Whether you’re running a hospital or healthcare facility, an educational institution, an industrial complex, or a retail store, you know that keeping your tenants safe – and keeping yourself safe from liability issues – is of the utmost importance. Besides having your security systems in place and doing your due diligence with air quality, plumbing, and janitorial tasks, fire safety is among the most crucial pieces of the facility maintenance puzzle. And during cold winter months when pipes freeze and your heating system is cranked up, you’ll need to be extra cautious when it comes to fire safety. Here are some of our tips on how to optimize fire safety in your facility this winter.
According to the 2020 National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) Public Data Release report from the United States Fire Administration, in 2020, fire departments responded to 26,959,000 incidents. This number reflected a 6% decrease in the number of runs that were reported in 2019, but nevertheless, fire risk remains a big problem in our communities. The same report states that “nearly two-thirds (64%) of the reported calls required emergency medical services (EMS) and rescue services from fire departments.” Further, the report states that 39.6% of calls came from the U.S. South region, representing a much higher percentage than anywhere else in the country.
While any facility manager should keep safety for their building occupants at top of mind, this is particularly critical for healthcare facilities and schools. Vulnerable populations – young people, seniors, and sick or immunocompromised people – are at greater risk of injury and death in the instance of a fire. They are often less mobile and, in the case of young people, less knowledgeable about what to do when a fire happens. Of course, this is why fire safety training in schools should be a vital part of the curriculum. In healthcare facilities, you must be aware that increased oxygen means a more rapid spread of fire, so any tiny spark – including one from a burning cigarette – near your oxygen tanks is a very dangerous situation.
If you run a retail store, you know that the devastating effects of a fire could mean complete inventory loss or extensive property damage – not to mention the risks posed to your team members and customers. Industrial complexes with heavy machinery, furnaces, extensive electrical wiring, and potentially hazardous chemicals are at particular risk for fire-related chaos, sometimes resulting in deaths. And restaurant kitchens that are constantly cooking with flames and gas are predisposed to fire as well. When it comes to protecting your staff, students, patients, diners, or shoppers, having proper building maintenance procedures in place can make all the difference in minimizing fire risks.
Cooking equipment is responsible for the vast majority of fires in the United States. Appliances collect grease, flames grow larger than expected, and flammable materials like oils and liquids can mean big trouble in the event of a spark. Mitigate your risk of a kitchen-conceived fire with a few routine practices.
First, always ensure flammable liquids and oils are properly stored and that empty containers are appropriately disposed of. For those kitchen appliances that contain grease traps, ensure your staff is emptying the traps regularly and properly disposing of the grease. Inspect your appliances regularly to ensure they’re operating as they should and there are no frayed wires, gas leaks, or other potentially hazardous issues. Keep multiple fire extinguishers and dry chemical extinguishers accessible in your kitchen, and make sure you train every staff member on how to use them. Finally, it’s a good idea to appoint someone on your team to monitor the entire kitchen area during meal prep and cooking times to ensure that there are no outstanding fire-related risks, and remedy any they come across.
One major cause of a rapid spread of a fire is flammable trash and debris – including indoor waste like bags full of garbage as well as outdoor debris like leaves, sticks, and other flammable materials. Custodial services should be able to take care of many of the debris-related risks that put your facility in danger if a fire does occur. Plus, if there is ever an emergency, you’ll want your hallways, sidewalks, driveways, and alleyways to be clear in order to quickly funnel occupants out of the building and allow emergency services to access your space easily.
When assessing your facility’s risk of a fire, consider which janitorial companies you’re currently employing and whether they’re routinely doing a job you’re satisfied with. If not, it may be time to reconsider the contract. A reliable janitorial service will be able to deliver on their promises, providing superior cleaning and disinfection services, while a waste services team will be able to safely, quickly, and effectively remove debris from your property.
Another leading cause of fires is broken, frayed, or otherwise damaged electrical wiring. Regularly inspecting your electrical outlets and wiring can help ensure that your facility is operating to code and protecting your occupants from electrical fires. Routinely inspect all of your electrical systems, looking for any cracked or split wiring, any plugs or outlets that are in poor condition, and any overloaded outlets.
You should avoid plugging too many appliances into one outlet, as well as using extension cords, which increase your risks of an electrical fire. Electrical wiring should always be placed at a substantial distance from any flammable materials. Additionally, wires should not be run underneath carpets or rugs, and certainly never run through windows or doors, where cracking, breaking, and fraying in hinges are more likely to occur.
Finally, make sure your HVAC system is functioning properly with a regular inspection and any necessary repairs. Heating equipment is a leading cause of home and commercial fire deaths, so ensure your wires are in good condition, space heaters are turned off when not in use, and all heating systems – including fireplaces, furnaces, and electrical heaters – are appropriately placed to mitigate the risk of a fire. Materials should always be kept at least 3 feet from heating equipment on all sides.
You might have your electrical work routinely inspected, your janitorial team well-staffed, and your kitchens operating in line with cleaning guidelines for healthcare facilities or whichever industry you’re in, and still face a fire at some point in your facility’s lifespan. Accidents happen despite our best efforts to mitigate them, so even if you’ve checked all the fire safety boxes, there’s one non-negotiable step to fully ensuring your facility is protected. As a property manager, you should absolutely have a fire escape protocol in place. Every occupant should be aware of what to do in such an emergency.
Appoint team leaders who regularly keep up with training your building’s occupants – we recommend a once-yearly training at a minimum – and distributing and posting materials like infographics or manuals. Signage in your building should be clear, with all emergency exits well-marked, fire escapes accessible and kept in good condition, and escape routes determined and practiced during periodic fire drills. Fire extinguishers and fire hose reels and racks should be appropriately installed and accessible for use in the case of a fire. Your alarm systems should be routinely inspected and tested as well. Everyone in your building should know exactly what to do in a fire. Having this widespread knowledge and participation can often mean the difference between a facility being salvaged with partial damage or completely burned to the ground. And it can also mean the difference between the life or death of your tenants.
The Budd Group, which has been serving clients throughout the Southeast since 1963, is a full-service solution for facility operators and managers. We specialize in protecting your facility by providing a vast array of services. Our janitorial and maintenance teams can keep your building clean, disinfected, and free of flammable debris. We offer expert electrical inspection and repair, as well, so if it’s been a while since you had a facility inspection, we are happy to come in and assess what needs to be repaired – then perform the job to your satisfaction.
Our subject matter experts inspect and repair elevators, plumbing, lighting, and roofing. We can look at your HVAC systems – an especially important step at the turn of each season, including winter – and make any necessary repairs or updates. And our teams can help you prevent hazards and remain operational with industrial and commercial interior maintenance services.
We serve many industries, including healthcare facilities, industrial plants, schools and universities, retail stores, and office buildings. We’re committed to executing every job to your satisfaction. In fact, we offer our “Make It Right” guarantee, The Budd Group’s promise to meet or exceed your expectations in delivering high-quality facility support solutions. If you’re not completely satisfied with the outcome upon completion of the job, we vow to “make it right” until you are. Contact us today to discuss your facility’s fire safety needs and see how The Budd Group can help meet all of them.
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