part of keeping your ministry safe from fire.
Storage might seem like a simple issue, but it’s often overlooked. Adequate storage space can be lacking in churches, schools, and camps where every square foot is needed and used for ministry. When space is a premium, you may be tempted to store items wherever you have room.
Caution: Do Not Store Items in Mechanical Rooms
If the answer to the problem includes using the mechanical room for storage, think again. Since faulty heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems are among the leading causes of fire, storing flammable materials near this equipment can be particularly dangerous.
“I’ve seen situations where churches were storing propane grills, lacquers, and paint thinners in the furnace room,” Brock Bell, senior manager of risk control for Brotherhood Mutual. “Often, we find a church has stored its snow blowers and lawn equipment near the furnace—they probably forgot about the gasoline in its motor.”
Use Care When Storing Flammable Liquids
Pilot lights and heat sources mixed with storage items are a recipe for disaster. Do not store anything in your mechanical and furnace rooms, especially flammable liquids. Vapors could ignite with even a small spark.
“If the mechanical room is used for storage, and there are a lot of flammable items, once a fire starts, it can really take off,” says Peter Kujak, senior property claims adjuster at Brotherhood Mutual.
Flammable liquids like paint thinners, solvents, gasoline, and propane are of particular concern and should be stored in a fireproof cabinet or outside in a locked shed or detached garage.
Steps to Safer Storage
You can make a big difference when it comes to fire prevention simply by storing items appropriately.
Check your mechanical and furnace rooms. If there is anything stored in these rooms, remove it immediately. Any item, combustible or not, should be at least 30 inches from any heat producing equipment.
Check your other storage areas. Use pallets or shelving units rather than having boxes rest directly on the floor. Items should be at least 18 inches below sprinklers or 24 inches below ceiling height. (Check with your local fire department as regulations vary.)
Be sure your storage items do not block doors or exit ways.
Do not store flammable liquids such as gasoline, propane, paint thinner, solvents, etc., in your building. Use a fireproof cabinet or locked, separate garage or shed instead.
Pay particular attention to paint supplies and especially paint thinner (mineral spirits). Soaked rags or cloth can spontaneously combust. Dispose of these materials according to product directions, which usually include placing them in metal containers and soaking them with water before throwing away.
Other chemicals, including cleaning solutions, should be stored according to manufacturer instructions.
If you have chemicals that you no longer use, dispose of them properly. Many areas have reclamation days for safe disposal.
Brotherhood Mutual’s online training site has a course on chemical handling.