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Fire and Ice

Ohio cold-storage facility improves fire safety measures after blaze destroys its former home

Photo: Ryan Leasure

The owner of a cold-storage warehouse in Columbus, Ohio, saw a mammoth fire roar through his warehouse two years and nearly ruin his business. When Don Dick and the administrative team at Dick Cold Storage decided to build a new, state-of-the-art facility, they took great precautions so they would not get burned again.

Dick Cold Storage, a business that has been in Columbus for nearly a century, opened a new, 115,000-square-foot warehouse in June. The project includes the latest bells and whistles in cold-storage technology. The most significant upgrade, however, compared to the structure that was destroyed by the blaze in August 2016, is enhanced fire protection equipment.

The new safeguards include fire access doors, horns, strobes, pull stations at doors and linear heat detection in freezers. One of the most important additions, however, is the installation of automatic smoke vents. The structure where the fire occurred did not include smoke vents and might have helped fire containment efforts and minimize the fire’s damage.

“Two of the biggest challenges we face in fighting any fire are heat and smoke,” says Steve Martin, Battalion Chief for the Columbus Fire Department. “The heat of the fire radiates on everything surrounding it, causing the flames to spread and causing rapid degradation of structural elements.”

Tippmann Innovation, a Fort Wayne, Ind., contractor that specializes in the construction of cold storage facilities, specified 18 smoke vents for the new facility. Working with Spohn Associates Inc., Indianapolis, they contracted for vents manufactured by The BILCO Co. of New Haven, Conn. The vents include a Thermolatch II positive hold/release mechanism that ensures reliable operation when a fire occurs. This latch automatically releases vent covers upon the melting of a 165 F (74 C) fusible link. Gas spring operators are designed to open the covers against snow and wind loads, and include integral dampers to assure that the covers open at a controlled rate of speed.

“Vents will allow for the removal of heat and smoke will potentially slow the spread of fire,” Martin says. “They will also permit firefighters to see and enter the building, to possibly extinguish the fire early, preventing the entire building from becoming a loss.”

Photo: Ryan Leasure

The lack of smoke vents impeded firefighters in their containment efforts on the night of the blaze. More than 400 firefighters responded when the fire broke out around 9 p.m., but Martin says smoke limited visibility and made it hard to find the origin of the fire. Even with tanks of fresh air on their backs, Columbus firefighters could do little more than wait for the blaze to burn itself out. The fire was contained within 18 hours.

“Buildings that do not lend themselves to ventilation, such as cold storage buildings, are especially dangerous to firefighters. If there is no known life-safety issue, firefighters will retreat to a defensive position and fight the fire from outside the building instead of going inside,” Martin says.

In addition to the smoke vents, Tippmann Innovation’s team paid extra attention to the entire roofing system. Improper or inefficient roofing materials can lead to disastrous consequences for cold-storage buildings. Moisture and vapor leaks can create bacterial growth. The wrong materials can also lead to ice buildup on walls and slabs, higher utility costs, safety issues for workers and equipment that may require more maintenance or not reach its expected life span.

Cold-storage facilities are used for keeping food products and other perishables for distribution to supermarkets and retail outlets that sell to consumers. Dick Cold Storage’s Columbus location serves customers in a 550-mile radius, covering a geographic area that reaches Wisconsin, Alabama and New York, and a population of more than 138 million people.

The new facility includes LED lighting, frozen, cooler and dry storage, and energy-efficient refrigeration equipment. The ceilings are 50 feet clear, creating 6 million cubic square feet of storage space. There are 15,000 pallet positions and seven multi-temperature storage rooms.

Dick remembers watching fire destroy the building where his family had worked for so many years. It was an emotional, heart-wrenching scene as he saw the blaze destroy everything the family had worked for. There was very little doubt, however, that the company would pick up the pieces.

“When you have time to think, you realize you just have to get up and running and get back to what you are doing,” he says. “You have to be as efficient as you can. We thought it was dead, but you can’t think that way. You have to think what we are going to do from this day forward.”

Thomas Renner writes frequently on building, construction, manufacturing and other trades for United States trade publications. To learn more about The BILCO Co., New Haven, Conn., visit