November 1, 1998

5 Min Read
Fire Prevention and Safety

Fire Prevention and Safety

By David Wilhite

If a small firewere to break out in a remote area of your facility, how quickly could you react to it? Doyou have a series of interconnected smoke detectors installed in key locations for earlywarning and detection? Do you know where all of your fire extinguishers are located, andwhich types to use to contain different kinds of blazes?

It's no secret that the best way to protect your facility against fires is throughprevention, advance planning and early detection. In this article we'll briefly examinesome of the measures you can take to reduce the chances of a fire destroying yourpremises, including what to look for when choosing smoke detectors, different types offire extinguishers and some surprising information about electrical wiring.

Get a Smoke Detector: Smoke detectors are one of the most important safetydevices available for protecting your premises against a devastating fire. Low in cost andeasy to install, smoke detectors are unobtrusive and require little in the way ofmaintenance. Most importantly, smoke detectors can provide an early warning to detect andcontain a fire before it can destroy your business. No self-storage facility should bewithout good quality commercial smoke detectors--we recommend that you install one inhallways and other strategic locations.

What to Look for in a Smoke Detector: When choosing a smoke detector, you needto know that there are two common types: photoelectric detectors and ionization-sensingdetectors. Photoelectric units detect the visible byproducts of combustion, such as smoke,and sound an alarm when a certain level is reached. Ionization detectors, in contrast,respond to the byproducts of combustion that are invisible to the human eye, such ascarbon dioxide, for an added measure of protection. It's important to note that both typesof smoke detectors should be wired directly to your 120-volt electrical mains. Smokedetectors that are powered by common batteries are not suitable for commercial use andshould be avoided.

Choosing a Smoke Detector: When choosing a smoke detector, be sure it has aneasily accessible test button and a long-life battery backup. The alarm should be testedfor proper operation once each month and a new battery should be installed at least onceeach year (or whenever the detector starts to "chirp"). If you or one of youremployees is hearing impaired, you might consider installing a specialized type of smokedetector that flashes a high-powered strobe light as well as triggering an audible alarmin the event of a fire. Finally, be sure that the type of smoke detector you choose can bedaisy-chained with all of the other smoke detectors on your premises so that an alarmcondition will trigger all of the alarms in the chain.

Fire Extinguishers: In the event of a fire, fire extinguishers will almostcertainly be your first line of defense. When choosing a fire extinguisher, you need to beaware that there are four basic types suitable for different situations: Type I is ratedfor use on small paper or wood fires; Type II is rated for use on grease fires; Type IIIis 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 usually preferredfor the added protection it offers.

Fire Extinguisher Considerations: Keep in mind that in the event of a fire, youmay not have the time or presence of mind to look for a fire extinguisher that is storedin a closet or under a counter. Therefore, each fire extinguisher should be mountedprominently in close proximity to high-risk areas--for example, near electrical equipment,furnaces, etc. Be sure to read and understand the directions on how to operate the fireextinguisher before you need it--in the event of a fire, you'll be glad you did.

Remember, a fire extinguisher can often stop a small fire from becoming a big fire, butis of little use once a blaze begins to spread. If you have even the slightest doubt aboutbeing able to contain a small fire, dial "911" immediately, get your customersand employees to safety, and wait for the fire department to arrive from a securelocation. Never go back into a burning building.

Electrical Fires: Electrical fires can start inside walls, so problem areas canbe very hard to identify and locate. Aluminum wiring, which was commonly installed in manyhomes and businesses from the mid 1960s to the early 1970s, is a potential fire hazard.Aluminum wire by itself is safe enough, but can cause problems at the point where it isjoined to copper or brass fittings commonly used in electrical switches and outlets. Thejunctures can corrode over time, causing overheating at connections between the wire anddevices (switches and outlets) or at splices. Research shows that buildings wired withaluminum wire manufactured before 1972 are more than 50 times as likely to have one ormore connections reach "fire hazard conditions" than those buildings wired withcopper. Fortunately, an electrician can easily and affordably update these areas withoutresorting to replacing all of the original wiring.

A Few Commonsense Precautions for Preventing Fires: In addition to installingsmoke detectors and fire extinguishers, there are several other commonsense precautionsyou can take to minimize the risk of fire:

  • Use light bulbs that are the proper wattage for your lamp or lighting fixtures. A bulb with wattage that is too high or the wrong type may lead to overheating and cause a fire.

  • Don't overload circuits by putting too many lights or appliances on a single line.

  • Don't plug one extension cord into another.

  • Don't run electrical cords underneath rugs, carpets or furniture--walking on cords can cause them to deteriorate and may cause a fire.

  • Fuses and circuit breakers are safety devices located on your electrical panel. Use the correct size fuse for your fuse box--replacing a fuse with the wrong size can be a fire hazard.

  • Never remove the third prong of a three-pronged plug. It can protect you from electrical shock. Instead, convert two-pronged outlets to fit three-pronged plugs using an adapter with a grounding tab.

  • Put a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) between your electric power source and your electric product. In a mishap, a GFCI can cut off power in less than a second.

David Wilhite is the marketing manager of Universal Insurance Facilities Inc.Universal offers a complete package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needsof the self-storage industry, including loss of income, employee dishonesty, comprehensivebusiness 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:

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