Professional Conducting a inspection on a fire system in need of repair

Frequent fire system inspections and repairs can help commercial real estate owners prevent fires from damaging or destroying their buildings. According to U.S. Fire Administration,  out of the 100,000 fires that occur annually, 52% of the larger fires in commercial properties occur in buildings that either:

  • Do not have smoke detectors
  • The smoke detectors do not function properly

At VFS Fire and Security Services, we believe that being proactive minimizes your chances of an emergency. 

If your building’s fire system is being regularly inspected and is up to code, it significantly decreases the probability that your property will be destroyed in the event of a fire. 

To help you prepare, we’ve broken down what a fire system inspection is, outlined some common fire code violations as well as offered some tips on how to stay up to code and in compliance. 

What Is a Fire System Inspection?

A fire inspection is a process in which the fire department inspects a building or proper

ty to identify and access potential fire safety hazards. 

How Often Should Fire System Inspections Occur?

According to the NFPA code, inspections of your fire and life safety systems are required to occur on a quarterly and annual basis. 

What is NFPA Code?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has over 300 codes and standards that apply to nearly all buildings, services, installations, and processes. NFPA codes are designed to reduce or minimize the effects of fires and other safety risks. 

 

A little intimidated to start reading 300 NFPA codes and standards? That’s okay- we get it! Begin by checking out our article, make fire safety part of your New Year’s resolution, where we break down a couple of codes and help you get started.

What Will Be On My Inspection Report?

Your inspection report will include:

  • The location of every device in the building
  • Whether each device passed or failed inspection
  • The reasons why each device passed or failed inspection
  • Date and time stamps of when each device was inspected
  • Device inventory 
  • Device warranty status
  • Indication of the length of time devices have been in service
  • Verification of report results

Yikes, kind of a lengthy list, right? Consider using a professional fire safety service to inspect your property–and make sure you didn’t miss anything–to ensure your building is up-to-code and in compliance. 

Do All Fire System Components Need to Be Checked With The Same Frequency?

In the same way that the brakes in your car should get checked every six months but your oil should be checked every few weeks, some components of a fire system need to be checked more often than others. 

For example, a fire pump may require weekly or monthly inspections whereas sprinkler systems may only need a quarterly check. 

What Fire Code Violations Should I Look Out For?

We’re so glad you asked. According to the NFPA,  the most common fire code violations are:

  • Blocked exits or fire doors
  • Extension cords
  • Improper storage
  • Exit signs and faulty lighting
  • Fire extinguisher issues
  • Broken smoke detectors
  • Improper records
  • Hanging items from sprinkler heads or pipes
  • Fire alarms or pull stations not working
  • Incorrect sprinkler system
  • Blocked valves or exterior access points

Learn more about understanding inspections and maintenance for your building, here.

How Do Repairs Affect My Fire Code Compliance?

Components of the fire system needing repair can result in your property being out of compliance and penalized with hefty fines. And, as you can see from our list of common code violations, components in need of repair –ranging from broken smoke detectors, fire alarms, and pulls stations to faulty lighting– aren’t a rare occurrence. 

Avoid the penalties and let us help with fire system inspection and repairs to make sure your building is safe and up to code. 

Tips for Staying Up 

To Code and In

 Compliance

Keep Hallways and Storage Areas Clear

Clutter and disorganized spaces can serve as both fuel for the fire as well as block emergency exits. Clean up messes, such as piles of cardboard boxes or papers, that may fuel a fire and move large objects, such as furniture, out of the path of a fire exit. 

 Properly Dispose of Combustible and Flammable Materials

These materials could be a safety risk to your building. Follow protocols in disposing of items such as cooled ashes and oiled rags.

Create and Post an Evacuation Plan

Designing and posting an evacuation plan can lead to a more efficient evacuation in the event of a fire. The plan and escape route information should be posted in the public areas of your building to familiarize residents and employees with safety precautions. 

Work with a Professional Fire Protection Company 

Ensure your building is safe and up to fire protection code compliance by partnering with a company that specializes in fire protection. While these tips can get you started in ensuring your building is in compliance, with over 300 NFPA codes and standards, the rules can get complicated quickly– especially if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Luckily, we do. 

At VFS Fire and Security, we offer a range of services to make sure your building is safe and in compliance. Start a conversation with us today.

Still have more questions about your building’s compliance? We’ve got 

you covered with our building compliance cheat sheet. 

Fire Extinguisher on Wall

In the event of a fire, knowing the five classes can help you to use the most effective fire extinguishing agents and techniques to safely suppress the flames. 

In this article, we’ll cover each fire class, how each type of fire can happen, the varying materials that can serve as fuel, and how you can safely extinguish the flames. (Hint: don’t always use water to put out fires– it can make it worse!) 

Please note these fire classifications follow the U.S. standard system for classifying fires. 

What is a Fire Class?

Fire classes are a system of categorizing fires by factors such as the type of material and fuel for combustion as well as the best methods to extinguish or suppress them. The fire classes are Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class K.

Class A Fires: Ordinary Combustibles

Class A fires are the most common of the classes of fires. Class A fires occur when common combustibles–such as wood, paper, trash cloth, and some plastics– serve as fuel for the fire.  Some of these materials may include:

  • Cloth and fabric: clothing, home furnishings, curtains
  • Wood: furniture, building, crafting or construction supplies, logs in fireplaces
  • Paper: books, office supplies, magazines, newspapers, trash 
  • Plastics: plastic containers, toys, disposable bags
  • Rubber: such as the rubber in shoes

How Do Class A Fires Start?

Class A fires are the most common because ordinary combustibles are often found in everyday life. An ordinary combustibles fire can start through scenarios such as a candle falling over or a hot match being tossed into the trash.

How to Extinguish Class A Fires

According to the Fire Equipment Manufacturer’s Association, the best methods to extinguish Class A fires is either with a foam fire extinguisher or with water.   

Class B Fires: Flammable Liquids and Gases

Class B fires involve flammable liquids and gases, especially petroleum or petroleum-based products. Some examples include:

  • Gasoline
  • Paint
  • Kerosine
  • Propane
  • Butane

However, Class B does not typically include fires involving cooking oils or grease. These materials are in their own class, Class K.

How Do Class B Fires Start?

Class B fires occur when flammable liquids ignite. For example, lighter fluid may catch fire on a charcoal grill or gasoline, grease or paint may ignite while a mechanic is working on a car. 

How to Extinguish Class B Fires

The best method of extinguishing Class B fires is by smothering them or cutting the oxygen supply using foam, powder, or carbon dioxide fire suppression equipment, such as extinguishers. 

It is important not to use a water extinguisher on a Class B fire as water may spread the flammable material and cause the fire.

Class C Fires: Electrical Fires

Class C fires involve an electricity source and/or electric equipment. They may begin from:

  • A short circuit
  • Faulty wiring
  • Electrical/power cord damage 
  • Faulty Breaker boxes
  • Damaged appliances
  • Overloaded electrical outlets

How Do Class C Fires Start?

Class C fires can occur in many situations. An example would be an overloaded outlet causing the plug and/or cord of the device to spark and set on fire.

How to Extinguish Class C Fires

Since suppressing Class C fires can be complicated, we’ve broken down the process into a few short steps:

  1. If it is safe, disconnect the item from its power source. 
  2. Extinguish the fire using a carbon dioxide or dry powder fire extinguisher. These are non-conductive extinguishing agents that will help protect you from electrical shock and cut off the fire’s oxygen supply.
  3. Do not use water or a foam extinguisher, as you would with Class A fires. Water and foam conduct electricity and could make the situation more dangerous.

Class D Fires: Combustible Metal Fires

Class D fires involve metals catching on fire. Flammable metals include, but are not limited to:

  • Titanium
  • Aluminum
  • Calcium
  • Sodium
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium

How Do Class D Fires Start?

Metallic fires require extreme heat to ignite and start most often when the materials are in the form of fines, such as metal dust. This may occur, for example, at manufacturing plants, laboratories or warehouses that cut, drill or mill metal materials.

How to Extinguish Class D Fires

Class D fires should not be put out with water because water can make the fire more dangerous. Instead, use a dry powder fire extinguisher or other dry powder agents to smother the fire. 

Class K Fires: Cooking Fires

Class K fires, similar to Class B fires, occur as a result of the combustion of flammable liquids. Class K fires are categorized separately because of their unique setting and are instead associated with cooking liquids in the food service and restaurant industry. These liquid cooking materials include:

  • Grease
  • Oils
  • Animal fats
  • Vegetable fats 

How Do Class K Fires Start?

Cooking fires can happen by leaving cooking food unattended–remember when your mom told you not to do that? This is why!– or forgetting to turn off the stove. 

Commercial kitchens have a high risk of a Class K fire occurring and can contain an array of safety risks and hazards. Learn more about kitchen fire safety management, here. 

How to Extinguish Class K Fires

It may be your instinct in the kitchen to toss a glass of water on the fire, but that could make it worse. Cooking fires can spread quickly and are often worsened by water.  Instead, smother the fire-like putting a large metal lid over a small fire in a pan- to cut off the oxygen supply or use a wet agent fire extinguisher.  

Still have some questions on how to best protect your property from the five classes of fire? Contact us at VFS Fire and Security Services and we’ll find a solution that fits your needs, property, and budget.

Fire Alarm in Building

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that fires in commercial buildings cost owners over $2.4 billion per year. Wowza! This considered, monitored fire alarm systems are essential in the prevention of fires in commercial buildings.

Moreover, fire alarm systems can help to:

  • Reduce damage to property
  • Protect valuable assets
  • And, save lives

But today, we have to ask: Is a regular fire alarm system enough?

OK, OK… Before you roll your eyes, hear us out. Fire alarm systems are an excellent and crucial first step in protecting your property. However, as a property owner, you may be able to do more!

A monitored fire alarm system can help to further prevent or reduce costly damage to your property while also better protecting its residents.

Read on to learn what a monitored fire alarm system is and how it can better protect your property.

What is a Monitored Fire Alarm System?

A monitored fire alarm system is an alarm system that has been programmed to transmit signals to a central station or fire control center. In simple terms, when the alarm goes off, the system will immediately alert an operator who will dispatch the appropriate fire protection team to your building.

A monitored fire alarm system ensures that the fire department is alerted to the fire as quickly as possible, without someone having to make the call. The seconds or minutes that a monitored fire alarm system might save you could make the difference between life and death (as dramatic as it sounds, it’s true!)

Monitored fire alarm systems are most commonly used in commercial facilities—and for good reason.

What is the Difference Between a Fire Alarm System and Fire Alarm Monitoring?

A fire alarm system sets off an alarm—usually a series of local, audible devices—to alert people in the building that a fire has been detected and to evacuate immediately. A fire alarm system does not notify the fire department of the detected fire. The fire department will not be dispatched unless someone calls 911.

On the other hand, a monitored fire alarm system will transmit a signal to a central station or fire control center where an operator will dispatch the appropriate fire department to your building—without anyone in the building calling 911.

How Does a Monitored Fire Alarm System Work?

A monitored fire alarm system has an installed control panel that will detect a fire and immediately transmit a signal to a monitoring station. The operator at the station will notify the fire department when they receive the signal. 

 

Signals can be transmitted via:

  • Cell phones
  • Phone lines
  • Radios
  • The internet

Why Does My Building Need a Monitored Fire Alarm System?

The answer to this is simple: Monitored fire alarms buy you, at the very least, a few extra minutes. In the case of a fire, a few extra minutes can be the difference in both saving buildings and saving lives.

In as little as thirty seconds, a fire can double in size, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Additionally, a fire will spread even quicker if its surroundings are flammable, such as products that may be found in a warehouse or particular furniture.

If your building is equipped with a fire alarm system that isn’t monitored, the fire department will only be dispatched when someone manages to call 911 after sounding alarms, a fire suppression system or sprinklers, and a quick evacuation of all residents.

Considering these stressful protocols, how quickly do you trust your residents to call 911?

When Will the Monitored Fire Alarm System Protect My Building?

Monitored fire alarm systems provide 24-hour protection, seven days a week. 

For instance, even if a fire occurs at nighttime or while your building is unoccupied, a monitored alarm system will ensure there is no delay in notifying the fire department.

How Do I Know If My Fire Alarm is Monitored?

A common error amongst commercial building owners is incorrectly assuming their fire alarm systems are monitored. Consequently, when a fire occurs, the call to 911 is severely delayed. This error leads to the destruction of the buildings that might have been saved if the proper precautions had taken place.

At VFS Fire & Security Services, we urge you not to wait until a catastrophic loss to have your system inspected.

The default option for many fire alarm systems is the installation of a single-station fire alarm, which doesn’t include the feature of sending a signal to the fire department.

If you’re not sure if your fire alarm system is monitored, you can have a fire and security service quickly inspect your system to let you know. At VFS, our system upgrades team can review your existing plans and make scalable proposals to meet your building, code, safety needs, and budget. 

Not sure if your building is due for an inspection? Read our complete guide to fire and safety inspections for your facilities.

The Bottom Line

Fires happen often—every 63 seconds, in fact. This considered, commercial property owners should be adequately prepared to avoid the costly damages to their valuable assets and protect their residents.

Monitored fire alarm systems are a strong method of improving the protection of your property and its residents by ensuring the fire department is dispatched as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Start a conversation with us today and let’s figure out how to best protect your building.

Commercial Fire Protection Systems

We’ll Answer Your Burning Question… 

Your commercial property is just as flammable as any other building. In fact, the National Fire Protection Agency reports that between 2015 and 2019 fire departments across the nation reported 19,156 fires in business properties alone. Property loss totaled over $800 million. These statistics don’t include fires in other types of commercial buildings. 

With fire season emerging, stay ahead of the catastrophic damage a wildfire can do to your commercial building by protecting it ahead of time. Are you prepared? We answer your burning question below. 

What is a Commercial Property?

A commercial property is any real estate that is used for business purposes or activities. Typically, they are buildings- not residential dwellings. Think malls, industrial real estate, and grocery stores … you get the picture.  

These buildings contain important materials, documents, and people inside which means it’s even more important to protect your building from the potential damage of a fire. 

High-Risk Fire Zones

A high-risk fire zone is “a designated zone that considers wildfire hazards such as fire history, topography, vegetation, blowing embers, and weather” according to Spectrum News

These zones are broken down into three sections: moderate risk, high risk, and very high risk. Determining which category a zone falls in depends on the likelihood of it catching fire based on history and fire patterns. 

Check your commercial property’s zone to determine your risk of being impacted by a wildfire.  

Commercial Fire Insurance Policies

Having a commercial fire insurance policy, especially for commercial properties in high-risk zones is an added layer of protection. This policy type mitigates risk by reimbursing you for fire damage to the property for losses. 

Fire insurance is defined as “a form of property insurance that covers damage and losses caused by fire.”

This policy often covers building damage, building contents (i.e. furniture, tools, and equipment), and the belongings of others. 

Depending on your policy, it may also cover damage from smoke, charring, or loss of income due to business closure from the fire. 

Ways to Protect Your Property From Wildfires  

Wildfires can cause catastrophic damage, especially to properties without property protection and prevention plans in place. The National Interagency Fire Center reported that 2021 faced 58,985 wildfires which damaged 7.1 million acres.  

Protect your building by implementing the following steps.

Create a “Buffer Zone” 

Wildfire Property Protection

A buffer zone divides the surrounding area of your building into three sections to keep an active fire from moving quickly to your building. Learn more about how to implement a buffer zone here

Ensure Working Fire Hydrants Nearby

Have access to a fire hydrant no more than 250 feet away from main buildings. They should be connected to reliable water sources. 

Use Noncombustible Materials

Any signage, exterior cladding, siding, etc. should be made out of noncombustible material. This keeps a hungry fire from finding more materials to damage because they will not burn when exposed to fire. 

Choose Dual-Paned Windows 

Dual-paned windows made with tempered glass will help keep a fire at bay. 

Cover Vents

All vents should be covered with non-combustible ⅛ inch mesh screenings to fight against embers that may fall through. 

Keep Gutters and Roofs Clean 

The building’s roof and gutters should be kept clear of debris that can be easily ignited by embers. 

Flame Resistant Upholstery 

Use flame-resistant or flame-retardant chemicals on curtains, furniture, and drapes. 

Perform Regular Fire Protection System Servicing 

Stay in touch with your fire marshal or authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to make sure your fire protection system is up-to-date. Ensure your fire sprinkler systems, fire alarm systems and other fire protection systems are inspected and maintained on a regular basis.

Have an Emergency Plan

Prepare an evacuation plan should a wildfire break out nearby. Make sure all staff inside the building understand what to do in a fire emergency. Clearly post emergency evacuation signs inside the building. 

Read our next why high-risk high reward does not apply to fire safety, and other ways to keep your building safe. 

fire protection systems service and maintenance

… Yeah That’s Something You Have To Do

Just because your building has the proper safety equipment doesn’t mean your work is done. Believe it or not, you have to actively maintain each of the devices throughout the year. After all, you have to change the oil in your car – your building’sfire protection system service and maintenance fire protection systems are no different.

How often you service or inspect your fire protection services depends on the device. Some require weekly, monthly, semi-annual, or annual inspections. Hot tip- all fire and life safety systems require at least an annual inspection. Let’s discuss how often different fire protection systems need servicing.

Fire Protection Maintenance and Inspection Schedules

Fire protection maintenance schedules are set in place to make sure your fire protection is up to par in the event of a fire. A fully functioning system reduces the risk of damage or injury.

Typically, a fire marshall or other authority holding jurisdiction (AHJ) will review your fire protection system to review if the system is up to code. Local regulations determine how the frequency of service for your different systems. There are, however,  overarching trends as to when each needs a look.

Fire Sprinkler Systems

The best practice for a fire sprinkler system is to perform quarterly and annual sprinkler inspections. Particularly in colder areas, regular maintenance and inspections are essential.

For example, a wet pipe sprinkler system needs to be kept at above freezing temperature during the colder months in order to prevent costly damage to the system.

Fire Suppression Systems

Fire suppression systems include extinguishing fires through gaseous chemical or foam agents instead of water. Examples of fire suppression systems include:

  • Clean agent
  • CO2 Systems
  • Wet chemicals

They must be inspected on a semi-annual basis according to NFPA guidelines.

Fire Alarm & Detection

Fire alarms or smoke alarms should be inspected by a professional on an annual basis- at a minimum.

Inspect these systems for leaks, cracks, warning lights or obstructions weekly. Local rules and regulations determine the service timeline.

For example, school buildings typically require periodic testing of fire alarm systems and regular fire drills.

Fire Extinguishers

A fire extinguisher, also known as the first line of defense is a piece of fire safety equipment you want operable at any given moment. Inspections must take place once a month.

Devices prone to rust, impact, or tampering require the most frequent inspections.

Their external maintenance examination occurs annually during the hydrostatic test, or when specified. Internal fire extinguisher tests occur every 1 – 6 years depending on the extinguisher.

A Final Word

Keeping a well-maintained fire protection system can be the difference between minor and major structural damage. It can also save lives. Proactively maintain your system to have the peace of mind that if the time comes, your building is fully prepared.

Most building owners find that waiting on the fire inspection report is often the most painstaking part of the process. Why do these reports take so long? Take a look at one of our recent articles explaining why the fire inspection report takes so long.

you need an eyewash station to keep your employees safe

Why You Should Have an Eyewash Station in Working Order

 

You heard it here first—an eyewash station isn’t a fancy drinking fountain. If you need a drink of water, we recommend finding another source… like maybe an actual water fountain.

 

In all seriousness, eyewash stations are important pieces of equipment that reduce the major risks associated with chemical exposure (think: chemical-related eye injuries). Let’s discuss why you might need a properly functioning eyewash station.

Who Needs an Eyewash Station? 

Based on the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an eyewash station is required if a person may be exposed to “injurious corrosive materials” (aka chemical materials in laboratories).

 

The Material and Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), included with the chemical, indicates if the chemical is injurious corrosive.

 

Eye-related chemical injuries can lead to:

You heard it here first—an eyewash station isn’t a fancy drinking fountain. If you need a drink of water, we recommend finding another source… like maybe an actual water fountain.

 

  • Corneal perforation
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Retinal damage
  • Eye loss
  • And more

What Are Eyewash Station Requirements? 

 

In 2009, the ANSI updated the standard for emergency eyewash stations. According to the new updates, if you or employees are working with hazardous chemicals, the station should be:

 

  • Installed and maintained correctly (i.e. the injured person should be able to flush their eyes for at least 15 full minutes)
  • At sites with any hazardous materials 
  • No more than 100 feet from where the material is being handled
  • Within a 10-second walk of the hazardous material 
  • Unobstructed by other machinery or equipment
  • Up to ANSI standard with respect to location, rate of water flow, fluid angle, water temperature, user position, and station location 

 

All of these regulations are set in place so that if an emergency situation arises, the exposed person can quickly seek treatment to avoid severe damage.

Why Do You Need an Eyewash Station?

Eyewash stations are an important piece of keeping you and your employees safe. If someone is exposed to a hazardous substance, especially a corrosive chemical, immediate treatment is critical to reduce injury. 

 

Proactively treating a hazardous chemical exposure in the first 10 to 15 seconds after exposure can reduce damage and injury because it flushes away the substance by providing quick decontamination.

 

We get it, accidents happen. A chemical exposure can occur even with all of the right safety precautions in place or when a person isn’t donning personal protective equipment. Having an emergency eyewash station provides an additional layer of safety to reduce the damage chemicals cause.

How to Use an Eyewash Station

First, anyone working with or near hazardous chemicals should be wearing personal protective equipment (i.e. goggles, face shields, gloves). This will reduce the chances of chemical exposure.

 

If an eye emergency does occur, it’s imperative to act quickly. You have 10 to 15 seconds from the time of initial exposure to flush out the chemical before the substance causes serious injury. Understand how to use your eyewash station before an emergency situation arises; it’s a race against the clock when you’re dealing with hazardous chemicals.

 

If chemical eye exposure occurs, walk to the eyewash station immediately as a peer notifies emergency services. Once at the station, push the foot pedal or hand lever to activate the flow of water. Then, lean over and hold your eyelids open and allow the water to flow over the eyeballs for at least 15 minutes, or until emergency responders arrive with further instructions. 

 

While flushing your eyes for 15 minutes, roll your eyes around so the water can flush the entire surface of the eyes, and remove contact lenses. Even if only one eye was contaminated, wash both eyes.

 

If you need a visual guide, watch our pal, Andy Bernard, demonstrate below. 

 

via GIPHY

 

For more information on what else businesses need to know about eyewash stations, click here.

use the warm summer months while students are on vacation to fire proof campus buildings

(While the kids are away, you should probably fire-proof the Sigma Chi house)

 

You survived another semester! Congratulations! While college students return home for the summer, best practice is to go through and fireproof your buildings… especially the Sigma Chi house (they love lighting up… candles, of course).

 

After all, in just a few short months, students will be back in full force. They may get a break for the warm summer months, but your fire safety procedures never take a vacation. 

Campus Fire Safety

Based on research from the National Fire Protection Association, campus fires peak between September and October– especially between 5-9 pm. 

 

“U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 3,840 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and other related properties. These fires caused annual averages of 29 civilian injuries and $11 million in direct property damage.”

 

In order to protect your building and your students from these worrisome statistics, you must ensure your fire safety systems are up-to-date and you should regularly conduct proper fire safety training for both students and faculty. 

Fire Proofing Campus Buildings

So, how does one fireproof an education facility? Most education facilities abide by NFPA Code 101 which “addresses minimum building design, construction, operation, and maintenance requirements necessary to protect building occupants from danger caused by fire, smoke, and toxic fumes.”

 

A few ways you can fireproof your campus buildings are:

 

  • Determining space requirements and maximum occupancy for each room. Hint- to remain compliant with NFPA 101, each person requires at least 20 square feet of space
  • Prepare and update fire evacuation plans
  • Plan fire drills
  • Establish communication with your local jurisdiction and fire authority, and implement their guidelines 
  • Ensure exit areas, stairwells, etc are unobstructed and clear
  • Inspect fire safety equipment to make sure it’s working and updated (i.e. fire alarms, fire sprinkler systems, and fire extinguishers)

What are the Main Causes of Campus Fires?

Fires can break out in multiple ways, however, here are the top five causes of campus-related fires according to data gathered by the U.S. Fire Administration: 

 

  1. Cooking on hot plates, microwaves, portables grills, etc. 
  2. Careless smoking 
  3. Unattended candles 
  4. Overloaded extension cords and outlets

More on how to communicate fire safety with students below. 

Communicating Fire Safety 

Keeping students and faculty educated on fire safety on campus is essential to protecting your people in the event of a fire. Before they step on campus for the semester, send them a pamphlet with fire safety information. This can include:

  • Fire evacuation plans 
  • How to prevent fires
  • How to properly notify the fire department if a fire breaks out 

 

Once students arrive on campus:

  • Review evacuation procedures
  • Show them where the nearest fire extinguishers are located
  • Conduct fire drills
  • Deter tampering with smoke alarms or sprinklers
  • Ensure your RAs are regularly inspecting rooms for fire hazards

 

Remind students that the most common fire causes of campus fires are 

 

  • Check for cigarette buts after parties in chairs, sofas, couches, etc.
  • Use deep, wide ashtrays 
  • Don’t smoke indoors

cooking, candles, smoking, and

fire prep your campus's buildings this summer

 overused power strips. 

Cooking Reminders

  • Keep kitchens clean and clear of flammable materials
  • If cooking– don’t leave the kitchen unattended
  • Only cook in designated areas

Candle Reminders 

  • Do not leave lit candles unattended 
  • Keep candles away from flammable materials

Smoking Reminders

Electrical Safety 

  • Keep light fixtures away from flammable materials
  • Do not plug large appliances into an extension cord 
  • Do not overload outlets or power strips

A Final Word

The perfect time to review your campus facility’s fire safety is during the summer, when fewer students are on campus. For more tips on how to use summer vacation to get your fire safety up to par, read our article here.

 

ajh keeps your buildings safe

As Paul Blart says, “Safety never takes a holiday.” And your facility’s Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) abides by that same standard.  This organization is designed to enforce the NFPA standards and codes on your building. Their mission is to keep both you and your building safe from harm and ensure all of your systems are up to code in case an emergency occurs. 

 

via GIPHY

Let’s dive into what the AHJ is, and why they’re important. 

What is AHJ?

 

AHJ stands for authority having jurisdiction. It’s not a singular entity, rather, it is the authority having jurisdiction for whoever visits the premises to inspect your fire, life and electrical safety programs to meet code standards. 

 

This could be:

 

  • A fire marshal
  • Fire Chief 
  • Labor department 
  • Building official 
  • And more

 

According to the NFPA, AHJ includes, “an organization, office, or individual responsible for enforcing the requirements of a code or standard, or for approving equipment, materials, and installation or a procedure.” 

 

Members of AHJ can come from various places, including federal or state government or private sectors. They are a collective force rather than a specific person. Among this group, you’ll see:

 

  • Fire chief
  • Fire marshal
  • Chief of a fire prevention bureau
  • Labor department member
  • Health department member
  • Building official
  • Electrical inspector
  • Insurance company representative
  • Others having statutory authority

Why Should you Proactively Work With AHJ?

Proactivity is always beneficial when thwarting fire damage. By working with your AHJ before a fire occurs, you increase the odds of protecting your building and, more importantly, your people during an emergency. 

 

If you’re in the beginning stages of building or renovating your commercial property, consulting an AHJ can help ensure all your systems are meeting strict code regulations. This prevents potential fines and issues with compliance that might arise if you are found not up to code.

 

These fire safety codes and standards are strict because you are dealing with people’s lives. The members of AHJ strive to ensure your building is meeting code requirements during the design, construction, and functioning phases. 

 

It’s important to remember that each district has different codes and regulations. 

While following OSHA’s fire safety codes are important, you may find that your local code has additional standards that you must meet in order to remain in compliance. 

 

When was your last fire inspection and maintenance? Our team at VFS supports our clients with regular inspection and testing on their fire protection systems. How much do you know about your fire inspection? Take our quiz to see if you’re smarter than a fire inspector here. 

 

AJH helps keep your building safe

Your Guide to Smart Classrooms and Fire Safety

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported that in general, fire departments respond to over 3,000 structural fires in schools each year. So, prevention and preparation have become essential for all school systems to tackle fire safety.

With many schools re-opening their doors after being remote with Covid-19, educators are re-evaluating how to use smart classrooms and fire safety technology in the case of an emergency. VFS Fire & Security Services specialized in Emergency Responder Communication Systems (ERRCS) and Public Safety Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), which are communication systems for responders, often in the case of a fire or an active shooter. 

The rise in school technology

Smart classrooms have become the new norm. Say goodbye to chalkboards because QR codes and smart boards have entered the chat. With the rise in technology and education, there are pros and cons to having smart classrooms with emergency situations like a fire or active shooter on campus. 

Pros of Smart Classrooms

For example, some schools use the smartboard as a tool to teach fire safety. This downloadable template provided by ABC teach is a simple way to incorporate tech and fire safety between staff and students. 

Another pro with smart classrooms is more accessible communication. If there is an emergency, most schools have upgraded from walkie-talkies to more developed communication radio systems (such as ERRCS and DAS). Communication with these systems can reach more than internal contacts, but first responders as well. 

ScholarChip provides insight into the benefits of visual security at a school. They highlight the importance of a school district’s visual security for emergencies, which should include the following factors: 

  • “Promote a positive and innovative representation of your school through visible mobile kiosks and mobile monitoring apps.
  • Enhances security mobility and real-time data for security teams and IT staff.
  • Overcomes vulnerability that stems from using front desk check-in logs and unmonitored premise access.” 

ERRCS & DAS

ERRCS and DAS are examples of technology working in education’s favor. Learn more about how ERRCS and DAS work on our blog. 

While both systems are fairly similar, there are some slight differences between the two. Their main similarity is that they are both used within commercial and residential buildings to allow emergency responders to communicate with each other via two-way radio in areas that they may not have been able to in the past. 

These systems are made of distributed antennas that are installed within a building to amplify particular radio and/or cellular signals ensuring the highest functioning communication for first responders. These antennas receive external Public Service radio signals and retransmit them within the building to ensure penetration in all areas of the building including:

  • Stairwells
  • Elevators
  • Basements
  • and other heavily shielded areas 

It’s an amplification system that amplifies the radio signals between first responders’ radios during an emergency. 

For example, during the events of 9/11, the need for high-functioning ERRCS/DAS systems came to the forefront of everyone’s attention. 

During that tragedy, there was a lot of commotion, which highlighted the need for a tool where emergency responders can communicate without interruption or signal loss.

Previously, the requirements for ERRCS used to be that any building that was three stories or had subterranean parking would be required to be tested for ERRCS. Now, it has transitioned to where these guidelines are required for most new buildings. 

Cons of Smart Classrooms

Although technology has taken the world by storm in the last year, how many teachers struggled to work Zoom? 

Teachers and professors who do not have a background in technology need the time and training to fully understand how to use the equipment and programs used. In the case of an emergency, like an active shooter on campus, it’s essential that all staff are trained to respond quickly and efficiently to keep everyone safe. 

Also, with the use of technology cyber crimes are more likely to happen. Government Technology reports that “With cybercriminals routinely holding school networks hostage and threatening the sensitive personal data of students, teachers, and families, only the federal government has the ability to collect and disseminate interstate data about new cyber threats, provide resources to help school districts acquire technological safeguards and work across international borders to target bad actors.”

Fire safety and smart tech

Again, prevention is key when it comes to fire safety. An education building is a huge responsibility and should be maintained to have clear pathways for an evacuation plan, frequent inspections, and be up-to-date with NFPA code. 

Once a fire is detected, smart tech and communication radios can be used to alert administration and then students, who should be trained on what the fire evacuation plan is. 

Emergency lighting should be a part of annual inspections. Learn why emergency lights deserve love and attention on our blog. If emergency signs aren’t properly lit during a case of a fire, it can cause confusion and be fatal. 

Active shooter protocol with technology

The FBI gathered data as part of a 20 – Year review from 2000-to 2019. In the 20 years they studied, there have been 333 incidents. Out of those incidents, 62 of them happened in education environments with 419 casualties. 

Clearly implementing technology correctly is crucial for the education system. 

Prevention is important for all emergency situations, whether it be a fire or active shooting. The Department of Health and Human Services suggests a Multi-Tiered System of Support with the use of a student management system and smart technology. The use of this tiered system has “shown support to students who deal with the range of learning, mental health, and emotional-behavioral health concerns that a student may have.” 

In the case of an active shooting, the use of mass communication systems, like ERRCS and DAS is one step towards working with the first responders. Similar to a fire evacuation plan, it’s important to make sure all students and staff are fully trained on what procedure to follow if an active shooter comes onto campus. 

The education system has faced challenging years when it comes to safety and communication. The biggest key factor to remember is that fire safety equipment (and smart tech) is only as effective as its inspections. Learn why regular inspections lead to safer buildings on our blog for more information about preparing your education building. 

Special Hazards Require Special Solutions

Remember that when you try to fight fire with fire, the Fire Department uses water. This is why VFS Fire and Security highly recommends implementing special solutions into your fire safety plan to tackle special hazards.

What is a special hazard? 

NFPA Code 470 highlights hazardous materials standards for responders. A special hazard is anything from a building, material, or piece of equipment that can cause a fire in an abnormal way.  

As mentioned above, a special hazard isn’t simply an area, it can be a building, area, room, or a piece of equipment. From a fire protection perspective, certain industries bring about additional challenges in the fire safety realm. 

Special hazards are generally found in places like data centers, telecommunications, power generation, manufacturing and testing facilities, machinery spaces, and healthcare facilities. A typical fire alarm and sprinkler system simply won’t cut it for these types of buildings. 

Oil Fire

An oil fire is an example of a special hazard that requires a special solution. UCLA Health lists an oil fire as “Class B.” This includes, “flammable liquids such as alcohol, ether, oil, gasoline, and grease, which are best extinguished by smothering.” 

Oil fires often start in commercial kitchens, areas where spontaneous combustion can occur, or areas where high-temperature work is done. Learn more about the hazards of kitchens in our blog, “Kitchens: More than a place to steal your coworker’s lunch.” 

Because kitchens are such a hot spot for hazards, the NFPA requires many inspections and equipment guidelines to help prevent oil fires from occurring. NFPA Code 31 is listed as the Standard for the Installation of Oil-Burning Equipment, which provides the starting point for special solutions.  

In the event of an oil fire, DO NOT use water. We repeat, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE WATER. Adding water to an oil fire will make the fire grow and become a greater danger. This is where the difference between fire suppression vs. fire sprinklers is important to understand. 

Fire Suppression Systems

Fire suppression systems are part of the magical formula for dealing with special hazards. Here are the various fire suppression systems VFS specializes in. 

Clean Agent 

Clean agent fire suppression, is a term used to describe the use of inert gases to extinguish a fire. These systems have three main components: 

  • Smoke Detector
  • Control Panel
  • Notification Devices

When a smoke detector is triggered, it sends a signal to the control panel which alerts the notification devices, activating the release devices to suppress the fire. 

Clean agent fire suppression systems are fast-acting and most effective at protecting sensitive equipment and environments because they are designed to suppress the fire in its incipient stage. They are electronically nonconducting and unlike water, they won’t ruin electronics or electrical components. 

They are most often found in server rooms, record and file repositories, and data centers that require an increased level of protection to prevent unnecessary and accidental discharge of systems.

The Details:

  • Inert gases: Nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide work together by lowering oxygen content in a room below the level that supports combustion, while still allowing a person to breathe keeping your environment and your personnel safe. 
  • Fluorocarbon-based extinguishers are described as “clean agents” as they do not leave any oily residues, particulates, or water damage and rapidly extinguish fires with a superb weight to effectiveness ratio. These extinguishing agents are also safe to use in occupied spaces and offer unique advantages in speed, performance, and safety. 

CO2 Systems

C02 is an effective method of extinguishing a wide range of flammable and combustible materials in both surface and deep-seated fires. Carbon dioxide is a colorless and odorless three-dimensional clean agent. It is typically harmless to equipment, materials, and property preventing excessive damage to equipment and your facility in the event of a discharge. 

There are high and low-pressure CO2 systems. High-pressure systems use individual storage cylinders ranging from 35 lbs to 120 lbs. Low-pressure C02 systems are ideal for non-occupied fire hazards requiring large amounts of extinguishing agents in a limited space. 

Wet Chemical 

Extinguishing methods of wet chemical suppression systems are specific to the type of cooking fire that may occur in a commercial kitchen. When triggered, the system immediately discharges a liquid that, when sprayed onto the fire, cools the flames almost instantaneously.

When this liquid comes into contact with oils and fats, it creates a foam that cools the affected area and prevents the spread and the potential of reignition. 

Dry Chemical

Dry chemical is a type of fire protection system that makes use of a dry chemical powder to extinguish a fire. Most dry chemical fire suppression systems use a large tank that is filled with dry chemical powder, which is then pressurized. 

If your business functions in one of the environments discussed above, ensuring that you have special solutions to protect against special hazards is imperative. 

 

So, how are your New Year’s resolutions coming along? It’s okay if you’ve already ditched the gym at this point— as long as fire safety is still a part of your New Year’s resolutions. Read more on our blog. 

What is ERRCS/DAS and how does it work?

ERRCS don’t have to irk you! VFS Fire & Security Service’s Director of Fire Alarm Operations, Kevin Gregory, joins us to explain the importance of updating your alarm and communication systems.

 

What Are ERRCS and DAS? 

ERRCS stands for Emergency Responder Radio Communication Systems, also known as Bi-Directional Antenna Systems, or DAS. 

The ERRCS and DAS are very similar; both systems are used within commercial and residential buildings to allow emergency responders to communicate with each other via two-way radio in areas that they may not have been able to in the past.

As an amplification system, ERRCS amplifies the radio signals between first responders’ radios during an emergency. 

Why Did ERRCS Systems Become So Important?

During the September 11th attacks in New York City, emergency responders experienced difficulty communicating with each other in rescue and recovery efforts. These difficulties included full radio communication failures, which made the first responders inside buildings lose contact with dispatch and fire crews outside, risking the lives of the first responders and hindering their rescue efforts.

The communication failures on 9/11 spiked awareness for high-functioning ERRCS/DAS, highlighting the need for tools that would allow responders to communicate without interruption or signal loss in the event of an emergency. Since 9/11, ERRCS and DAS have become a critical priority for commercial building owners. 

What Are the Requirements of an ERRCS System?

While the requirements for ERRCS used to apply only to buildings within the specific guidelines–any building over three stories or with underground parking–requirements can now apply to most new buildings or projects.

The building department and/or fire department can enter a new building project, regardless of its size, and review the ERRCS. In this review, the building department may test for signal strength and require that an additional amplifier be installed. 

How Many Systems Are Required in Commercial Buildings?

Typically, buildings require one system. However, several factors can affect the number of systems required in a space, such as the building’s size and layout. These factors may suggest additional amplifiers or other components need to be installed. For more information, learn the five things CRE owners should know about installing ERRCS, here.

To determine the number of antennas required in your building, an inspection team may utilize heat maps and sweep tests. 

What is a Heat Map?

A heat map is generated through a sweep test or a 20 grid test. In a sweep test, an inspection team will divide the building into 20 sections and test each section with a spectrum analyzer and either a fireman’s radio handset or a signal generator. 

The team will then run the results through software to create a report and a heatmap. This report will display the areas of the building which need better coverage as well as the locations in which the signal is strong. 

Do ERRCS Need Testing and Inspection?

ERRC systems need to be tested regularly. The fire department requires that these systems are inspected and tested on an annual basis. 

How is an ERRCS Inspection Conducted?

An inspection team will conduct an inspection process similar to the 20 grid test in which they will divide and sweep the building to locate areas of poor coverage. Their reports will be forwarded to the building department and fire department for approval. 

Inspections are Essential in Maintaining ERRCS/DAS

Inspections and maintenance are critical to the safety of your building. At VFS Fire and Security Services, we specialize in installing and inspecting ERRCS. There’s an ongoing need and requirement for testing and inspection on an annual basis to ensure that the integrity of the system is still operational with NFPA updates and requirements

What are LEED Buildings and How Do They Affect ERRCS?

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a third-party green building certification program that focuses on efficiency in designs. For instance, LEED buildings can have innovative windows made from low-E glass which stops outside weather conditions from affecting the interior temperature of the building and more efficient insulation.

However, low-E glass can cause low signal attenuation that impacts ERRCS. Most commonly, E-glass alters the requirements for your ERRCS in regard to needing additional amplification systems throughout the building. 

Can Other External Factors Affect ERRCS?

ERRC systems can be affected by an array of outside forces. For instance, the signal can be impacted by the construction of neighboring buildings as well as construction supplies and choices. These external factors should be considered in the installation, inspection, and maintenance of a building’s ERRCS. 

Read more about your inspection and maintenance schedule in our blog It’s time to get it together and inspect your building more than once a year!

Make Fire Safety Part of your New Year’s Resolution

2021 was a dumpster fire that we can roast marshmallows in for 2022.

Looking at the new year is an exciting time. 2022 has created a fresh start after a challenging year (or two or three!).

If you’re like most people, one of your practices is making New Year’s resolutions. We applaud everyone who will try that new diet, meditate in the morning, and go to the gym consistently (then bail after a month— but hey, it’s the thought that counts!)

At VFS, we’ve realized there’s one resolution that always seems to be left out, which is fire safety!

Please, we’re begging you, don’t let fire safety fall by the wayside like the gym. Here are some tips to help guide you into making fire safety part of your New Year resolutions (one that will actually stick!)

Stay Up-To-Date with NFPA Codes

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is constantly updating codes for fire safety for commercial buildings, above-ground storage tanks, and everything in between.

The NFPA Journal highlights changes that are crucial to be aware of as a business or property owner in 2022. The two codes to keep top of mind in the new year include NFPA Code 72 and 13.

NFPA Code 72

NFPA 72 is a National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. This means that the Code includes requirements for “mass notification systems used for weather emergencies, terrorist events, biological, chemical, and nuclear emergencies.”

The newest change in 2022 to be aware of is the introduction of cybersecurity guidance for fire alarms. There has been a rise in break-ins through older fire security systems because hackers have incentives to steal data and sell it.

Some of the 2022 additions listed by the NFPA include:

  • Remote Access
  • Color Tagging
  • Survivability
  • Multi-Criteria Detectors

So, make sure to keep an eye out for more updates with cybersecurity and fire alarms.

NFPA Code 13

NFPA Code 13 is the Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. If you’re new to our blog, we’re the experts in sprinkler systems. Learn more about the updates in sprinkler systems on our blog.

Anyway, Code 13 is considered, “The industry benchmark for design, installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems.”

The NFPA Journal claims that the main changes to Code 13 will include sprinkler density, rack storage, and elevator shaft protection. The most impactful change will be the shift towards “beyond single-point density.” 

Update Team Training

With the constant change in NFPA Codes, it’s valuable to also keep your team updated with the differing fire safety measures.

The updates to highlight and refresh your team with could include the following:

  • Updated Equipment
  • Fire Protection Systems
  • Safe Operation of Equipment and Tools
  • Emergency Action Plan
  • And More

There are various online training available through the NFPA. For example, the online series on “NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (2022) Online Training Series” is a great starting point. 

Create a Calendar of Safety Inspections

At VFS Fire and Security Services, we believe that your fire protection systems are only as effective as the inspections performed on them. The inspections we specialize in include:

  • Fire Sprinkler Systems
  • Fire Suppression Systems
  • Alarm and Detection Systems
  • Portable Fire Extinguishers
  • Sound and Communication 
  • Integrated Security
  • Life Safety
  • Above Ground Storage Tanks

That’s kind of a long list, right? That’s exactly why the professionals are here to help keep your commercial property up-to-date with the proper equipment and fire safety measures.

On the topic of fire safety, have you heard of the cargo crisis that’s going on? The lag in shipping has created bottlenecks in many industries. Read more about how the cargo crisis has impacted our VFS Houston branch on our blog.

Why do fire inspection reports take so long?

Don’t tell anyone, but we know that a fire inspection report takes a long time. 

In an effort to explain why we’re going to lead you in a ‘behind the scenes look at the internal processes and why these reports take what seems like forever. 

When systems or devices need maintenance we often can send a repair technician to you within 24 hours (or sooner in emergencies!) Our goal is to be proactive and ensure that our systems keep you safe from harm.

What’s Included in a Fire Inspection Report? 

Clear Sightlines

One of the main elements of your fire inspection report is ensuring there are clear paths for firefighters to reach the building and for patrons to exit the building. If an emergency does happen at your commercial property, there needs to be easy access in and out of the building. This part of the inspection report will likely also include making sure your building remains up to date with fire codes. 

If there are main identifiers around the building that firefighters should be aware of (think trees or other identifying information), that also needs to be included in the fire inspection report. 

Certified Fire Extinguishers

Included in this inspection is counting the number and type of fire extinguishers throughout the building.  VFS Fire and Security services specialize in portable fire extinguishers. Per NFPA code fire extinguishers are required to be inspected and certified by a licensed fire protection contractor. There are a LOT of different types of fire extinguishers including:

  • Water Mist
  • Clean Agent
  • Foam
  • Wet Chemical
  • CO2
  • ABC Dry Chemical
  • Class A, B, C, D, and K

Inspecting all of these extinguishers takes time, which further delays that report hitting your desk. 

Emergency Lighting

Emergency illumination could mean life or death in an intense situation. Ensuring your emergency lighting is working and in the correct areas is essential to the fire prevention and safety of your building. 

We can help! 

There are so many other moving parts that are included in a fire safety inspection. The expert team at VFS Fire and Security Services has a breadth of knowledge to provide all regularly scheduled and code-mandated fire protection system inspections. The frequencies of these inspections ensure the most effective operating conditions for your building all year round and are critical to keeping current with industry and insurance codes. 

We have a diverse team of experienced fire protection professionals capable of inspecting and servicing even the most complex fire protection systems. Our advanced platforms and highly trained dispatch team allow us to manage inspections and testing from inception to execution. 

We tell you what’s due, when it’s due and why it’s due, and are constantly communicating to your team to keep you up-to-date on the latest information within your facilities. 

How frequently do you need fire inspections? Learn more about your inspection schedule in this blog post. 

‘Tanks A Lot!’ — Your Guide to Above Ground Storage Tanks

Most likely, your commercial property has an above-ground storage tank (AST). When’s the last time you had your tank(s) inspected? Odds are, your above-ground storage tank has taken the back burner in regards to safety regulations and guidelines.

Don’t worry, that’s why we’re here at VFS Fire & Safety Services—to help you navigate any changes that need to be made to your safety protocols! 

Above Ground Tank Requirements

The National Institute for Storage Management (NISTM) located in Houston, Texas, outlines regulations and guidelines that should be followed for your commercial property’s safety.

In fact, NISTM has a course called “Tanks 101” that provides all the information that you need to know about your above-ground storage tank. The course overview talks about both aboveground and underground tanks in horizontal and vertical configurations.

Here’s a quick rundown of what NISTM has to say. “Having designed and built a good tank, the next problem is to ensure it remains safe and leak-free. The focus is on the well-known tank inspection standard API 653.”

The NISTM also claims that the following basic principles are key to understanding the safety of your above-ground storage tank:

  • “Shell design
  • Floating roofs
  • Foundations
  • Fixed roofs
  • Venting
  • Hydrostatics tests
  • Materials of construction”

As a commercial property owner, it’s important to be aware of these factors when building a new tank so that future inspections run smoothly.

Are you still itching to hear more from NISTM? You’re in luck! NISTM is soon hosting the 14th Annual National Aboveground Storage Tank Conference and Tradeshow this December. Visit the link above to learn more.

Common Challenges with Tank Inspections and Testing

Now for some common challenges regarding tank inspections and testing.

The federal requirements for above-ground storage tanks say there should be frequent inspections and evaluations for any bulk storage container. 

Similarly, The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) provides a downloadable “Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plan (SPCC) Program” that contains a Bulk Storage Container Fact Sheet. 

The fact sheet states you must “determine, in accordance with industry standards, the appropriate qualifications for personnel performing tests and inspections, the frequency and type of testing and inspections, which take into account container size, configuration, and design.”

The EPA also provides the difference between containers, which include:

  • Shop-built
  • Field-erected
  • Skid-mounted
  • Elevated
  • Equipped with liner
  • Double-walled
  • Partially buried

Required Testing 

The inspections that are required for bulk storage containers include: 

  • “Test or inspect each container for integrity on a regular schedule and whenever you make material repairs
  • Frequently inspect the outside of the container for signs of deterioration, discharges, or accumulation of oil inside diked areas. This visual inspection is intended to be a routine walk-around and inside the container’s supports and foundations,
  • You must retain testing and inspection records for 3 years. EPA recommends that formal test records or reports be retained for the life of the container.” 

It’s important to keep reports and inspections organized so you have evidence and reference of inspections that have been performed as well as when the next routine inspection should take place.

Integrity Testing

Some integrity tests that aren’t federally mandated, but HIGHLY encouraged include: 

  • Visual inspections
  • Hydrostatic testing
  • Radiographic testing
  • Ultrasonic testing
  • Acoustic emissions testing
  • Signs of deterioration
  • Accumulation of oil
  • Other systems of non-destructive testing

With the amount of testing that is required for any property or business owner, sometimes reports and small inspections fall through the cracks. 

Additionally, there are frequent changes in industry standards. Take the extra step of checking in with your Fire and Safety Inspection team to ensure all above-ground tank requirements are being met. 

Cargo Crisis got you down? Us too. Learn more about how the cargo crisis might be affecting your industry in the future and why marine safety should be a top priority with a large number of cargo ships currently being stalled.

How long do you keep your safety inspection records and paperwork? It can be tempting to chuck the paperwork into the trash and forget about the details of your inspection.

But, did you know that after a safety inspection of your above-ground tank, you’re supposed to keep those records for a minimum of 3 years?

Check out our recent blog for more inspection guidelines for your commercial property.

sprinkler systems updates in commercial buildings

Scott Santos, our Director of Sprinkler Operations at VFS Fire and Security highlights the changes that have occurred in fire sprinkler systems over the past year. Watch the video below for more information. 

 

Fire Industry Changes

We’ve seen a lot of recent challenging changes in our sprinkler industry including:

  • Finding enough manpower 
  • Finding employees with talent  

Project Shifts 

Types of projects have also changed. We used to have a world where retail and brick and mortar were a big commodity of projects. Today with the uptake of e-commerce and increased online shopping, we’ve seen big changes in the types of projects. For example,  brick and mortar retail spaces are not as prevalent as warehousing. Warehousing now has been pushed up.

Clientele 

Many of our clients are big-box companies that are looking for storage. This means they are searching for warehousing. However, there’s not enough warehousing out here. What we’ve seen in the last two years is that simply rehabilitating buildings, upgrading buildings provides a higher level of storage. Currently, many distribution centers are coming up. The Amazons and the Targets of the world are looking for space and for distribution centers.

So as we look at warehouse spaces, things do change. The solutions to the sprinkler systems definitely change. We need to upgrade them. The systems that are in there now are only as good as the storage that they had previously. As the storage grows in height, and as we start to put more material handling equipment in there, we need to upgrade systems.

Three Sprinkler System Updates

There are three different ways that we usually look at it. The first and easiest way is looking at the systems that are in place already. If we change sprinkler heads and make current ones larger sprinkler heads to provide more water, that’s one way to update the system. 

A second way is to actually upgrade the system for a higher density. Once those higher densities are in there, we must consider if interactive sprinklers or any other sprinklers need to be included that are different from what the system demands.

The third way is we have to consider if they’re storing plastics and higher commodity systems or higher commodities. If so, we need to protect the commodities with ESFR systems. This means early suppression and fast response systems are popular now. Now we’re going into the buildings and tearing out old systems to put in new ones to accommodate what they’re putting in the buildings.

Material Shortage 

As we upgrade these systems, the most challenging part is trying to actually buy materials. There’s a shortage throughout the industry trying to find piping and materials for actual systems. Pricing throughout the industry has also gone through the roof, making purchasing material tough.  

It also costs building owners more money. Many owners want to lease out these buildings to the Amazons, the Targets, or the Sketchers. What’s tough for us is that we’re getting pushed on every project to upgrade this quickly. That’s probably one of the challenges that we’re meeting right now is materials, manpower, and getting things done on time for customers.

One of the things that we’re doing is trying to get contracts in place quickly. And then what we’re able to do is try to go out and procure our materials early. 

So we’re saying, “Hey, if we can buy the materials quickly, then we can have it on site. We’re not having to worry about time spans or how long it’s going to take to get equipment.”

Client Communication

One of the things we’re trying to ensure is going out and purchasing the materials as quickly as possible. On our side, it’s good because we’re getting quicker contracts.

The other solution is just making sure that we communicate well with our clients, to say, “Hey, what exactly are you doing?” 

We make sure that we provide them with the correct systems, the correct products, and that everything that meets their needs because there’s nothing worse than getting something in that doesn’t meet their needs. So we’re really aiming to satisfy our customers. Obviously, our customers are number one, so we’re making sure that we go after them.

How do we train new employees? 

We’ve been able to bring in individuals with less experience. We provide them with a training program or an apprenticeship program that allows them to eventually receive their certification as a pipe fitter. 

In the state of California, they’re required to have a fitter card. So we’re bringing them in, and we’re trying to grow them from down up, right from the bottom up. Let’s get these employees in quickly and train them. It’s a five-year program that develops them and our crew. 

When it comes to manpower, we are aiming at growing within through finding tradesmen. We’re even speaking to high schools, trade schools, or anywhere we can to get somebody interested in the fire protection industry. That’s probably been our biggest gap in this industry throughout the last 30 years. 

At VFS we’re trying to grow, whether through pipefitters, sprinkler designers, fire alarm designers, and beyond, we are looking to grow from within. We do this by providing them with training and continuing to be the best professional company we can be.

Do you know what to do in case of an oil or grease fire? Heads up, don’t throw a bucket of water on it. Learn more about what the right steps are.

Hurricane season preparation

Hurricane Nicholas threatened Texas in September, starting the dreaded hurricane season. Port Houston even closed their terminals to prepare for the tropical storm.

Hurricane Nicholas was a wake-up call that protecting your port and your commercial building by following marine safety is crucial.

Prepping for Hurricane Season

Your commercial building or property is an investment, so losing it in a natural disaster would be catastrophic for your bottom line and building. When it comes to natural disasters, taking preventative measures is key for protecting your commercial property.

All Hands and Hearts provides valuable preventatives for all business owners. Here are a couple of the main points outlined that will help take measures to prepare your commercial property for a hurricane.

Review the Local Authority’s Plan

The Houston Office of Emergency Management lists valuable information for Houston-specific hazards. They also provide lists of items that should be included in a “Stay-at-Home Safety Kit” and a “Shelter-in-Place Kit.” The main hazards that fall under the hurricane warning category are:

Storm Surge

“Along the coast, storm surge is often the greatest threat to life and property from a hurricane. In the past, large death tolls have resulted from the rise of the ocean associated with many of the major hurricanes that have made landfall.”  

Power Outage

“When power lines are brought down by strong winds, falling trees or debris, it may take days, weeks, or longer to get power back up and running.” This website is actively updating power outages and can be a helpful tool for hurricane readiness.

Rainfall Flooding

“Flash flooding, defined as a rapid rise in water levels, can occur quickly due to intense rainfall.”

Wind

“The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage.” 

Create a Plan

Based on the above factors, create an action plan for your marine port or commercial property. Ensure all employees understand this preventative plan thoroughly.

Some factors to consider for a hurricane plan include but are not limited to:

  • A shelter plan
  • Company-wide communication
  • Evacuation route
  • Emergency warnings and alerts. 

Prepare Your Property

A small act of preparation might save your building. When walking through your commercial property, there are a few key steps to take:

  • Clear all gutters and drains
  • Install check valves in plumbing
  • Trim and remove trees close to your building
  • Add sandbags as necessary (water pumps can be covered by water insurance in some cases but is not guaranteed)

Financial Preparation

As a business owner, it is crucial to understand your insurance policies and exactly what is covered. For example, most property insurance policies have a surface water exclusion. Have a safety fund available in case of the worst-case scenario. 

Marine Fire Safety

Port Houston has already experienced the effects of hurricanes, and there are steps to prepare for hurricanes and other natural disasters (well, like fires). 

Some of the key points to remember with marine safety are properly managing your:

  • Certifications and Documents
  • Fire Safety Equipment
  • Hurricane Preparedness Equipment
  • Engine Room Maintenance
  • Deck Maintenance and Crew Readiness
  • Emergency Equipment

This is just a starting point for general marine safety. Read on for more here.

Unfortunately, there is a long list of natural disasters to prepare for, like fires. And news flash, fire suppression and fire sprinklers are not the same thing!

Choose your player… the Best Fire Safety Equipment of 2021

Protecting your commercial building is a huge decision and financial commitment. Here are some of the best options in Southern California for fire prevention. 

Autocall

Autocall believes that people and facilities everywhere deserve to be protected by fire detection systems that deliver unparalleled performance. Backed by a legacy of innovation and invention, Autocall is pushing the industry forward with feature-rich fire detection systems that help to ensure that our customers are safe and their facilities are secure.

AES Corporation

AES Corporation is the leading manufacturer of communication products and services designed for the fire, burglary, and facility applications. Learn how an investment in AES’s wireless mesh telecommunications technology can help you take control of your network, pricing, and future.

Ansul

ANSUL® is a global premium brand of Tyco Fire Protection Products. ANSUL special hazard fire protection products are designed and manufactured to strict standards and tested under the scrutiny of national and international independent testing laboratories and approval agencies.

Kidde Fire Systems

Since 1917, Kidde Fire Systems has been a global leader in fire protection, protecting people, property, and processes from fire hazards. Our fire protection solutions include conventional & intelligent detection and control systems that complement a complete line of fire suppression systems.

Potter

Potter Today, Potter is carrying on the legacy of Charles E. Potter by combining the latest technology in fire protection with the dedicated manpower for which they have been known for over one hundred years. With an unwavering dedication to their customers, Potter looks to continue as the industry standard in both product and service.

Valcom

Valcom’s long tradition of communication leadership and innovation addresses our customers’ most complex communication concerns. Our products are developed based on the customer’s need to relay information rapidly so individuals in various locations throughout an organization receive relevant instructions, and act upon them in emergency situations.

Learn what sprinkler system would work best for commercial buildings here

Best Fire Safety Equipment

How much does a fire alarm system cost?

Well, the short answer is ‘it depends.’

The long answer is that we can help you understand the factors that will influence the cost of a fire alarm system for your commercial property! Let’s get started.

What to Consider

Depending on your property, each of these factors could require different levels and types of fire alarm systems. A good rule of thumb to follow is understanding that the larger and more complex your facility is, the more you will need to invest in your fire protection systems to keep everyone safe in case of an emergency. 

Size of Building

Yes, the cost of a fire alarm system for Knottsberry farms is going to be different than the tiny mom and pop shop on the corner. 

In general, a good rule of thumb to follow is the larger your building, the higher the cost to keep everyone safe in case of an emergency. If the building is older, there will most likely be obstacles for a fire safety crew (like VFS!) to work with.

Additionally, if there are special system preferences and repairs, the cost will reflect this. 

Types of Facilities

The cost of your fire alarm system depends greatly on the environment. Below are some of the more complex environments that may require a little more fire alarm TLC: 

  • Oil Refineries
  • Data Centers
  • Aircraft Hangers
  • Manufacturing & Testing Facilities 
  • Power Generation
  • Healthcare Facilities

What Are You Storing? 

Another big factor in cost depends on what contents you are storing within your facility. More complex environments usually mean high hazard equipment or contents such as: 

  • Chemicals
  • Combustibles
  • Flammable Liquids
  • Corrosives
  • Spray Painting Equipment
  • Welding Equipment

Fire Season 

Fire season is in full swing. As a result, fire safety costs and insurance is going up in price! This can be a factor in how expensive a fire alarm system will cost. This can be another factor in the cost of your fire protection. 

There are different aspects that will contribute to the cost of a fire alarm system like: 

  • Where is it? 
  • What state? 
  • How big is the building?

Depending on these factors, additional monthly fees could apply. 

Looking for more specifics about your commercial or educational building? Reach out to VFS Fire and Security Services today to learn more information. For more on the different fire sprinkler systems available to you, read on here. (Psst! Fire suppression and fire sprinklers are not the same!)

News Flash! Fire Suppression and Fire Sprinklers Are Not the Same!

Your general thought process might look something like this: “Water puts out fires, so sprinklers must be a type of fire suppression, right?”

Wrong. 

There is a difference between fire suppression and fire sprinklers, and VFS Fire & Security Services is here to help figure out which fire safety measures are right for your commercial building!

Fire Suppression

Fire suppression systems are considered one of our specialties at VFS. Fire suppression systems are used to extinguish or control fires and are activated by heat, smoke, or a combination of the two.

These systems are typically found in places like museums, libraries, data centers, and archives. Unlike wet-pipe sprinkler systems, suppression systems use gaseous, chemical or foam agents to suppress the fire, rather than water. 

This aids in the preservation of sensitive equipment and content within a particular environment. There are many different applications of fire suppression depending on the area in which these systems are housed. There are various types of fire suppression systems.

Clean Agent 

Clean agent fire suppression, is a term used to describe the use of inert gases to extinguish a fire. These systems all have three main components: 

  • Smoke Detector
  • Control Panel
  • Notification Devices

When the smoke detector is triggered, it sends a signal to the control panel which then alerts the notification devices, activating the release device to suppress the fire. 

Clean agent fire suppression systems are fast-acting and most effective in protecting sensitive equipment and environments because they are designed to suppress the fire in its incipient stage. They are electronically nonconducting and unlike water, they won’t ruin electrical components or electronics. 

They are most often found in server rooms, record/file repositories, and data centers that require an increased level of protection to prevent unnecessary and accidental discharge of systems.

The Details

  • Inert gases: Nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide work together by lowering oxygen content in a room below the level that supports combustion, while still allowing a person to breathe keeping your environment and your personnel safe.
  • Fluorocarbon-based extinguishers are described as “clean agents” as they do not leave any oily residues, particulates or water damage and rapidly extinguish fires with a superb weight to effectiveness ratio. These extinguishing agents are also safe to use in occupied spaces and offer unique advantages in speed, performance, and safety.

CO2 Systems

C02 is an effective method of extinguishing a wide range of flammable and combustible materials in both surface and deep-seated fires. Carbon dioxide is a colorless and odorless three-dimensional clean agent. It is typically harmless to equipment, materials, and property preventing excessive damage to equipment to your facility in the event of a discharge.

There are high and low-pressure CO2 systems. High-pressure systems use individual storage cylinders ranging from 35 lbs to 120 lbs. Low-pressure C02 systems are ideal for non-occupied fire hazards requiring large amounts of extinguishing agents in a limited space. 

Wet Chemical 

Extinguishing methods of wet chemical suppression systems are specific to the type of cooking fires that may occur in a commercial kitchen. When triggered, the system discharges immediately with a liquid that, when sprayed onto the fire, cools the flames almost instantaneously.

When this liquid comes into contact with the oils and fats it creates a foam, subsequently cooling the affected area and preventing the spread and from the potential of reigniting. 

Dry Chemical

Dry chemical is a type of fire protection system that makes use of a dry chemical powder to extinguish a fire. Most dry chemical fire suppression systems use a large tank that is filled with dry chemical powder, which is then pressurized. 

There are other types of fire suppression systems (including pre-engineered system applications and water mist systems), but what’s the difference between suppression and sprinkler systems? 

Fire Sprinkler Systems

The biggest difference between the suppression systems already mentioned and sprinkler systems is the use of water instead of foam. 

All sprinkler systems are designed and engineered in different ways depending on the environment, the assets being stored in a particular space, and NFPA requirements and specifications. 

The methods of activation vary depending on the system but one thing is for sure-fire sprinkler systems are designed to protect your assets by controlling and extinguishing fires!

The different types of fire sprinkler systems include: 

  • Wet Pipe
  • Dry Pipe
  • Pre Action
  • Deluge
  • Foam Water Systems
  • Fire Pumps
  • Fire Backflow

There are a lot of factors that go into commercial sprinkler systems. Learn more details about the different types of sprinkler systems on our blog.