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Installation of Diesel Fuel Tanks for Fire Pumps (OLD)

This article is based upon 2009 IFC codes and is obsolete. See newer version here:

After you have determined the size of fuel tank you need for a diesel fire pump, what are the general requirements for installation?  Assuming that you are under under the International Building/Fire Codes, you would go through the following chain of code references:

  1. IFC (2009 edition) 3401.2 Nonapplicability. This chapter shall not apply to liquids as otherwise provided in other laws or regulations or chapters of this code, including: ... (3) Storage and use of fuel oil in tanks and containers connected to oil-burning equipment. Such storage and use shall be in accordance with Section 603. For abandonment of fuel oil tanks, this chapter applies.
  2. IFC (2009 edition) 603.1 Installation. The installation of nonportable fuel gas appliances and systems shall comply the International Fuel Gas Code. The installation of all other fuel-fired appliances, other than internal combustion engines, oil lamps and portable devices such as blow torches, melting pots and weed burners, shall comply with this section and the International Mechanical Code.
  3. IMC (2009 edition) 915.1 General. The installation of liquid-fueled stationary internal combustion engines and gas turbines, including exhaust, fuel storage and piping, shall meet the requirements of NFPA 37.

So Fuel tanks need to comply with the following standards at minimum:
  1. UL 142 - Containment Products for Flammable and Combustible Liquids, Fixed and Stationary Storage Tanks, Special-purpose Tanks
  2. NFPA 20 - Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection
  3. NFPA 37 - Standard for the Installation and Use of Stationary Combustion Engines and Gas Turbines
You will note that NFPA 30 (Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code) is not included on the list.  NFPA 20 appendix section A.11.4.3 clarifies that the intent is to apply NFPA 37 as the tanks is part of the "internal combustion engine system".  The specific explanation from the appendix language of NFPA 20 (A.11.4.3) is as follows:

Research has identified nothing in NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, or NFPA 37, Standard for the Installation and Use of Stationary Combustion Engines and Gas Turbines, that prohibits the outlet connection to the engine from the diesel tank from being in the location required by NFPA 20.
The applicable code is NFPA37, not NFPA30. The scope of NFPA 30 clearly states that if the installation meets the criteria in NFPA 37, then it satisfies the requirements of NFPA 30.
Therefore, NFPA 37 applies for the fuel tank for the fire pump, as it is considered to be part of the installation of the internal combustion engine. Subsection 6.3.2 of NFPA 37 deals with fuel tanks inside structures for fuels other than Class I liquids. Sections 6.6, 6.7, and 6.8 of NFPA 37 deal with filling, venting, and connections between the engine and the fuel tank, and these sections send the reader back to NFPA 30 for the requirements. A review of the tank chapter in NFPA 30 for fixed tanks with capacity of 119 gallons or more finds no requirement stating that the connection to the engine has to be from the top of the tank, if the tank is on the floor on legs, or otherwise above ground.

There are numerous requirements for the construction of a diesel fuel tank. However as long as you are buying a listed fuel tank, they will be integrated into the design.  So make sure that your fuel tank bears a permanent nameplate or marking the standard it was built to. It is not our intent to discuss how to build a tank.  This article is intended to address field installation issues.  In our opinion, there are four key items to consider:
  1. Location
  2. Venting 
  3. Fill Line 
  4. Containment  


For most of the continental United States, fuel tanks should not be located outside due to temperature.  Diesel is a mix of hydrocarbons, and the components have different freezing points. For Number 2 diesel, as the ambient temperatures drop toward 32°F, it begins to cloud, due to the paraffin in the fuel solidifying. As the temperatures drop below 32°F, the molecules combine into solids, large enough to be stopped by the filter. This is known as the gel point, and generally occurs about 15 degrees F below the cloud point. 
11.4.3* Fuel Tank Supply Location.
... In zones where freezing temperatures [32°F (0°C)] are possible, the fuel supply tanks shall be located in the pump room.
A.11.4.5 The pour point and cloud point should be at least 10°F (5.6°C) below the lowest expected fuel temperature.
Appendix section A.11.4.5 of NFPA 20 (2010 edition) states "The pour point and cloud point should be at least 10°F (5.6°C) below the lowest expected fuel temperature."  So per code if the temperature at your project site is ever expected to drop below 42-degrees you should not install the tank outside.  In practice we would not recommend tanks outside areas where the temperature drops below 50-degrees.


Tanks need to be vented for two reasons.  First, a "normal" or atmospheric vent to allow air into the tank while being filled and emptied.  It also allows equalization of pressure due to normal atmospheric temperature and pressure changes.  Second, an "emergency" vent to help prevent the tank from becoming over-pressurized and rupturing if exposed to fire. For double wall tanks require a second set of normal and emergency vent lines.  Termination of these vents shall be:
  1. Terminated at least 5-feet from any building openings (NFPA 20 section [Note this is more stringent that the 2-foot requirement of NFPA 37 section 6.7]
  2. Vented so that vapors will not be trapped by eaves or other obstructions  (NFPA 20 section
  3. [The 2019 edition of NFPA 20 copied over the requirement for the outlets to terminate at least 12 ft above the finished grade]
A code section that is commonly enforced, but not technically applicable is NFPA 30 section 27.8.1 which which applies to Class I liquids.  Diesel fuel is typically a Class II liquid (Flash Point equal to or greater than 100°F, but less than 140°F).  The exact wording is provided for reference below.
27.8.1 Vent Piping for Aboveground Storage Tanks. Where the outlets of vent pipes for tanks storing Class I liquids are adjacent to buildings or public ways, they shall be located so that vapors are released at a safe point outside of buildings and not less than 12 ft (3.6 m) above the adjacent ground level.
You will note that appendix figure A.11.4.4 from NFPA 20 has a diagram indicating a 10-foot minimum distance from the "screened weather vent" to the fill cap.  To the best of our knowledge, there is no specific code requirement for this distance since the appendix is for guidance only.

Sizing of these vents is the per the name-plate on the tanks.  For the normal venting, NFPA 20 (2010 edition) section directs you back to ANSI/UL 142 with the additional guidance that the vent shall be at least as large as the fill connection, but not less than 1.25-inch nominal inside diameter.  UL 142 Table 8.2 has the same guidance of a 1.25-inch nominal pipe diameter for tanks under 2,500 gallons in volume.  In practice, most tanks have at least a 2-inch vent connection (2.067 I.D. for Sch-40) as they utilize a 2-inch fill line and cap.

For emergency venting, NFPA 37 is strangely silent. However UL142 section 8.1 states that the tank "... shall have provisions for both normal and emergency venting" and provides the minimum nominal pipe vent diameters based on the wetted surface area in feet.  The key catch is that UL142 is written to only contemplate a maximum nipple length of one foot, so if a longer nipple is attached to the tank (which it always is) it should be calculated.

Fairbanks offers a time saving option of a single combined normal/emergency vent line from the tank (see figure below) which is not prohibited by the codes and standards.  The emergency vent is terminated with a separate weighted emergency vent cap (Item 19), while the normal vent is terminated with a standard screened vent cap (Item 2).  Combining the vents saves labor in the field and penetrations in the owner's walls.

Fill Line

Obviously we need a way to fill the tank.  NFPA 20 does not provide much limitations on the arrangement.  However, we recommend that you check with your local AHJ as one can interpret the code differently. For example, some AHJ's enforce Chapter 34 of the International Fire Code (IFC). Chapter 34 is entitled "Flammable and Combustible Liquids" and if applied to this "above-ground storage tank" would require: An overfill prevention system that would automatically shut off the flow of fuel to the tank (3404.,1,1.2); Automatic reduced flow rate (3404.,2); Spill containers having a capacity of not less than 5-gallons at each fill connection (3404. 

It is our opinion that NFPA 20 is a more specific code, and therefore the requirements of NFPA 20 override those of the IFC. This is further clarified by IFC section 102.10 which states "Where there is a conflict between a general requirement and a specific requirement, the specific requirement shall be applicable."  This is similar the application of NFPA 30 as noted at beginning of this article.

Remember do not use galvanized or copper pipe for vent or fill connection pipes on diesel tanks.  The sulfur in the diesel fuel can dissolve the zinc in the galvanized plating.  This "sludge" can then clog the fuel pump or injectors over time.


Per NFPA 20 section, "Fuel tanks shall be enclosed with a wall, curb, or dike sufficient to hold the entire capacity of the tank".  However, most of the time a double-wall fuel tank with leak detection is acceptable.  This is further clarified by appendix section A. which states "Dikes are generally not necessary due to the requirement for double-wall tanks with monitoring."  Just don't forget to provide the leak detection for the the interstitial space between the shells of the diesel fuel storage tank.  This signal is to be annunciated by the fire pump controller.

This language also appears to comply with secondary containment requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) contained in title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 264.  Diesel fuel is considered a hazardous waste per EPA as they contains heavy metals per Title 40 § 261.3(v) (Definition of hazardous waste).   Per Title 40 CFR 264.175, the worst case of the following conditions shall be contained 1) 150% of the volume of the largest container or 2) 10% of the aggregate volume of all containers.

NEC Classifications of Locations

Do we need to assign any special electrical classification (e.g. Class I, Div 1) due to the presence of diesel fuel?  No.  Generally, diesel has a flash point of 125°F or higher.  As such it is considered a "combustible" rather than flammable per NFPA 30 (Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code). That means it has a flash point above 100°F and, unless you have reason to believe it will be routinely stored or handled at or above its flash-point, it may be ignored as a potential cause for Classifying a location. Note: routinely doesn't necessarily mean commonly or regularly, but simply that it wouldn't be an unusual event. Occasionally, it may be in a blend of fuels that has flammable properties; so it is still a good idea to review the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the fuel.

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