Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are important but the best way to fight a fire is to prevent it from starting.
When it comes to fires, residential fires come to mind first. But commercial properties are also vulnerable. The National Fire Protection Agency reported 113,500 non-residential fires in 2015, the latest year available, resulting in 80 deaths, 1425 casualties and $3.1 billion in property loss (https://www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Fire-statistics/Fires-in-theUS/Overall-fire-problem/Non-residential-structure-fires).
The following pointers can help prevent your business from becoming a statistic.
Fires need tinder or easily combustible materials, and oxygen to start. If a spark, electrical short, excess heat or other ignition source contacts tinder where oxygen is present, a fire will likely start. Whether it spreads depends on the amount of oxygen and fuel available. Preventing fires, therefore, requires ensuring that combustible materials do not come into contact with ignition sources. And to contain or slow the spread of fires, you need to minimize their contact with additional fuel sources and oxygen.
A fire can start inside or outside your structures. To begin a fire prevention program, check the perimeter of the building for the following:
• Flammable debris, such as paper, rags, wood, trash. If you must store these items near your structures, store them in solid containers, the more airtight the better.
• Flammable liquids. Make sure any flammable liquids stored outside your structures, including propane and other fuel tanks, are well-labeled and securely closed. In certain areas, you might need to store these in a fenced, locked area.
• Landscaping. Well-maintained landscaping can help prevent the spread of fires. Mature shrubbery is somewhat fire-resistant. Weeds, on the other hand, grow and burn quickly. If your property has overgrown areas, consider planting (and maintaining) these areas, or clearing them and replacing planted areas with hardscaping.
Fires can start inside a building as well. Potential fire starters you can find in your building include:
• “Ordinary” combustibles, such as paper, wood, cloth, rubber, building materials. Storing these materials in appropriate containers can minimize their potential to become fuel in a fire. Packing them tightly so air cannot circulate will also help retard the spread of flames.
• Flammable liquids, such as fuel oil, gasoline, cooking oils, solvents. Again, storing these liquids in properly sealed containers can prevent problems.
• Electrical equipment, such as wiring, fuse boxes, motors. Minimize your fire risk by having only qualified contractors install or repair wiring. Keep motorized equipment well-maintained and clear of any combustible debris. Use only extension cords appropriately rated for the appliance or fixture attached.
To contain a fire once it begins requires the proper equipment. Every business, no matter how small, needs at least one fire extinguisher per floor. One fire extinguisher will not work on all types of fires. For best results, match the type of extinguisher to the type of combustibles in the area:
• Class “A” — Ordinary combustibles (wood, paper, cloth, rubber, etc.)
• Class “B” — Flammable liquids (fuel oil, gasoline, cooking grease, solvents, etc.)
• Class “C” — Energized electrical equipment (wiring, fuse box, electric motors, etc.)
• Class “D” — Combustible metals (magnesium, sodium, zirconium, etc.)
Appoint someone to check smoke detectors and fire extinguishers regularly, at least twice a year. Sprinkler systems also need periodic professional inspections; check with your installer for information.
Learn how to use a fire extinguisher properly. Pull the pin, aim at the base of the fire, squeeze the handle and spray from side to side at the base of the fire. For safety, the operator should stand between the fire and the exit to allow a quick escape if the fire does not go out.
The standard business property policy or business owners policy (BOP) includes coverage for fire. Check your policy’s limits to ensure you have enough coverage to rebuild after a total loss — although your policy might have been adequate when written, the replacement cost of your building and/or its contents have likely increased if you’ve had the policy more than a couple of years.
You will also want to ensure you have coverage for debris removal and lost income if a fire or other insured loss causes a business closure or slowdown. For more information on managing the risk of loss due to fire or other catastrophes, please call us.