Shipping Containers

The 2011 Line of Duty Death of Enderby Volunteer Fire Captain Daniel Botkin was a wake-up call for the fire service on the fire hazards of shipping containers used as temporary or permanent buildings. In this incident, it has been determined that an exposure fire to the shipping container and the presence of small volumes of flammable liquids resulted in an internal low speed explosion that ejected the container doors. One of these doors subsequently struck the Fire Captain Botkin.

In Saanich, in April 2013, a leaking barbecue tank stored in a shipping container exploded and destroyed the shipping container. In this incident, the parts of the container landed 274 meters (300 yards) away and the walls were flattened. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in this incident.

In order to prevent injuries to the public and the fire service the Town of Creston is presently reviewing the use of shipping containers to determine how best to regulate the usage within the community. Please take a few minutes to watch this video produced by WorkSafeBC regarding the investigation of the shipping container explosion that killed a volunteer firefighter in Enderby.

Presently, there are no bylaws or provincial regulations that regulate the use of shipping containers within the municipality. It is still important to make residents of the community aware of the risks presented by these containers and what can be done to minimize these risks.

The following simple steps can alleviate a large portion of the risk presented by the containers.


Weaken the shipping containers to prevent high pressures from building up in the containers that exceed the rupture strength of the containers. The current standard shipping containers are very strongly constructed to withstand cargo loading and forces from being stacked, twisted and dropped on ships, trucks and trains. These containers are also built strong to prevent theft on the contents.

The containers can be weakened by installing explosion relief panels that may have to exceed 25% of the wall surface,replacing the end doors with light weight walls, installing conventional doors and windows in the sides. The degree to which the container has to be weakened is dependent on the use of the container. If dangerous goods are to be stored in the containers then specially designed relief panels will have to be determined by a professional Engineer. Small top and bottom vents can be used to provide some low level weakening of the containers and provide ventilation of the container.

The lack of indications of what is happening in the shipping container was one of the key issues with the Enderby incident. The fire fighters were not fully aware that the interior of the shipping container was increasing. The provision of the top and bottom level openings at opposite ends of the container may have shown smoke pushing from the container and that there were hazardous conditions building in the container.

The container should have the following safety features in place prior to any use for storage:
  • Alternate engineered solutions for ventilation and explosion protection will be considered.
  • Neither ventilation opening can be obstructed by stored materials at any time and must be kept clean of internal and external debris
  • One ventilation opening must be added within 150 mm from the top of the container on the opposite end from the doors for cross ventilation
  • One ventilation opening must be added within 150 mm of the floor in the container door primarily used for opening
  • The additional ventilation openings must be constructed based upon the following minimums:
    • 2 – 0.3 metre by 0.3 metre openings for containers 6m or less
    • 2 – 0.5 metre by 0.5 metre openings for containers over 6mBoth openings will be covered by open grate wire mesh with greater than 50% free area
    • Higher opening will also have a wind vent device, designed to generate a venturi effect during low wind speeds
  • The high ventilation opening cannot be directly venting toward a structure
  • Where 1A flammable liquids in quantities greater than 4 litres are stored in the shipping container then provisions shall be made to comply with the requirements for withstanding an internal explosion as per the BC Fire Code, BC Building Code and NFPA 68.
  • Where heavier than air flammable and combustible liquids are stored in the container a ventilation opening at low level should also be installed at the opposite end from the doors.
The container should be identified such that:
  • The container and contents must be identified in the Fire Safety Plan Safety Features to be added.
  • The name of the company/person responsible for the storage and an emergency telephone contact number must be marked on the container in lettering visible from 10 metres
  • UN Placards for all stored dangerous goods must be visible on the two container sides most visible to emergency responders
The container must be positioned such that:
  • Greater separation distances will be required based upon exposure to any combustible materials or structure
  • No combustible materials may be placed near the container
  • Shipping containers must not be installed under power lines
  • The container doors are positioned such that they face away from any other structure
  • The container doors must be positioned such that they face away from any means of road access to the container for fire personnel
  • The shipping container must be located at least 6 metres from exits, windows or unprotected openings in the exposed building
  • There is a minimum separation of 1.5-3 metres between any noncombustible structure and the container to allow for firefighting access to the exposed structures


  • Compressed gases shall not be stored in the shipping containers. Limited amounts of aerosols shall be stored in the shipping containers and only when stored in metal cabinets.
  • No smoking shall be allowed in shipping containers.
  • The BC Fire Code applies to the storage within Division B – Part 3 and Division B – Part 4 of the BC Fire Code, and it applies in all cases.
  • The dangerous goods storage shall be restricted to materials that are declared at the permit stages. Any changes to the types of dangerous goods must be approved by the fire department.
  • There will be no electrical service to the container unless it exceeds all requirements of the BC Building, Fire and Electrical Codes for explosive/moist/wet environments. It must be fully explosion proof and tested regularly to ensure compliance.
  • Where flammable liquids and combustible liquids are stored in the container combustible construction shall be removed, provisions for spill containment installed and the container shall be grounded. The dispensing of flammable liquids and the storage of open containers shall be prohibited in the shipping container.
FCABC Shipping Containers
FCABC Shipping Containers 2