Your Fire Protection Checklist
A staggering 87 percent of Americans believe they are safer in their homes than they are in public and commercial buildings, according to a survey from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE).
Further, fewer than 10 percent of Americans believe they are safer from fires inside public and commercial buildings, according to the survey.
Truth is, they are safer in public or commercial buildings.
“People may be more confident about fire safety in the home because they have more control over their surroundings,” SFPE’s technical director Morgan Hurley says in a release about the survey. “The fact of the matter, however, is that public buildings and commercial offices are much better protected than the average American home. This is in large part due to the fire-safety strategies and technology designed into work and public places by fire protection engineers.”
But you know that type of protection doesn’t come overnight. It takes planning, design and a knowledge of your local codes to get it right.
The fire protection of your building will depend on the use and occupancy of the facility, says Chris Jelenewicz, SFPE engineering program manager. And when the use or occupancy of your building changes, you have to adjust your fire protection accordingly. Failing to do so has become a big issue among building owners or managers, he adds. For instance, if a large warehouse is converted to an office building, you’ll need to reassess your current system and upgrade sufficiently, based on the local codes and standards.
Once you have adjusted your system, develop a schedule for testing the fire protection system. Your schedule, too, will depend on what type of building you own. “For example, certain facilities that have a large number of occupants that are at the highest risk—young children and the elderly—are usually inspected on a regular basis at specific intervals,” Jelenewicz says. “As a result, most jurisdictions require regular inspections for day care centers, schools and nursing homes.”
The best thing to do is perform a visual check of all of the fire protection systems to make sure nothing out of the ordinary has occurred. Ensure that all sprinkler system valves are open, fire exits are unobstructed and closed, emergency exit lights are alight and all other fire alarm systems are operational. “It is important for a building owner to test and maintain these systems in accordance with the required standards,” Jelenewicz says.
Some other aspects you should include in your safeguards are the passive systems, which include fire doors, fire walls and structural fire protection. Each system has testing requirements that are required by the applicable codes and standards.
These procedures should be tested and reviewed annually, then documented in the facility’s emergency plan. In addition, after each fire drill, the plan should be evaluated to see if additional changes are needed based on the observations made during the drill.
Testing: There can be many different types of fire protection systems within the same building. Often, these systems—from those that extinguish a fire to those that detect and alert tenants—go untested, or at least inadequately tested.
Fire doors: For them to function in the intended capacity, fire doors must be closed and latched. “Unfortunately, people do not like the inconvenience of having to open a fire door all the time so they prop the door open or they break the devise used to close the door,” Jelenewicz says.
Storage: Inspections often find that combustible storage is found in stair enclosures. In addition, storage often is found to obstruct a sprinkler system. When this happens, a sprinkler, if activated will not be able to discharge the proper spray pattern that is needed to extinguish a fire. Consider the previous warehouse example. If the usage becomes different form the original, and storage piles up higher than normal, the sprinklers may be blocked, and the fire would continue to rage virtually unabated.
Conditions: Supervisory conditions within the fire alarm panel are also common deficiencies, Jelenewicz says. It is important that all fire alarm systems be working properly and have no trouble or supervisory conditions.