In the event of a fire, your goal as a building owner should be to keep occupants unharmed, contain damage, and minimize your building’s downtime after a fire. But cultivating a strong fire protection plan requires much attention to be paid to various aspects of your building’s safety.
Here are a few essential fire protection strategies that should be implemented to guard the safety of both your building and its occupants.
Begin Preparation in the Blueprint Stage
The best fire-protection strategies are born when buildings are still being designed. Integrating preventative measures this early can help your building get a head start on fire safety. With construction and design plans based on passive fire protection principles, you can limit the risk of a fire both igniting and spreading within your building.
Walls, floors, ceilings, and doors can be built to resist succumbing to fire for one or more hours, depending on the materials and techniques used in the construction process. They can be used as barriers to achieve compartmentation: separating parts of the building into sections that will isolate and contain fires for a set period of time.
While compartmentation can be instrumental in mitigating fires, it’s important to remember that it only works when the barriers are free of gaps and other unprotected openings where fire could penetrate. Running plumbing, cables, or other installations through fire-rated barriers can completely undo the fire protection intended, unless the installations are sealed and secured in a way that maintains the barrier’s fire rating.
Identify and Secure Hazardous Materials and Equipment
Developing an effective fire-safety plan should include accounting for any hazards present in or around your building. Identify particular rooms and areas that contain equipment or activities that pose fire risks (such as kitchens or boiler rooms). Consult code requirements and appropriate contractors to determine the best methods for securing combustible equipment such as boilers, propane tanks, generators, etc.
If you have flammable materials or chemicals on site, designate a fire-resistant storage area for them that does not put the items in the proximity of open flames, exposed wiring, electrical outlets, electric or gas-powered equipment, or other possible sources of fire ignition.
Basic cleanliness and maintenance is also a crucial aspect of minimizing fire hazards. Regular janitorial and maintenance tasks should include cleaning away any built-up debris, dust from electrical equipment and outlets, and changing the filters in ventilation systems, which are prone to collecting flammable dust.
Install Fire Safety Equipment
Being prepared for the worst is key when it comes to fire safety. For this reason, it’s imperative that your building contains adequate fire safety equipment to detect and contain fires when they happen. There are many types of fire safety equipment on the market, but here we’ll go over the essentials.
Building code requirements include the installation of smoke alarms throughout your building. These alarms should be triggered by the presence of smoke, and should be perceptible to all occupants in your building.
Depending on your building’s type and design, code requirements may also dictate that fire sprinklers are present in your building. Automatic fire sprinklers are usually triggered by the presence of temperatures indicative of a fire. Sprinklers are highly effective at containing fires in the locations where they’ve been installed.
Buildings such as hotels, condos, and assisted living homes (among other facility types) must have fire-rated corridors, according to code requirements. Fire and smoke curtains are ideal for creating fire-rated corridors that serve as a protected evacuation path for occupants. By installing such curtains, you can protect your building from excessive fire damage and save the lives of your occupants.
Develop Emergency Response Policies and Training
Even if your structure has been designed and augmented to resist fire, having untrained and uninformed occupants can still lead to tragedy when a fire does break out. Building owners can ensure that fires are dealt with efficiently and safely by developing an emergency response policy and training their occupants for fire prevention, response, and evacuation. (Link to Are Your Building Occupants Safe? post)
The ideal policy outlines how occupants should react when a fire ignites. Some questions that ought to be answered in the policy include the following:
Do occupants know how to identify and prevent fire hazards?
Under what conditions should occupants evacuate?
Where are the evacuation paths and emergency exits?
Should occupants try to extinguish the fire themselves?
What are the locations of extinguishers and other safety equipment?
Does any critical equipment need to be shut down or activated during a fire?
A great amount of detail is required to develop an effective response policy, but putting in the work can go far in preventing harm to both occupants and your building itself.
Implementing these fire protection strategies will serve you and your occupants well. In addition to preventing the breakout of fires in the first place, they will also prepare your building to safely and effectively handle any fires that do occur.