How to Prevent Fire Damage in Commercial Buildings
Each year, nearly 500,000 structure fires are reported to local fire departments across the US. Well over 100,000 of these fires break out in commercial buildings, such as schools, hospitals, retail stores, industrial sites, storage facilities, and others.
No business owner or property manager should dwell on what would happen if their building caught fire, but it’s important to have the proper preventative measures in place to avoid contributing to national fire statistics. Keep your people and property safe by following these tips to prevent commercial fires.
Install Code-Required Fire Safety Equipment
Strict building codes regulate the safety systems that must be present in buildings with different levels of fire risk. Here’s a look at the most common ones.
While they don’t actively prevent or put out fires, alarm systems are vital for instructing building occupants to evacuate during an emergency. Monitored systems also automatically alert the fire department when the alarm goes off. Commercial fire alarms typically consist of:
- Smoke and heat detection systems
- Pull stations
- Strobe lights, sirens, and bells
- Fire alarm control panels
- Annunciator panels
- Duct detectors
- Booster panels
- And more
No other fire protection system is more responsive than commercial fire sprinklers. They even stand guard when the building is vacant. Automatic sprinklers activate within 30 to 60 seconds of a fire breaking out, ensuring the flames are under control or even fully extinguished before the fire department arrives. This is critical for preventing structure fire losses if a blaze breaks out.
Fire sprinklers come in several forms, including wet pipe, dry pipe, deluge, and pre-action configurations. A fire protection company can help you determine what will work best based on your building’s hazards and fire protection needs.
Commercial Fire Suppression Systems
If your business contains mission-critical electronics, collectibles, or other delicate items that traditional fire extinguishing methods could damage, you may need a commercial fire suppression system. This solution may also be necessary if the types of fires liable to ignite in your building would spread if you attempted to douse them with water. Examples of businesses that need commercial fire suppression include:
- Restaurants and other properties with commercial kitchens
- Museums and archive storage rooms
- Historical sites
- Server rooms and IT centers
- Spray paint and auto body shops
- Chemical plants, printing presses, and other industrial settings
- Airplane hangars
- Hazardous material storage areas
If you hope to empower your employees to put out fires before the flames spread, you must outfit your building with portable fire extinguishers. The type, size, and number you need depend on the scale of your building and the fire risks inherent to your business. Some of the most common types of extinguishers include:
- Dry chemical fire extinguishers
- Wet chemical fire extinguishers
- Purple K fire extinguishers
- Dry powder fire extinguishers
- Clean agent fire extinguishers
- Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers
- Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) fire extinguishers
- Water and water mist fire extinguishers
Exit & Emergency Lighting
Illuminated emergency lights and exit signs should be integral to any fire safety and evacuation plan. With these backup lights in place, a clear exit path remains visible, even if the power goes out. This results in a calmer atmosphere during a scenario that could otherwise incite panic, helping to ensure a quick and orderly exit from the building. Getting everyone out doesn’t prevent fire damage, but it can certainly save lives.
Keep Up with Inspections & Maintenance
Many fires are caused by neglected machinery and appliances, which can malfunction with devastating consequences. To catch problems early and prevent fire hazards, schedule maintenance for heating and cooling systems, electrical equipment, commercial kitchen appliances, and other machinery.
Then, your fire safety equipment needs attention as well. Depending on the exact system, this may include weekly visual inspections, quarterly or semiannual testing, and professional yearly inspections performed by a licensed fire protection company. These precautions greatly reduce the risk of undetected problems that could cause a malfunction when you need your fire protection equipment the most.
Limit Fire Hazards
Fires can break out in any building, though some settings are riskier than others. While your business may require specific fire prevention steps, start by following these general fire safety tips to reduce the risk of commercial fire damage:
- Keep emergency exit routes clear at all times.
- Avoid propping open fire doors.
- Store matches and lighters in a locked cabinet.
- Make sure all employees are familiar with your company’s evacuation plan and know how to use a fire extinguisher. Provide training if necessary.
- Enforce fire safety rules and regulations among your staff.
Commercial kitchens are one of the most common places for fires to ignite in a restaurant, hotel, school, or other business. Reduce the risk with these tips:
- Clean all cooking and food preparation surfaces regularly, and wipe up grease spills immediately.
- Maintain a clean, organized kitchen by storing linens, paper products, and boxes away from cooking surfaces and heat sources. Also, store cooking fuels in tightly sealed containers.
- Dispose of ashes, dirty rags, garbage, and boxes at the end of the day.
- Never smoke in the kitchen or anywhere else indoors, for that matter.
Damaged electrical wiring and appliances can pose significant fire hazards. All it takes is a stray spark or short circuit for a fire to ignite. Follow these tips to keep your electrical system operating safely:
- Hire an electrician to perform electrical work.
- Plug major appliances directly into a wall outlet, not a power strip or extension cord.
- Don’t run electrical cords beneath furniture or carpets, which could cause overheating.
- Select light bulbs with the wattage indicated on the fixture.
- To reduce the risk of shock, install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) near sinks or anywhere else that could come in contact with water.
- Install arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) to automatically shut off the electricity when a dangerous condition develops.
Heating equipment poses the greatest risk in the winter. Follow these tips to prevent commercial fires caused by furnaces, fireplaces, and portable space heaters:
- Keep trash and other combustibles away from heating equipment.
- Never burn charcoal in a fireplace since this gives off a high amount of carbon monoxide.
- Never close the fireplace damper with hot ashes in the fireplace. Once the ashes cool, dispose of them in a tightly sealed metal container at least 10 feet from the building.
- Maintain at least 3 feet between space heaters and surrounding objects.
- Only plug one high-wattage or heat-generating appliance into an outlet at a time.
- Don’t use extension cords as a permanent setup for high-wattage or heat-generating appliances.
- Check power cords occasionally for fraying or breaking. Never operate a space heater with a damaged cord.
- Turn off space heaters when you exit the room. Never leave them running unattended.
Discussions about winter fire safety often involve holiday decorations. If you plan to include candles, string lights, or Christmas trees in your office or other commercial building, remember these tips to prevent fire from damaging your commercial property:
- Burn candles in sturdy holders placed on a stable surface.
- Keep candles at least one foot away from anything that could catch fire.
- Keep garlands, streamers, and other decorations away from heat sources and open flames.
- Follow a watering schedule for live greenery. Dry pine needles are much more likely to overheat and catch fire.
- Distribute temporary holiday lights evenly to avoid overloading a single electrical circuit.
- Blow out candles and turn off all holiday lights before leaving the office for the day.
Choose a Commercial Fire Restoration Company
Despite your best efforts to prevent commercial structure fires, a blaze may still break out inside your property. Ensure a smooth recovery process by choosing a reputable disaster restoration company. Not sure what to look for? Just follow these tips:
- Make sure the company works with your insurer. You can even ask your insurance adjuster for recommendations.
- Ask about the service provider’s fire restoration and smoke restoration
- Check out examples of the company’s previous restorations. Look for quality results and scenarios similar to yours.
- Assess the customer service you receive. Every team member should treat you respectfully for you to hire the company.
- Ask if they are IICRC certified
Turn to BYLT for expert fire damage repair in Maryland and Washington, DC. Our disaster restoration company has years of experience restoring commercial properties after a fire. We offer comprehensive services, including damaged item removal and storage, contents restoration, smoke deodorization, and full building reconstruction. We can also walk you through the insurance claim process.
For answers to your questions about fire damage restoration or to seek help recovering after a fire, please call BYLT at (410) 770-2900. You can also reach our team online.