How to Prepare for a Fire Safety Inspection
Every 63 seconds, a structure fire is started in the United States. The consequences of these fires can be devastating for homes, businesses, and livelihoods. firefighters respond to an average of 3,340 office property fires per year (2007-2011) according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Not only have these fires crushed businesses with an average of $112 million in direct property damage but office property fires are responsible for an average of four civilian deaths and 44 civilian injuries per year.
One of the most effective methods of avoiding the consequences of office fires is through proper maintenance of safety equipment. Data shows that sprinkler systems alleviate the effects of fires 88% of the time and reduces death rates in office property fires by 62%. However, this is only when they are activated. All too often, sprinkler systems are rendered useless or turned off completely because of improper management.
International Fire Code (IFC) regulates the mandatory fire safety measures that all businesses must follow. However, keeping a building up to code can be complicated. For example, the International Fire Code (IFC) is only used in 42 states and the District of Columbia. States that do not require compliance to the IFC include Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia. These states instead follow the NFPA, which has different Fire Prevention Code standards. In some cases, the NFPA codes are used in conjunction with the IFC. It is the responsibility of business owners and managers to check their local fire safety ordinances to learn the specific codes of their area. It is a good rule of thumb to first understand the national codes, then to understand the local adjustments to the regulations.
All businesses are subject to regular fire safety inspections. In these inspections, the building is thoroughly investigated to ensure that all fire safety codes are being abided by. Fire safety inspectors focus on the status of fire safety equipment in the building ensuring proper maintenance. These components include sprinkler systems, smoke alarms, fire doors, and fire alarms. Inspectors will also check electrical systems and cooking equipment to ensure proper use and maintenance are followed.
Below, are the most important steps to making sure your company passes these potentially life-saving fire safety inspections.
Fire Safety Inspection Requirements
All fire inspectors are equipped with a checklist when performing fire safety inspections. Since these requirements vary widely across state and district lines, business owners and managers will need to become familiar with their local fire codes, ordinances, and standards, to ensure successful completion of their inspections. The checklist that your local fire inspector will be using should be available for public use. These articles will explain what is required by the business in terms of what types of equipment they must install based on a structure’s size and usage, and how they are to install required equipment.
Most companies receive a visit from the fire marshal once a year. However, certain types of businesses are subject to more frequent fire safety inspections than others. Places deemed to be used for public assemblies, such as theaters, nightclubs, hotels, and even hospitals, require more frequent inspections. Additionally, high-rises are held to higher safety standards with extremely stringent fire code requirements, due to their high occupancy rates and often difficult exit strategies for those on higher floors. For a building’s owner or manager, fire inspections can feel like an unnecessary nuisance. However, fire safety requirements provide valuable benefits to employees, managers, and owners alike:
- Workplace safety: Employees are granted peace of mind knowing that their building is safe against the threat of fires. Not only does this boost morale, but it may also increase productivity.
- Asset security: Upholding high standards of fire safety is an excellent way of protecting your assets. Keeping a building up to code can make the difference between saving and losing the building along with everything in it.
- Security from business interruption: Without proper fire safety measures, fire is inevitable. In these cases, business operations can be suspended for days or weeks, if not permanently. Staying up to code reduces the chances of a fire occurring and minimizes the damage of a fire. This allows the business to get back to normal operations quickly after a fire.
- Customer base retention: If a business closes for weeks due to fire damage, even the most loyal customers will need to look elsewhere. Adhering to fire codes provides businesses with a better chance of avoiding this fate.
- Save money on insurance: Insurance companies understand the importance of fire safety procedures more than anyone. As a result, they typically incentivize their clients with rate reductions to install safety features such as smoke detectors and sprinkler systems.
Fire inspection codes affect many areas of a building’s systems and functionality. Some of these include:
- When/what doors must be unlocked
- Required safety systems
- Frequency of professional maintenance
- Storage of flammable materials
- Labeling and use of electrical systems
- Other details of abiding by the fire code
One of the most important fire safety requirements for commercial operations is to provide and maintain a specific number of fire extinguishers in the proper locations. The mandated number and location of fire extinguishers for a building are largely dependent on the type of extinguishers used. These requirements are outlined in IFC as well as the NFPA 10. Fire extinguishers are categorized by types A, B, C, or K. These letter classifications refer to the kind of materials they can extinguish.
- Class A: These fire extinguishers are used for trash, wood, and paper fires.
- Class B: These fire extinguishers are safe to use on flammable liquid fires, such as oil and gasoline fires.
- Class C: These fire extinguishers are made for energized electrical equipment.
- Class K: These fire extinguishers are best for kitchen fires, generally these fires ignite from burning grease, fats, and oils.
Each fire extinguisher also includes a numerical rating from 1-3. A fire extinguisher is rated numerically according to the size of the fire that it can extinguish. For example, a fire extinguisher rated 2-A can put out a fire that is twice as large as what can be extinguished with 1-A. The minimum rating required under the IFC is 2-A
Class A Fire Extinguishers
Within a business, class A fire extinguishers must be placed so any person in the building cannot be more than 75 feet away from one at any given moment. Furthermore, in areas of low hazard occupancy, each fire extinguisher should cover an area no greater than 3,000 square feet beyond the rating of the fire extinguisher. For reference, a fire extinguisher rated 2-A can cover 6,000 square feet and a 3-A extinguisher 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.
Class B and C Fire Extinguishers
For businesses, class B and C fire extinguishers are required. The maximum distance that any person in the building must travel to reach a fire extinguisher is 30-50 feet, depending on the rating of the fire extinguishers.
In areas of low hazard, the minimum extinguisher rating is either 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.
Areas deemed to be a moderate hazard, are required to have fire extinguishers rated at least 10-B or 10-C. The travel distances to 10-B extinguishers must be less than 30 feet. If fire extinguishers in these areas are rated 20-B, 20-C, or above, the maximum travel distance can be up to 50 feet.
Areas deemed to be high hazard are required to have fire extinguishers rated at least 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 can be up to 50 feet.
Most facilities utilize extinguishers rated for classes A, B, and/or C to meet fire safety requirements.
Class K Fire Extinguishers
Class K fire extinguishers, primarily used for kitchen fires, must be located within 30 feet of cooking stations. A 1.5-gallon fire extinguisher of this type can cover up to four moderate-sized fryers. Any addition of fryers or cooking stations requires additional extinguishers. If a fixed hood system is operating, it should be utilized before any portable unit.
Each fire extinguisher also includes a numerical rating from 1-3. A fire extinguisher is rated numerically according to the size of the fire that it can extinguish. For example, a fire extinguisher rated 2-A can put out a fire that is twice as large as what can be extinguished with 1-A.