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Preventing fires at waste and recycling centers

By Fred Bales, CFPS, CFI  |  October 11, 2018

How does a large commercial facility with a working automatic sprinkler system burn to the ground and create a cloud of smoke so big it registers on weather radar maps?

Waste, recycling centers susceptible to fire

Waste and recycling centers have specific issues that make them susceptible to fire, and an article in the March/April 2018 edition of the NFPA Journal (the magazine of the National Fire Protection Association) focused on the challenges. The article highlighted a January 2018 fire at a waste transfer station in Connecticut where the resulting vapor cloud was detectable by weather radar and took more than 20 hours and 200 firefighters to control.

There are actions that property owners of such facilities can undertake to reduce the risk, but first you need to understand the challenges and fire risks that may be present. The NFPA article provides a summary of the challenges of these properties, including:

  • long-smoldering fires due to lack of defined storage piles and limited aisle space
  • lack of or ineffective sprinkler protection due to haphazard storage arrangements that don’t lend themselves to normal sprinkler designs
  • incompatible commodities (paper, plastics, combustible metals) stored in the same pile
  • environmental impact on the air and water from the burning of refuse

While the NFPA Journal is a members-only publication, you can access the March/April 2018 issue in the “Dispatches Section” of the NFPA Journal online.

Verisk’s Engineering and Safety Service (E&S™) works with our customers to keep them informed on this and many other issues related to loss control and offers client handouts on many topics. And our Survey Services team provides detailed on-site surveys across all commercial lines to provide underwriting and loss control insights.


Fred Bales, CFPS, CFI is a Manager of Fire Protection, Engineering and Safety Service at Verisk – insurance solutions. He can be contacted at Fred.Bales@verisk.com