Article Archive
Risk Assessment
Pre-planning that old textile mill
Vol. 27 Spring 2012

The basis of this series of articles has always been pre-emergency planning and the emergency responders. The intent of this particular article is to discuss textile mills that have been abandoned and are now being used for various occupancies. These occupancies could be warehousing, apartments, manufacturing etc. At the end of this article you should consider incorporating these old textile mills into your pre-emergency plans and it is recommended that you re-visit them on a periodic basis.

The bulk of textile mills were constructed back in the late 1800’s most of the time around a river, as they initially used water current to operate machinery. The buildings associated with textile mills were typically constructed from large timbers, planks and bricks. Most of these buildings were multiple stories for manufacturing purposes although I have seen several which were one story high. Early on, a good number of these facilities were totally destroyed by fire as Henry Parmalee’s automatic sprinkler systems were in their early phases of development. There were and always have been a considerable number of fire walls at these textile mills, constructed to limit the horizontal spread of fire. It wasn’t long until automatic sprinkler systems were being installed in textile operations, coupled with an aggressive; “die-to-save” the mill fire brigade control/extinguishment was common.

Some things that need to be researched relative to conducting a pre-emergency plan of an old textile mill are as follows:

  • Sprinkler pipe condition interior and exterior. For years some of these facilities have taken suction from ponds, lakes, rivers, etc. So you never know what the interior of the sprinkler pipe looks like, when it was last flushed etc. A good question to ask would be, have the sprinkler lines been flushed per NFPA 25?
  • Sprinkler design. This could be from a simple 1-2-3 design to a current up-to-date design. With the varying storage and occupancies, this would be well worth looking into.
  • Fire walls and fire doors. Most people who purchase these old textile mills for further use do not understand the importance of these passive fire protection devices. Take a good look at these walls and ask if the fire doors have been tested within the last year to make sure that they will operate when needed. Also, look at the wall from one end to the other, to make sure that there are no large holes which would allow the passage of fire and products of combustion.
  • What does the owner plan to do with the property? Will it be a warehouse, apartment complex, manufacturing etc? Be sure you know this so you can return in a few months and gain a better understanding of the occupancy.
  • Hot work. The bulk of fires related to these structures are hot work related. Be sure to inquire about the use of hot work permits, how the hot work process is managed/mitigated, including a walk through after the work is complete for the day.
  • Water supplies and sources. Like I mentioned earlier, most of these older mills were located near a river, pond or a lake. A solid visual review of these areas and the ability to draft water from these sources could prove to be critical during the course of an event. Most of these mills are equipped with stationary fire pumps, a few questions relative to this would be, how often are they started? Who maintains them? When were they last flow tested? How large are these pumps in gpm/psi? Are they manual or automatic? This will give you a better understanding of what to expect if you have to respond to an event at a mill. Knowing you have an active adequate water supply can really be beneficial when you are asked to respond to an event.
  • Construction. Be sure you review the construction of the building. Look for crawl spaces which could be filled with cotton lint and dust. These could cause some serious issues for the emergency responder making a Pike Pole an important tool.
  • Housekeeping. Make sure that someone is addressing housekeeping. This is an area that often goes overlooked during renovations and can certainly lead to issues such as spontaneous combustion.

Passing by these old structures reminds us of the abilities our fore fathers had relative to building buildings that would stand the test of time. Let’s try to keep these structures alive and our emergency responders out of harms-way by good pre-emergency planning at these facilities.

Feel free to contact this author at or at +1 601-992-3405.                     

Jeff Roberts, CFPS is with XL GAPS, a leading loss prevention services provider and a member of the XL Group of companies.  XL Insurance is the global brand used by XL Group plc’s insurance companies and underwriting divisions offering property, casualty, professional and specialty insurance products throughout the world. More information about XL Insurance is available at  XL Group plc, through its subsidiaries, is a global insurance and reinsurance company providing property, casualty, and specialty products to industrial, commercial, and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises on a worldwide basis. More information about XL Group plc is available at


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