Mini-store – A Risk Assessment with Fire Safety Provision Approach (By Fire Division)

"The fire at a self-storage facility few months ago brought away my linkage with parents!" a lady sobbed. The recent fire at mini-storage not only took away the lives of two heroic firefighters, but also damaged lots of valuable items. The fire aroused peoples' attention that the Government began to strengthen the fire safety of these storage facilities. As one of the leaders of fire engineering professionals, the Fire Division of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers shall give you some advice.

The dense population in Hong Kong causes strong demand of housing.  In response to the growing necessity of residential areas in this limited land, nano-sized flats are prevailing in the residential property market.  Homes become smaller and incapable of accommodating stuff of seldom use which leads to the emergence of mini-store to address the concerns.  However, the fire safety of mini-store is in doubt as evidenced by recent growing number of mini-store fires.

Current Situation

Due to business strategy, most mini-stores are located in old industrial buildings with loose supervision.  These old industrial buildings, though complied with the then fire safety requirements, are not equipped with fire service installations (FSI) of current fire regulations.  They are converted (compartmented) into many storage units to cater for the demand, and yet the fire service installations have not correspondingly been upgraded to meet the special occupancy and densely partitioned space.  Most customers rent a mini-store for storing high memorable, important but rarely used items, such as photos, certificates, deceased family members’ items, and etc. Majority of the stored items is combustible while some could emit toxic gases upon ignition.  However, some undesirable goods such as petrol, diesel, LPG cylinders are stored in mini-store, which impose potential hazard to fire and leakage of harmful substances. 

Risk Assessment

Fire engineers will consider safety aspects pertaining to mini-store trade from 3 perspectives.  Firstly, the passive fire protection systems such as Fire Resistance Rating (FRR) of compartment/partition as most mini-stores are partitioned into smaller storage cubicles by plywood, metal or fiberglass with inadequate FRR – a standard has yet to be established and agreed by all stakeholders.  Nonetheless, reference can be made from the current Code of Practice for Fire Safety in Buildings 2011 (CoP FS Building 2011) on the parts such as means of escape, fire resisting construction and means of access.  Secondly, the active fire protection systems such as sprinkler system, fire hydrant / hosereel system, fire alarm system, directional / exit sign dedicated for the occupancy should be enhanced to protect life and property. A relevant set of fire service installations stipulated in the Fire Services Department Code of Practice for Minimum Fire Service Installations only serves as a generic fire safety requirement for respective occupancies. However, detailed installation of FSI in mini-store requires special consideration on its overall disposition of stores, amount of combustibles stored therein and effectiveness of FSI discharging their functions.  Thirdly, the fire safety management enforced by the mini-store operators.  Frontline staff of operators may not be knowledgeable in fire risk management.  Flammable and combustible items placed inside mini-store, not uncommon, increases fire risk.  In an event of a fire, the consequences could be disastrous as fire (ignited combustible gases) spreads easily to adjacent mini-store quickly.  Operators are recommended to take reference to Fire Safety Management stipulated in the (CoP FS Building 2011) as well.

In gist, risk assessment for mini-store occupancy is to avoid:

  • Alternation / obstruction of existing openable windows;
  • Undesirable fire load segregation arising from existing arrangement of storage cubicles;
  • Insufficient coverage of hosereel system;
  • Insufficient provision of exit signs and / or directional signs;
  • Obstruction to exits by unsatisfactory locking devices;
  • Extensive partitioning of storage cubicles resulting in excessive travel distance to escape staircases;
  • Cubicle doors opening outwards reducing the effective width of means of escape; and 
  • Replacement of existing fire-rated doors with inadequate fire resisting performance.


  • To foster healthy development of the mini-storage trade, a consensus should be made amongst relevant government authorities and the trade, and agree among all stakeholders to:
  • Reach a common goal with the community to eradicate fire safety hazards in mini-storage;
  • Determine to tackle the problem and appealed for the operators full collaboration so that the trade can grow healthily and steadily;
  • Hold the view that public safety is of paramount importance though operators have their business concerns;and
  • Advocate upgrade fire safety provision in industrial buildings and to tighten statutory control over mini-storage through amending existing legislations or introducing new legislations in the long run.

In Hong Kong, it is advisable to achieve consensus among all stakeholders before launching a code of practice for adherence by the government authorities and the trade.  On the other hand, it is optimistic that the Fire Services (Amendment) Bill will be passed in the near future so as to provide sufficient registered Fire Engineers for conducting risk assessment and formulate fire safety requirements for ensuring safe operation of mini-store.

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