By David Wilhite
Fire Prevention Week is held annually 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 St. kicked over a lantern that 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 Chicago residents 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 each year. By following safety procedures and recognizing potential hazards, you and your employees can prevent fires at your facility and help save lives. 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.
Smoke detectors save lives. Smoke detectors are one of the most important safety devices available for protecting your premises against fire. Low in cost and easy to install, smoke detectors are unobtrusive in size and require little in the way of maintenance. Most importantly, smoke detectors can provide the early warning you need to detect and contain a fire before it can destroy your business. When choosing a smoke detector, be sure that it has an easily-accessible test button and a long-life battery backup. The alarm should be tested monthly for proper operation and a new battery should be installed at least once a year (or whenever the detector starts to "chirp"). Be sure that the type of smoke detector you choose can be daisy-chained with all of the other smoke detectors on your premises so that an alarm condition will trigger all of the alarms in the chain.
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.
- Use light bulbs that are the proper wattage for your lighting fixtures. A bulb of too high wattage or the wrong type may lead to overheating and cause a fire.
- Don't plug one extension cord into another.
- 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 when a fire breaks out at your facility is essential for 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 needed by the fire department to arrive. You should also activate the nearest fire-alarm pull station if one is available on your premises.
A 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.
A note about fire extinguishers: In the event of a fire, fire extinguishers will almost certainly be your first line of defense. When choosing a fire extinguisher, you need to be aware there are four basic types suitable for different situations: Type I is rated for use on small paper or wood fires; Type II is rated for use on grease fires; Type III is rated for use on electrical fires; and Type IV is rated for use on all of the above. Although a Type IV extinguisher costs a bit more than the others, it is preferred for the added protection it offers.
Remember, as a facility owner you are responsible for:
- Preparing a fire safety plan and training program;
- Posting fire emergency exit procedures for tenants; and
- Conducting employee fire drills on a regular basis.
As part of your operation's safety program, your employees should know:
- 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); and
- 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 your safety and that of your tenants and 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 of the extinguisher or are unsure of the type of fire.
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 (480) 970-6240; www.vpico.com/universal.
Reducing the Likelihood of Arson at Your Facility
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 any evidence of their break-in. Listed below are some common-sense guidelines that you and your employees can follow that can help 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 trimmed low near buildings 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 flammable materials.