7 Simple Steps to Saving Lives and Protecting Property

July 21, 2005
Every day, a fire can break out at an office when electrical wires spark a flame, at a laundry facility when lint ignites in a duct or in a school cafeteria when grease ignites over a commercial cooking appliance.

The true test of your building's life safety plan is based on how well you've equipped your building or campus with equipment and devices and the way individuals respond to these emergencies.

The Fire Equipment Manufacturers' Association Inc. (FEMA) has put together these seven simple steps to life safety that are sure to increase your chances of saving lives and protecting property in your building or facility.

  1. Know the Codes "Codes and standards are bare minimum requirements for buildings," says Mike Laderoute, FEMA's code consultant. "Meeting the codes does not mean that building owners are doing enough." Building owners, business managers, safety professionals and security/facilities managers in charge of fire protection/response may want to evaluate their fire protection plan and exceed the requirements of local codes for added protection.
  2. Assess Your Building Know and understand the functions of your building. When designing an effective life safety plan for your building or facility, you need to consider what type of building it is, what it is used for and how it was built. Important questions to ask are: What types of people come into this building? Are patients with respiratory concerns housed here? Are there elderly, handicapped or children on the premises? Does it include an operating room or other care unit that has an oxygen-enriched environment? Does the building contain flammable or combustible materials? Does the building contain telecommunications, data centers or other storage rooms? Does it have commercial cooking appliances in a kitchen or eating area? Is the building constructed with a steel or wood frame? How many floors does it have? Does it have a basement with laundry or other large pieces of equipment? All these questions are critical in determining the necessary components of your building's life safety plan. For example, a commercial kitchen will require a pre-engineered suppression system over the cooking appliance, whereas a health care facility will require a specific type of portable fire extinguisher.
  3. Portable fire extinguishers The first step is to check NFPA 10, which is the standard for portable fire extinguishers. NFPA 10 mandates the type, size, placement and number of extinguishers required for your building. Keep in mind the code requires the minimum number of extinguishers. Take a good assessment of your building and the hazards involved and consider exceeding these requirements to create a solid life safety plan. When it comes to fire extinguishers, maintenance is critical. The pressure gauge should be monitored to ensure that the extinguisher is pressurized and the extinguisher should be checked regularly for cracks, leaks or vandalism. NFPA 10 provides guidelines for regular inspection and maintenance of portable fire extinguishers and manufacturers can offer additional product information, if needed.
  4. Standpipe fire hose stations A life safety plan should include on-site, defend-in-place fire protection equipment designed to protect individuals against initial developing fires. In addition to portable fire extinguishers, standpipe fire hose stations are designed exactly for that purpose and could be a key component of your plan. Comprised of a fire hose rack, and nozzle, and typically secured on the wall in hallways and stairwells, the standpipe station works to allow a fast response to fire before the fire has time to spread -- once the fire department has been called and everyone is safe. This equipment is needed in buildings, such as offices, dormitories, schools, airports, hotels, hospitals and anywhere else where fire department response time may exceed 5 minutes. "Know the type of standpipe fire hose station that is right for your building," says Laderoute. "The three classes of standpipe systems are all equally important and designed for a specific purpose and trained individual. Classes 2 and 3 are best for occupant use, and Class 1 is necessary for the fire department to provide heavy water streams. "
  5. Fire suppression systems Fire suppression systems provide fast, on-site protection at the earliest stage of a fire. Since fire suppression systems activate automatically, their operation is safe for all employees and do not require human intervention. However, they can be manually activated if needed in an emergency. Some examples of places where pre-engineered systems are mandated by NFPA include paint spray operations involving flammable or combustible materials; electrical hazards such as oil-filled transformers or circuit breakers; textile operations subject to flash surface fires; restaurant and commercial hoods; ducts and associated cooking appliance hazards, such as deep fat fryers; and data centers and electrical storage rooms
  6. Evacuation Plan Exit signage and emergency communications are important components of escape planning. Every building should have well-lit and visibly placed signs to indicate where exits are located, and building occupants should practice escape planning regularly from knowing where the primary and secondary exits are located to learning how to crawl on the floor to avoid toxic smoke.
  7. Training and Education Key personnel must be properly trained according to their specified responsibilities and all training documentation must be kept on file within the human resources department of each business. While fire protection training is a key component, other training such as CPR and first aid which often goes hand in hand with fire protection also should be included. There are several ways to go about education and training for building occupants and employees. One is to host in-house safety seminars by manufacturers for building engineers to educate your team on exactly what should be done on a daily basis. Another option is to bring in the local fire department for hands-on fire extinguisher training or evacuation plan safety tips. If your company or facility cannot dedicate the time or resources to holding an event, there are numerous Web sites to refer to. For fire extinguisher training, visit http://www.fireextinguisher.com, and for an overview of standpipe fire hose operation and procedures check out http://www.rackhosetraining.com. Suppression system information can be located on the FEMA web site at http://www.femalifesafety.org. And http://www.nfpa.org includes an abundance of fire safety materials that could be helpful when you are training employees or designing a life safety plan perfect for your specific needs. Other useful educational materials include evacuation maps, floor monitors and after-hours contact information.

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