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Senior Loss Prevention Consultant, AXA XL

The city of Tultepec, 20 miles north of Mexico City, is known as a major center for Mexican handcrafted fireworks. For years, families have wandered through rows of stalls at San Pablito Market searching for fireworks to launch during holiday season celebrations. After two firework-related fires in 2005 and 2006, the city implemented new safety measures including separating the nearly 436 market stalls to prevent fires from spreading. The Mexican Pyrotechnics Institute Director Juan Ignacio Rodarte Cordero said the market had “perfectly designed stalls with enough space so that there is no chain reaction fire in case of a spark.”

Local government officials described San Pablito as “the safest market in Latin America” just a week before December 20, 2016, when an explosion ripped through the market sending a massive plume of smoke into the sky as 10 Red Cross ambulances rushed to the scene. More than 30 people died and 50 others were injured. The cause of the explosion was unknown, but sources claimed that the gunpowder from approximately 300 tons of fireworks ignited the fires. Nearby homes were damaged significantly   and much of the market was leveled in the explosion.

Fire safety standards

One of the prime sources of fire safety standards globally is the US-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) which publishes and updates the codes that form recommended best practices in fire safety. In Central and South America, many of the 43 nations, republics, island states and protectorates have based their fire protection legislation and standards on those of the NFPA. Some make a direct reference to specific NFPA codes; while others look to Europe for guidelines. Others are in the process of creating their own legislation, including Mexico, Brazil and Peru, although none are in effect at this time.

Inadequate installations

Owners often think their plants are well protected, when in fact, the opposite is true. Poor design and inadequate installations can create a false sense of security and allow fires to grow beyond what they should. Consider the situation of a milk producer plant in Veracruz, Mexico. The plant installed CMDA (Control Model Density/Area) sprinklers with a k factor of 80 (5.6) to protect a 6.09 m (20-foot ) high storage pile classified as commodity Group A plastics, non-expanded and labeled as a light hazard occupancy. In addition,  25 mm (1“) piping was used for branch lines,   65 mm (2.5”) piping for cross mains, and all the sprinkler heads were installed about 30 inches below structural members. Also, all the sprinkler systems protecting the facility were supplied by a non-listed, horizontal fire pump rated for 1892.7 lpm @ 8.7 kg/cm2 (500 gpm @ 125 psi) taking suction from a concrete cistern (concrete tank) with a capacity for 37,854.12  litres (10,000 gallons). The concrete cistern was located below the discharge flange of the non-listed, horizontal fire pump where the water supply pressure was inadequate to deliver water to the fire pump suction.

Poor design and inadequate installations can create a false sense of security and allow fires to grow beyond what they should.

This is just one example where all sprinkler systems including fire pump and water storage concrete cisterns were installed completely wrong by a local fire protection contractor who supposedly followed reliable loss prevention standards. There is no shortage of examples showing deficiencies frequently spotted in existing fire protection systems installed at industrial sites throughout Latin America. Here’s a brief list of some of the deficiencies seen in Latin American plants:

  • Automatic sprinkler systems with branch lines piping diameters of 90 mm (3.5”) using upright sprinkler heads – the branch line diameter is considered an obstruction for the water discharge pattern of the sprinklers

  • Large Liquid Petroleum L.P. gas containers protected with false deluge sprinkler systems provided with only one line of sprinklers at the top level of the tank

  • Early Suppression Fast Response sprinkler systems installed using   25 mm (1“) piping for branch lines and 50 mm (2”) piping for cross mains

  • Sprinkler systems with upright sprinkler heads installed in the pendent position and vice versa

  • Sprinkler systems installed with all heads several feet below the ceiling to avoid structural obstructions

  • Automatic sprinkler systems with a k factor of 80 (5.6) protecting high piles of plastic commodities

  • Early Suppression Fast Response Sprinkler Systems using sprinkler heads with a k factor of 360 (25.2) supplied by a fire pump rates for 1892.7 lpm  (500 gpm)

Overcoming challenges

The major factors contributing to historical fire losses are the lack of adequate fire protection systems in combination with combustible construction materials. The most common reason given for ignoring adequate fire protection systems is cost. However, doing nothing is not a choice plant managers should feel comfortable making, since the cost of a large-loss fire far outweighs any costs associated with preventing that kind of fire.

In the last five years, the number of fire losses has increased in big manufacturing plants around the globe. According to NFPA data, in the US alone, fire departments responded to an estimated average of 37,000 fires at industrial or manufacturing properties annually. Blasts at the fireworks market in Tultepec, Mexico, and other events in big manufacturing plants pose significant business interruption risks to surrounding businesses. Fortunately, these events have encouraged Latin American business owners to adopt reliable loss prevention standards such as those endorsed by the NFPA.

Recommendation: XL Catlin GAPS plan reviews

With fire protection systems becoming more complex in design, it is important that plan reviews of complex engineering projects be conducted by Property Loss Prevention Specialists prior to the commencement of any installation. Normally, during a XL Catlin Property Risk Engineering/GAPS (Global Asset Protection Services) engagement for new facilities, our Engineers conduct a preliminary plan design of fire protection systems.

The plan review starts at the design stage. Owners provide the Field Engineers with a description of the project including construction information, overview of the project and recommendations to protect hazards according to reliable property loss prevention standards. The second stage is where the engineering companies submit plans and calculations to be reviewed by our Field Engineers before the commencement of the installations works to verify what an untrained eye can’t see. The last stage and one of the most important steps is the field review visit, in which Property Risk Engineers/GAPS Field Engineers review the installation of the fire protection systems and witness all required testing with the fire contractor to ensure systems are compliant with the property loss prevention standards used during the engineering stage.

Building owners sometimes say it is difficult to pay for this procedure, but our Field Engineers think it is important to educate clients on the benefits of plan reviews. Plan reviews can increase the value of loss prevention investments to protect properties and mitigate business interruption periods. These procedures also increase the knowledge of the installer before constructing a building. That way, the owner has the right information to invest in adequate fire protection systems recognized by international loss prevention standards.

The largest benefit of plan reviews is the lessons learned from catastrophic fire events with inadequate or lack of fire protection systems. In addition, hidden issues caught during review and acceptance testing processes prevent costly mistakes. These plan reviews can also reduce costs as cheaper fire protection options become more and more available. Given all the above, involving XL Catlin’s Property Risk Engineering / GAPS team in the preliminary design of fire protection systems will save property and time down the road. 


To learn more about XL Catlin’s GAPS Field Engineers and Plan Review, contact:

Jesus Rivera at +52 1 5548339935 and or visit the website



National Fire Protection Association  (NFPA)

NFPA en Latinoamerica

International Fire Safety Legislation: An Overview, Fire Engineering Magazine

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Global Asset Protection Services, LLC, and its affiliates (“AXA XL Risk Consulting”) provides risk assessment reports and other loss prevention services, as requested. This document shall not be construed as indicating the existence or availability under any policy of coverage for any particular type of loss or damage. AXA XL Risk. We specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that compliance with any advice or recommendation in any publication will make a facility or operation safe or healthful, or put it in compliance with any standard, code, law, rule or regulation. Save where expressly agreed in writing, AXA XL Risk Consulting and its related and affiliated companies disclaim all liability for loss or damage suffered by any party arising out of or in connection with this publication, including indirect or consequential loss or damage, howsoever arising. Any party who chooses to rely in any way on the contents of this document does so at their own risk.

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