Can Shipping Containers Be Used for Fire Protection?
Shipping containers can be used for a wide variety of things from outbuildings, to student homes and beyond but how do they measure up in a fire? This week we will look at two uses for shipping containers in terms of fire protection – if they can be used as places of safety in a fire and as a fire containment system.
Survivability of containers in fire?
Even though there are set international regulations as to what extent that shipping containers should resist a fire, the last formal test as to their ability to survive fire was in 1977 when the US Coast Guard did a series of tests. The research repeated a previous test, in the Netherlands in 1973, which concluded, “a fire inside a container (regardless of the cause) will not inflict very much harm on the container in question and certainly not on adjacent containers.”
Scientific research is always held as being accurate when a number of identical research papers can repeat each others’ findings. The research in question found that essentially, the fire inside the container used up all the oxygen inside and extinguished itself. Without oxygen you cannot have fire.
That shipping containers can contain their own fire is a good thing from the perspective of 5,000 shipping containers stacked on a container ship. This means that the whole thing won’t go up in smoke!
Don’t get the idea that hiding in a container from a bush fire is a good idea though – the next section will deal with this.
Bush fire bunkers?
It is important that you do not just buy a shipping container and believe that this will save you in a fire. You should check with your state Building Commission to see whether any bunker system you buy has the appropriate state certification. At Gateway Container Sales we would never say that our shipping containers are a good bush fire bunker.
A 2013 ABC News investigation looked at a couple who lived 4 hours outside of Melbourne, who had been mis-sold a shipping container bush fire survival bunker. Neil Savery of the Victoria Building Commission described how people had died when hiding in the badly set up bush fire bunkers: “We know from the experience of the 2009 Victorian bushfires that some people did perish in what they thought were bushfire shelters that they’d built themselves. Whether it was secondary to a wine cellar or it was some sort of building container, shipping container, they died. And it wasn’t necessarily they died because of fire; they suffocated. The oxygen was extracted out of the bunker because it wasn’t air-tight or the heat essentially killed them.”
Because they do in themselves survive fire, shipping containers have been used as firefighting training facilities – and may even one day be used to fight fires on their own.
The Joseph M Heim Training Grounds consist of a number of shipping containers that have been modified so firefighters can work in real world situations. Five containers have been set up over two storeys to create a practice area. One of these has a ‘burn room’ where firefighters can practice putting out fires in dark, smoky conditions where in others, there are smoker generators so they can practice rescues in very low visibility. With support from local businesses, the whole system cost the East Dubuque Fire Department only US $20,000 to put together.
An inventor has come up with a system whereby a shipping container can be dropped into a fire and it will put out the flames up to 50 metres away from the container. Eddie Paul is a serial inventor and he came up with this concept. Essentially the it is left in the area where a fire is likely, and when the temperatures around it reach 93C, the walls fall down. When the temperature reaches 100 degrees C, it will shoot fire retardant foam up to 50 metres from the container, providing a safe zone where the fire will not get any closer to the unit. It is powered by the heat around the container, so when the heat falls below 100C it will automatically stop shooting the foam.