July 07 2015

Summer Commercial Building Emergency Checklist

You seen it many times. It’s summertime, you’re driving down the street, you hear the sirens, you see one or more fire trucks whizzing by and then later that day on the news you hear there was a fire in such-and-such a business…and you wonder what the cause was. If you’ve got a business yourself, you hope that will never happen to you. But… could it?

Each year in the US, here’s some scary statistics that apply especially to summertime but really all during the year:

  • There are 70-80K workplace fires in the US every year
  • Commercial building fires cause 30K fatalities, 18K injuries, $10B in property damage
  • Studies show that 85% of those fires are due, directly or indirectly, to human error

As already stated, the vast majority of these fires are due to human error of some kind but how does it break down beyond that?

  • Code violations
  • Shoddy workmanship on equipment or facilities
  • Misuse of of equipment
  • Lack of maintenance
  • Arson does occur but it’s not a major factor in the statistics

What parts of commercial buildings are more susceptible to fires? The answer is…potentially anywhere but here’s a few of the most common:

  • Boiler rooms, furnace rooms, and water heater cabinets. Note that these are all areas of minimal
  • human traffic.

  • Kitchens (obvious, right?)
  • Laundry rooms
  • Hotel/Motel rooms, Assisted Living facilities
  • Anyplace where large amounts of combustibles are stored (e.g. warehouses)

What’s the best way to prevent fires of this nature?

First, be sure that you don’t create situations where these kinds of fires can happen. Pay attention to such things as:

  • Maintenance schedules
  • Ensuring that your maintenance have appropriate training
  • Ensuring that your personnel know what to do in the event of an emergency
  • Be cognizant of any particular design features of your facility which might present potentialproblems (e.g. areas which, for whatever reason, don’t get much air circulation or areas which it’s hard for sprinkler systems to cover).

Here’s three examples of situations where fires started that could have been prevented by better adherence to a combination of the above factors:

1. Cardboard boxes stored near a heater burst into flame.

2. Some dresses placed too near a spot-light in a showroom window burst into flame.

3. A dryer, unattended, in a restaurant, assisted living center or day care center malfunctions and bursts into flames.

All of these situations could have been prevented by better training, better attention to procedures of using some of the equipment involved, better awareness of where potential ‘flash points’ were in the facility, and better assignment of personnel or company officers to establish and monitor fire safety factors in these areas.

But obviously fires will happen, right? So…what can you do about them?

Statistics show that there are two main lines of defence.

1. Having properly maintained and ‘charged-up’ fire extinguishers available, and people who know how to use them is always your first line of defense. But what about times when nobody is around?

2. Having an adequate automatic building water (or chemical) fire extinguisher system is an absolite must for any commercial building. In fact, in most municipalities in the US, you can’t even get your business approved to open unless the relevant city official inspects and approves your building’s fire extinguisher system.

But don’t scrimp on the design, cost and/or maintenance of your automatic extinguisher system. In case after case after case after case, experience shows that sprinklers save not only lives but also save businesses. You can get free advice on these types of sytems from many difference sources… least of all those vendors who sell them. Take their advice, do what you can using common sense but don’t hesitate to invest in equipment and training when you can.