Facility Dude

Fire safety for frigid weather

By Kate Donnelly
Dec 10, 2015

Facilities Management, Safety and Risk Management

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Just because temperatures are plummeting, frost is forming on your windows and snow is starting to fill your parking lot doesn't mean things can't heat up fast. During the winter, you still need to be vigilant about making sure your facility is following fire safety standards and that you and your staff are prepared to deal with an emergency event.

Just because temperatures are plummeting doesn't mean things can't heat up fast. In fact, during the winter your building is at a greater risk of certain types of fires, and winter fires are even more severe than the average fire during the rest of the year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency found. The incidence of structure fires increases in the winter, with many of them triggered by heating systems. Heating causes 17 percent of structure fires over an average year, but in the winter this figure jumps to 27 percent.

The beginning of winter is a good time to reassess your fire prevention and response measures. It's especially vital to be thoroughly prepared for a winter fire, since snow and dangerous driving conditions can make it more difficult for people to evacuate and for emergency vehicles to reach them quickly.

Follow the tips below to stay safe this winter:

No smoking

Materials associated with smoking are the leading cause of fire deaths in the U.S., according to the United States Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association. Ban smoking inside your building, and only designate outdoor smoking areas that are a safe distance away. Make sure that clear, easy-to-understand No Smoking signs are posted throughout the building and grounds. The fire department for Coldwell, Michigan advised building managers to make sure the ashtrays in their outdoor smoking zones are deep and sturdy.

Prepare for a power outage

Power outages are more likely in the winter months, so it's important to prepare for the special fire hazards that they bring. Because people frequently light candles after the lights go out, there's an increased risk of a fire starting. AppFolio recommended discouraging or banning the use of candles in your building and providing flashlights ahead of time to each office or tenant so that they can use them instead in the event of an outage.

Inspect all alarms, systems and equipment

Regularly test your fire alarms, change their batteries and make sure that they are NFPA-compliant. Have electricians and heating technicians regularly inspect all heating systems and equipment, especially before winter begins. Don't put off repairing or performing maintenance on systems that need it. AppFolio noted that in addition to the safety benefits, regular upkeep of your systems will make them run more efficiently, saving you money. Check chimneys for buildup, inspect boilers and examine wiring. Fire Safety Services reminded building managers to check that their fire extinguishers and emergency lighting are also working. It's a smart idea to keep a record of all inspections.

Establish a plan and procedure

In a fire emergency, building occupants need to exit quickly and calmly. The Coldwell Fire Department recommended that your fire emergency plan include at a minimum:

  • Location of fire alarm manual pull boxes
  • Location of portable fire extinguishers
  • Location of fire alarm smoke detectors
  • Exit routes using stairs, not elevators
  • Locations for outside assembly areas for building occupants
  • Instructions for occupants unable to exit using stairs

Designate a staff member who will call 9-1-1 if an emergency happens. Make sure your staff and building occupants are familiar with the fire response plan, and post a digital version on the CMMS and distribute a physical version to each office or tenant. Regularly practice the procedure through fire drills.

Stay safe during the winter by mitigating fire risks, inspecting your heating systems and equipment and establishing and practicing your emergency response procedure.

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