Fire Prevention and Safety
By David Wilhite
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, business-related fires claim scores of lives and cause more than $1 billion in damages each year.
Fire Prevention Week is held once each year to commemorate one of the worst fires in American history--the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. According to popular legend, at about 9 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 8, a cow in a barn behind Katherine O'Leary's cottage at 137 DeKoven Street kicked over a lantern, which started the blaze. Unusually brisk fall winds caused the fire to quickly race out of control and, by 1:30 a.m., the entire downtown business district was in flames. By dawn, nearly 300 Chicagoans were dead and more than 17,500 buildings had been destroyed.
In 1922, President Warren G. Harding established National Fire Prevention Week to honor the memories of the victims and to help drive home the importance of fire safety. Today it is important to remember that fire prevention should be practiced every day, not just one week of each year. By following safety procedures and recognizing potential hazards, you and your employees can prevent fires and help save lives at your facility. Remember, the best way to survive a fire is through prevention. Start by becoming aware of any potential hazards that exist on your premises, and take steps to correct them immediately.
General Fire-Prevention Guidelines
- Conduct a general fire-hazard check when you secure your facility at the end of the business day.
- Periodically check all smoke detectors for correct operation and replace backup batteries.
- Lock all sprinkler-control valves in the wide-open position using sturdy locks and chains.
- Keep an adequate number of fire extinguishers on hand and recharge them regularly.
- Keep heating, air conditioning and maintenance areas clean and free of any flammable materials.
- Don't overload electrical circuits by putting too many lights or equipment on a single line.
- Prohibit smoking on your premises altogether, or only allow smoking in designated areas, and provide large, non-tip ashtrays.
- Keep fire exits and escape routes clear and well marked.
- If possible, provide around-the-clock security patrols.
- Periodically inspect your premises for any new fire hazards.
What To Do in the Event of a Fire
Knowing what to do in the first few minutes after a fire breaks out on your facility is essential to minimizing property losses, preventing injuries and saving lives. In the event of a fire, call the fire department immediately, regardless of the size of the blaze. (Never assume this has been done). Many businesses have been destroyed by small fires that got out of control in the time it took for the fire department to arrive. You should also activate the nearest fire-alarm pull station if there is one available on your premises. Special note for indoor-storage owners: If you or your employees have any doubt about the size of a fire or your ability to contain a blaze, you should evacuate the premises immediately, and be sure to close all doors and any windows behind you. If you encounter smoke, take an alternate exit or crawl underneath it, staying low to the floor where the air is cleanest.
Remember, as a facility owner you are responsible for a number of items:
- Preparing a fire-safety plan and training program.
- Posting fire emergency-exit procedures for tenants.
- Conducting employee fire drills on a regular basis.
As part of your operation's safety program, your employees should know the following:
- Their responsibilities in the event of a fire according to your fire-safety plan.
- The location of the two exits closest to their work area.
- The location of the nearest fire-alarm pull station (if available on your premises).
- The phone number for the nearest fire department (calls dialed to 9-1-1 may be subject to unnecessary delays).
Fighting Small Fires
The very first thing you or any employee should do in the event of a fire is to call the fire department (or dial 9-1-1) and ensure everyone has evacuated your premises. Once that has been done, you may attempt to control a small fire with a fire extinguisher that is properly rated for the type of fire you are fighting (paper, electrical, etc.). Remember, the most important concern when a fire breaks out is the safety of you, your tenants and your employees. Keep the following three points in mind:
- Never fight a fire if it is large or spreading.
- Never fight a fire if your escape route may be blocked by the spread of fire.
- Never fight a fire if you are unsure how to correctly use the extinguisher or are unsure of the type of fire.
Arson is one of the leading causes of commercial fires. In fact, fire-safety experts estimate that nearly one-quarter of all fires affecting businesses may be the work of arsonists, many of whom are vandals or burglars attempting to destroy evidence of their break-in. Listed below are some commonsense guidelines that you and your employees can follow to reduce the likelihood of arson in your facility:
- Watch out for strangers who appear to be loitering on or around your premises; notify the police in the event of any suspicious behavior.
- Be especially alert for any threats from, or unusual behavior by, disgruntled employees.
- Be sure that all doors and windows are securely locked after working hours.
- Make sure that outside doors, windows and alleyways around your premises are well-lit in the evening hours.
- Keep trees and bushes near buildings trimmed low so they can't be used as cover by an intruder or present a fire hazard.
- Keep all public areas in your facility clear of any obstructions or flammable materials.
Finally, remember no matter how large or small your self-storage facility may be, securing adequate insurance coverage is essential for protecting your business and your peace of mind.
David Wilhite is the marketing manager of Universal Insurance Facilities Inc. Universal offers a complete package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry, including loss of income, employee dishonesty, comprehensive business liability, hazardous-contents removal and customer storage. For more information, contact Universal at Box 40079, Phoenix, AZ 85067-0079; phone (800) 844-2101; fax (602) 970-6240; Web: www.vpico.com/universal.