In the United States, a structure fire starts every 63 seconds, and, the consequences can be devastating for homes and businesses alike. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates that of the small businesses that suffer a fire or other disaster, 40 to 60% never reopen. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which collects data on fires, including office property fires, firefighters respond to an average of 3,340 office property fires per year (2007-2011). Office property fires were responsible for an average of four civilian deaths and 44 civilian injuries per year. In addition, these fires caused an average of $112 million annually in direct property damage.
Keeping safety equipment in good working order is imperative, as well. Data shows that sprinkler systems are effective in fighting fires 88% of the time when they are activated. NFPA also reports that death rates in office property fires where sprinkler systems are present are 62% lower than in those without sprinklers.
Keeping a building up to code, however, can be complicated. For example, the International Fire Code (IFC) is used in 42 states and the District of Columbia. The NFPA, also has a Fire Prevention Code, NFPA 1, that is utilized by the other states and sometimes in conjunction with the IFC. Both of these documents refer to the family of NFPA codes and standards. States who have not adopted the IFC include Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. So, companies located in these states, particularly, will need to check their local ordinances to find out how to comply with fire safety regulations. It is always a good idea to know what the local adjustments or amendments are to the national codes.
Staying up to code includes regular fire safety inspections, which help prevent devastating losses from fire. Fire safety inspectors ensure that equipment, such as sprinkler systems, smoke alarms, fire doors, and fire alarms perform as they should. Inspectors can also check that electrical systems and cooking equipment meet safety standards.
Below, we will walk you through the steps to take to make sure your company knows how to pass a potentially life-saving fire safety inspection.
Fire Safety Inspection Requirements
Fire inspectors have an important checklist to complete when performing fire safety inspections. Since these requirements vary by state, business owners and managers will need to become familiar with individual state fire codes, ordinances, and standards, as well as how to comply. These fire codes exist to tell businesses what requirements they must meet, what types of equipment they must install based on a structure’s size and usage, and how they are to install required equipment.
Some types of businesses require more frequent fire safety inspections than others. Most companies receive a visit from the fire marshal once a year. Places of public assembly, such as theaters, nightclubs, hotels, and even hospitals, however, need more frequently inspections. And, buildings such as high-rises are required to adhere to extremely stringent fire code requirements, due to high occupancy and complicated egress for those on higher floors. For a building’s owner or manager, fire inspections may seem like a periodic nuisance. But, fire safety requirements offer valuable benefits to employees, managers and owners alike:
- Workplace safety: Working in a building that passes a fire code inspection gives employees peace of mind about their security at work.
- Building security: Modern construction codes can limit total losses from fire. Keeping a workplace up to code can make the difference between saving and losing an entire building.
- Security from business interruption: When a fire occurs, business operations are likely to be suspended for days or weeks, if not permanently. Staying up to code allows businesses to minimize damage and get back to normal operations quickly after a fire.
- Customer base retention: If a business closes down for weeks due to fire damage, even loyal customers will need to look elsewhere. Adhering to fire codes provides businesses with a better chance of maintaining clientele.
- More favorable insurance rates: Many insurance companies incentivize the installation of safety features such as smoke detectors and sprinkler systems. Businesses can realize significant rate reductions simply by taking this extra step.
Fire inspection requirements affect many areas of a building’s systems and functionality. Some of these include:
- When doors must remain unlocked
- What types of safety systems must be installed
- How often professional maintenance must take place
- Where and how materials are stored
- How electrical systems are used and labeled
- Other details of abiding by the fire code
For all commercial operations, one of the most important fire safety requirements is to provide and maintain a specific number of fire extinguishers for combating fires. The number and location of fire extinguishers required in a building depends on the type of extinguishers used. The actual requirements are found in NFPA 10 as well as the IFC. Most fire extinguishers are classed as types A, B, C, or K. These letter classifications refer to the kind of materials it can extinguish.
- Class A: These fire extinguishers put out trash, wood, and paper fires.
- Class B: These fire extinguishers are used for flammable liquid fires, such as oil and gasoline fires.
- Class C: These fire extinguishers are safe to use on energized electrical equipment.
- Class K: These fire extinguishers are used for kitchen fires, such as fires that start from burning grease, fats and oils.
Each fire extinguisher includes an alphanumerical rating, such as 1-A. An extinguisher rated 1-A can put out a fire of a particular size. A fire extinguisher rated 2-A can put out a fire about twice as large.
1. Class A Fire Extinguishers
Businesses using class A fire extinguishers must place enough of them so that the distance any person in the building must travel to reach a fire extinguisher is less than 75 feet. Additionally, in areas of low hazard occupancy, each fire extinguisher should cover an area of no more than 3,000 square feet per the extinguisher’s A rating. Therefore, an extinguisher rated 2-A (the minimum rating required under the IFC) can cover 6,000 square feet. An extinguisher rated 3-A can cover 9,000 square feet.
In areas of moderate hazard occupancy, each fire extinguisher should cover an area of no more than 1,500 square feet per A rating. Whereas, in areas of high hazard occupancy, each fire extinguisher should cover an area of no more than 1,000 square feet per its A rating. No matter its numerical rating, no single type A fire extinguisher should ever cover more than 11,250 square feet.
2. Class B and C Fire Extinguishers
For areas using class B and C fire extinguishers, the distance that any person in the building must travel to reach a fire extinguisher is less than 30 or 50 feet, depending on the rating of the fire extinguishers.
In areas of low hazard, the minimum extinguisher rating is 5-B or 5-C. The travel distances to these extinguishers must be less than 30 feet. If fire extinguishers in these areas are rated 10-B or 10-C or above, the maximum travel distance must be less than 50 feet.
In areas of moderate hazard, the minimum extinguisher rating is 10-B or 10-C. The travel distances to these extinguishers must be less than 30 feet. If fire extinguishers in these areas are rated 20-B or 20-C or above, the maximum travel distance must be less than 50 feet.
In areas of high hazard, the minimum extinguisher rating is 40-B or 40-C. The travel distances to these extinguishers must be less than 30 feet. If fire extinguishers in these areas are rated 80-B or 80-C or higher, the maximum travel distance must be less than 50 feet.
Most Facilities utilize extinguishers rated for class A,B & C to meet the requirements.
3. Class K Fire Extinguishers
Class K fire extinguishers, used for kitchen fires, must be located within 30 feet of cooking stations. One 1.5-gallon fire extinguisher of this type can cover a maximum of four moderate-sized fryers. Use of more fryers and cooking stations requires additional extinguishers. If a fixed hood system is in place it should be utilized first then the portable unit used as needed.
Preparing for a Fire Safety Inspection: What you need to know
Preparing for a fire safety inspection is critical, especially for businesses subject to unscheduled inspections. With unscheduled inspections, fire inspectors may hope to see what the building’s working and safety conditions are like during a typical day, and not just on the day when managers have specifically prepared for inspection. Being prepared at all times greatly enhances the likelihood of passing a drop-in inspection.
Fire safety inspectors evaluate several areas:
- They determine ways that fires could start within the building.
- Inspectors check the safety systems in place, such as smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems. They make sure these systems are regularly maintained and kept in good working order. They often request to see documentation on the maintenance of these systems.
- They check the systems that assist with egress, such as lighted exit signs and exit doors. Inspectors will make sure these features function effectively and assist with egress, rather than impeding it.
- Inspectors ensure that emergency personnel have easy, immediate access to the building.
Businesses should take these steps to prepare for a fire safety inspection by checking on their compliance within each of these areas.
1. Preventing Fires from Starting
Companies can protect against fire ignition by making sure electrical systems are in good working order and properly insulated. A building’s electrical systems should be inspected at least once a year, if not more often, as required by specific local ordinances.
2. Maintaining Safety Systems
Businesses should always operate and maintain safety systems to assist with detecting, containing, and putting out fires. These systems can include smoke alarms to detect signs of fire, fire doors that swing closed automatically when the fire alarm system activates, and sprinkler systems that put out fires by dousing them from above. All of these safety systems should receive regular, professional inspections and have their batteries and other components replaced as needed.
3. Facilitating Building Egress
The best safety systems in the world are not enough if no one can get out of the building. To ensure that employees and guests escape safely from a fire, businesses should install and maintain directional exit lighting and illuminated exit signs. These features allow people to quickly locate the nearest means of egress.
Stairwells and exit hallways should always be free from obstruction, and doors should remain unlocked wherever possible. When doors must stay locked, they must be easy for a single person to open without the use of specialized knowledge, strength, or keys.
4. Facilitating Emergency Personnel Entry
Finally, businesses should make sure that firefighters and emergency personnel can easily locate and enter the building. They can do so by displaying the building address prominently (as required by the IFC), clearing fire lanes, and ensuring access to fire hydrants and building keys. If the Fire department has a “lock Box” program make sure that any changes made to the keys for the facility are also reflected in this box as well. This could require a call to the fire dept. but most will be glad to stop by if you are being proactive in maintaining the access for them. No matter how well you have worked preparing for a fire safety inspection, however, an inspector may find a violation. If that occurs, business owners and managers should be ready to talk to the inspector about the timeline for making corrections. It is also important to understand who is responsible for getting the building into compliance, whether it is the business owner, the property manager, or the building owner. Sometimes these delegations are included in the lease agreement or other paperwork.
Preparing for a Fire Safety Inspection: Your Inspection Checklist
1. Collect Copies of Previous Inspection Reports
Being proactive makes a good impression and lets the inspector know the company is invested in meeting requirements. Provide documentation of steps the company took to address any previous violations.
2. Collect Proof of System Service and Inspections
Collect the necessary paperwork to prove that licensed professionals have serviced fire alarms, fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems and fire pumps within the required timeframe. Depending on the type of system, fire alarms are typically serviced either annually, semiannually or quarterly.
Collect the necessary paperwork to show that cooking hoods, if applicable, have been serviced by a licensed professional within the required timeframe (usually the past six months for standard cooking operations). Additionally, collect any necessary paperwork to show that any generators have been serviced by a licensed professional within the required timeframe, usually the past year.
3. Make Appointments for any Outstanding Safety Systems Maintenance
Maintain safety systems with the help of reputable, licensed contractors. Inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) of these systems can be complex and requires trained professionals with significant expertise in the field.
The company that provides inspection services should be able to complete or coordinate installation and and repair services to make sure everything is working correctly. This company should also provide detailed documentation of any problems and their solutions. Many companies can perform several aspects of ITM at once, including checking emergency lighting, exit signs, fire extinguishers, Sprinkler systems, and fire alarms.
4. Make Appointments for any Outstanding Heat Systems Maintenance
Make sure all appliances that generate heat are regularly maintained. These appliances include boilers, furnaces, radiators, stoves, ovens, and heat-producing manufacturing equipment. In the kitchen, cooking appliances should have hoods and hood suppression systems for automatic suppression of kitchen fires. These systems must also receive regular maintenance.
5. Protect Special Hazards
In a business, special hazards can include gasoline pumps, computer server rooms, chemical storage areas, and any other place with a high concentration of flammable or combustible materials. Make sure these hazards gain protection with properly maintained and inspected systems.
6. Clear Hallways and Stairwells
Maintain access to exits throughout the building. Many businesses that fail their fire inspections do so because they have provided insufficient means of egress. For example, businesses may store items in the hallways that lead to exit doors. If a fire occurred, these items would dramatically limit the flow of traffic out of the building.
Stairways and corridors should also include features such as fire doors and latch release mechanisms. All exit doors should be unobstructed and should open without difficulty for a single person without specialized keys or knowledge.
7. Store Flammable and Combustible Materials Properly
Typically, combustible materials must be stored a certain distance from the ceiling in approved containers that are in good condition. Store flammable and combustible materials in amounts that do not exceed the maximums set by each state. Do not store them in rooms where heat is produced, such as boiler rooms and electrical rooms. Additionally, do not keep them near appliances such as coffeemakers, microwaves, stoves or ovens, portable heaters, or any other heat-producing electronic devices.
8. Store Incompatible Chemicals Separately
Incompatible materials — for example, ammonia and bleach, which combine to form potentially toxic fumes — must be separated. Typically, they must be at least 20 feet away from each other, or separated with a noncombustible partition that extends at least 18 inches above and beyond the incompatible substances.
9. Ensure Quick and Easy Entry for the Fire Department
Take the required steps to help emergency personnel quickly and easily gain access to your building. These steps include labeling the building with clearly marked address numbers that can be seen from the road and making sure that fire lanes remain unobstructed.
According to national codes, all buildings must give firefighters safe and immediate access. Most businesses comply with this code by mounting fire department lock boxes on their buildings’ exteriors. In an emergency, the fire department can open the lock boxes by using a master key.
10. Make Sure the Fire Department Can Access Water
Make water accessible by ensuring that fire hydrants are clearly marked and available. Fire hydrants must have 3 feet of clear space on all sides for firefighter access. Prohibiting personal and company vehicles from parking near and blocking fire hydrants is imperative. Additionally, ensure the fire department connection (FDC) that allows firefighters to supply water to a sprinkler system is also clearly marked and accessible.
11. Label and Maintain Electrical System Components
All electrical panels should have their circuits properly labeled. In addition, electrical panels should have a clear space of at least 30 inches in front of them, so employees can reach them easily and shut them off in an emergency. There should be no storage in the electrical rooms. All electrical outlets and circuit panels should also have plate covers for safety.
12. Use Extension Cords Appropriately
Extension cords should be in good condition, intended for heavy-duty use, grounded, and used temporarily only with small appliances. Never use extension cords that are split or frayed. If there are multiple appliances plugged into a surge protector, it must be a power strip with built-in circuit breakers. Powering a room full of laundry machines with an extension cord, for instance, is a fire code violation. Never staple any electrical cord to the wall to keep it out of the way, or hide it under a rug. Additionally, do not use extension cords as substitutes for permanent wiring.
13. Ensure Computers have Power Strips
Make sure computers are plugged into surge protectors with built-in circuit breakers. Built-in circuit breakers help reduce the risk of electrical fires. These “power taps” as the code calls them must be plugged directly into a wall outlet.
14. Test Exit Signs and Directional Lighting
Exit signs and emergency lights must work properly, both on regular power and backup power. Most exit signs and emergency lighting systems should have battery backups. Properly functioning lights and signage are crucial and allow employees to escape the building in case of fire.
15. Assess Fire Extinguisher Location(s)
Ensure that there are enough fire extinguishers to cover your square footage. Fire extinguishers should be easily accessible to employees and guests throughout the building as well as their locations being clearly marked .
16. Assess Sprinkler Head Clearance
Make sure ceiling sprinkler heads have 18 inches of clearance. Maintaining space around overhead sprinklers helps them distribute water effectively in a fire. Buildings that are not protected by sprinklers require a minimum of 24″ of clearance from ceiling to top of storage.
17. Post any Required Signage
Throughout the building, post signage indicating the best escape pathways to exits. These signs should be posted in every main area of the building.
Keep the front door unlocked and post a sign nearby instructing people to keep the door unlocked when the area is occupied. Keeping the front door unlocked is required by law and keeps people from getting trapped in the building during a fire.
In every room designated for assembly, post a permanent sign declaring the maximum occupancy of that room. This sign should be clear and legible and posted conspicuously near the main exit doorway.
Near the elevators, post a sign as a reminder to use the stairs, not the elevator, in case of an emergency. Elevators can malfunction during a fire and trap people inside.
Preparing for a Fire Safety Inspection: Inspections Save Lives
Finally, remember that, no matter how inconvenient fire inspections may seem, they take place to ensure the safety of everyone who works in the company. A fire inspection can be difficult, but the damage or loss of life caused in a fire can devastate a business, often permanently.
Prepare for a Fire Safety Inspection with Telgian Fire Safety
Telgian Fire Safety offers a variety of resources to help prepare for a fire safety inspection. Telgian’s testing, inspection, maintenance, and repair expertise includes fire sprinklers, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, kitchen hood suppression systems, backflow systems, emergency and exit lights, special hazards, and clean agent systems, as well as fire alarm monitoring.
Businesses gain peace of mind, knowing that by partnering with Telgian Fire Safety they will adhere to the proper fire safety inspection regulations. And, they can rest easy with a building, business, employees, customers, and guests protected against fire.
Call or email us today to get started in preparing for a fire inspection.