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Fire Safety Tips for Commercial Property Owners

By Jackie Berens

Fire Safety Tips for Commercial Property Owners

Eyewash stations are not just for getting Del Fuego out of your eyes (We get it… we love Taco Bell too)

Commercial Property Owners: Ensuring your building remains safe from harm is essential to your ongoing success. The foundation of your building safety protocol is fire safety. According to Chad Connor at AZ Big Media, about 120,000 commercial property fires occurred in 2019, resulting in $4.3 billion in property damage, 1,200 injuries, and 110 deaths. In order to ensure your commercial property isn’t included in that number, you need to put the proper fire safety precautions in place. 

Start with regular inspections

Safety alert lights, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and sprinkler systems must be inspected on a regular basis. Each fire protection system requires a different maintenance schedule. It’s important to stay on top of your inspection schedule in order to ensure your property remains up to code and safe for its occupants. 

  • NFPA 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems
  • NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code
  • NFPA 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers
  • NFPA 17A Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems (Kitchen Systems)
  • NFPA 17 Standard for Dry Chemical Extinguishing Systems (Paint Spray Booths)
  • NFPA 2001 Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems

At VFS, we assist our clients in maintaining their inspection schedules to ensure ongoing fire and life safety success. As a business owner, it’s important that you or your facilities manager are present for all inspections. Knowing the overall health of your facility allows you to plan for future expenses and report accurate safety updates to your insurers. 

Ensure you have the proper fire protection systems in place for your unique business

Your commercial property is unique to the needs of your business. Similarly, the necessary fire protection is unique to your commercial property. Understanding what fire protection systems you need in place to ensure your building remains safe is essential. Here are a few fire protection systems you may need to consider:

  • Smoke management systems
  • Automatic closing doors
  • Private fire hydrants
  • Fire alarm systems
  • Communication systems
  • Emergency generator and standby power systems
  • Sprinkler Systems
  • Standpipe systems
  • Pressurized stair shaft
  • Elevators automatic Phase 1 & 2
  • Fire extinguishers
  • Fire pumps

Maintain proper signage throughout the building

Indoor and outdoor signage is essential to the safety of your building. Firefighters cannot do their job if they do not have access to equipment and pathways to access the emergency. Floors and rooms should be clearly mapped, access to specific areas like the roof should be clearly labeled, and fire safety equipment and hazardous materials need to be identified. 

Occupants cannot get to safety without understanding where the nearest exit is. Exit lighting can be an overlooked area of your fire safety. When a fire begins, the conditions will likely induce chaos and confusion. Smoke can cause occupants’ vision to be obscured and make it difficult to navigate around the office space. Ensure all exit signs are illuminated and easy to read. Consider auditory alerts as well as visual alerts for those who are visually impaired or in the case of heavy smoke. 

Communicate your emergency action plan with employees

Written emergency action plans are a vital part of ensuring your employees know what to do if an emergency occurs. These plans should cover actions both employers and employees should take to remain safe during fire emergencies. It should include the equipment that needs to be shut down, escape routes, and when and where manual fire suppression efforts should take place. 

Ensure the management team occupying your building reviews the emergency action plan with all employees at various times throughout their time in the building. It should be reviewed when it’s developed, when employee’s responsibilities change, and when the plan changes. 

Ensure you have special hazard protection in place if necessary.

Special hazard protection is not a commonly discussed fire safety topic. Ensuring buildings are up to special hazard standards takes a very specialized skill set to perform. 

Custom fire and life safety doesn’t stop with fire suppression and sprinkler systems.   Emergency eyewash stations or emergency showers are a vital part of certain special hazardous situations.  In cases where chemicals are in play, eyewash stations are a critical safety element. 

At VFS, we pride ourselves on our expertise when it comes to special hazard protection. We understand that special hazard safety begins with the integration of custom fire sprinkler systems, special hazard solutions, and fire alarms. 

Active vs. Passive Fire Protection

By Jackie Berens

Active vs. Passive Fire Protection

When your wife says “I’m fine…” How to put out fires (because your relationship is about to go up in flames)

As a husband, the last thing you want to hear is your wife passive-aggressively saying “I’m fine…” You know exactly what that means- it’s time to put out a figurative fire because your relationship is about to go up in flames. As a building owner, the flames you need to avoid aren’t quite as figurative. 

In order to fight very real fires that can occur in your building, you need to implement proper fire protection systems. Both active and passive fire protection systems are necessary to keep your building, and more importantly, your people safe from harm. 

What is passive fire protection?

The word ‘passive’ has a connotation that the object in question is something that is not expected to produce results. Your wife’s passive-aggressive comments beg to differ, and so do your passive fire protection systems.  In fact, passive fire protection (pfp) can be equally, if not more, effective than active fire protection. 

Passive fire protection systems are stationary materials designed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke. These systems help keep the fire in its original area, therefore, stopping it from spreading throughout the building. The combination of active and passive fire protection systems can help put out fires faster and stop additional damage from occurring. 

These fire protection systems are typically built into your building. When looking to renovate or build on a property, there is a lot of careful planning needed to ensure your building has these passive fire protection systems in place. Our team can help your team design and plan your construction in order to ensure building safety. For example, using cinder block walls as opposed to traditional wood-frame walls help to reduce the spread of flames. 

However, passive systems can still be added after construction. Structures like smoke baffles, fire doors, and fire-resistant glass partitions can be installed after construction has been completed. 

The objective of a passive fire protection system is to hold the smoke and flames in one contained area. They can also be used to channel the flames out of the building. When you have passive fire protection systems in place, fires that do occur are easier to extinguish. 

What is active fire protection?

With an active fire protection (afp) system, some kind of action is taking place. Whether it is manual or automatic, these systems deploy once fire, smoke, or heat is detected. These systems are designed to help combat the fire, and help put it out. 

Most buildings are equipped with a few active systems that can be deployed onsite during a fire.

Smoke Detectors

Smoke detectors activate when there is smoke in the building. These detectors typically utilize noise and light to alert occupants in the building of the potential fire. 

Fire Extinguishers

Are manually operated active fire protection measures. These help occupants put out small fires within the building. 

Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler systems are active fire protection systems that automatically activate to help put out the fire while building occupants move to safety. These systems trigger when the heat from the fire causes the sprinkler head to open. There are various types of fire sprinkler systems that can be beneficial for your business. 

Understanding your unique business needs is exactly what we do at VFS. Our in-house teams help with construction services, special hazard needs, inspection maintenance, and preventative maintenance. We are your partner in success. 

Ventilation Systems

Ventilation systems help direct smoke out of the building and away from the occupants. 

These active fire protection systems are typically installed based on certain legal criteria such as occupancy and building size. Higher than average risk areas, such as areas with flames or cooking implements might require additional active systems for added protection. 

How do passive and active fire protection measures work together?

A combined effort of passive and active systems is essential to the safety of your building and its occupants. Active systems effectively help occupants evacuate or fight the flames, these systems typically have a greater likelihood of error. 

Passive systems should be installed throughout the building as a way to support active systems. A great example of passive and active systems working together is smoke curtains. These passive fire protection systems help direct smoke toward vents, where smoke can leave the building. Passive systems can also help force flames and smoke to remain in one area.

New buildings should implement these passive fire protection systems into the design and build phase of construction. Our Design/Build team at VFS can help ensure your building is protected from harm when it is finished. Older buildings, which do not have these passive systems built-in, can be retrofitted with smoke curtains and panels as an added layer of protection. 

Active and passive fire protection systems together can prevent expensive damages, catastrophic injuries, and potential loss of life. Implementing both systems into your building is essential to the safety of your building. 

At VFS, we believe in helping your company meet the needs of your unique building. Every building is different, every building needs different protection systems in place. Our teams think creatively to come up with solutions that ensure your building remains safe from harm. Reach out to us today to see how we can help your business today! 

Your V-Day Building Fire Protection Checklist

By Jackie Berens

Your V-Day Building Fire Protection Checklist

It May Not Be Romantic, But It Can Be Life-Saving

Valentine’s Day is here and love is in the air. While it’s easy to get swept up in the romance, it’s important to ensure that the air remains clear of smoke. Before lighting the candles and sitting down for dinner, make sure your building is protected. 

The four main goals of fire protection are:

  1. Prevent a Fire From Starting
  2. Prevent Loss of Life When a Fire Does Start
  3. Confine the Fire to Its Origin
  4. Extinguish the Fire

VFS provides systems that can quickly alert everyone that a fire is in the building and to help stop the fire in its tracks. There are many types of fire protection systems in buildings and we can make sure yours are cutting edge. When you need fire protection, you need it to be the best. 

Keep the Flame Alive, Not Ablaze

The first of the four goals of fire protection is to prevent fires from starting in the first place. This is accomplished through cautious actions and awareness of people in the building. Informing building occupants of common fire risks can help them avoid risky mistakes. 

Common Valentine’s Day Firestarters

  • Candles and fireplaces provide light, warmth, and they set the mood for a romantic night — but they can also be a hazard. Many fires begin in the bedroom, usually because candles are too close to bedding, mattresses, or upholstered furniture that easily lights on fire. 
  • Cooking fires are incredibly common and are often the result of an unattended stove. When pouring your heart into a Valentine’s Day dinner for your significant other, make sure to stay in the kitchen and practice caution.
  • Helium balloons are a delightful surprise, but try to keep them inside. If they float away, they may hit a power line on the way. This can cause a small explosion that melts the electric wire and leads it to fall. The fallen electrical wire can spark a fire. 

Posting warnings around flammable objects can bring awareness and help prevent the romantic gesture from blowing up in your face.  

Smoke Alarms May Kill the Mood, But They’re Vital

It’s not romantic music, but a smoke alarm will respond to fire and smoke to alert everyone in the building that it’s time to leave. While preventing fires altogether is preferable, planning for the event of a fire is an essential step to save lives. 

Both automatic and manual smoke alarms play an important role in a timely evacuation. To prevent the loss of life during a fire, having a highly responsive alarm system can make all the difference. If your alarm systems haven’t been updated for a while, they may not work properly. We’ll make sure your fire alarm system is fully functional and ready to alert you. 

What’s Your Sign? Safe Fire Exits

Once the alarm is going, people need to know where to exit. Having properly marked fire exits expedites the escape plan. Even if you go over a fire safety plan together, the plan can fly out the window in the panic of the moment. 

Clearly marking exits and exit routes can guide people to safety, even when it’s hard to process the situation. LED fire exit signs can easily be seen through smoke and show people where to go. Multiple signs leading the way to the fire exit are helpful in larger buildings where the exit sign may not be visible from down a hallway.  

What’s More Romantic Than Showering Together?

Sprinkler systems are a vital part of stopping fires. Automatic fire sprinkler systems reduce fatalities by 87% when compared to properties without any fire sprinklers. Sprinklers help prevent the spread of fire and confine the blaze to its area of origin. 

Fire sprinkler systems are highly effective at controlling fires and keeping them from growing. They’re triggered individually when the heat of a room reaches a certain temperature, activating the sprinkler. Not all sprinklers will be activated at once, so water damage is minimized. 

If your fire sprinkler systems aren’t checked often, they may not work when they’re needed most. VFS can help you ensure your sprinkler system is functioning properly so your building will be protected in the worst-case scenario. Our inspection and maintenance teams are prepared to help keep your building up to NFPA and local codes. Inspection and maintenance is essential to ensuring your sprinkler and fire alarm systems are functioning properly when you need them most. 

Light a Spark in Your Love Life, Not in Your Building

Building fire systems are essential for keeping your romantic night from going up in flames. While they may not be used very often, the importance of protection can’t be overstated. Top-tier fire protection is better to have and not need than need and not have. 

So before the mood heats up this Valentine’s Day, make sure your building won’t. These tips can keep the romance — as well as everyone in the building — alive and well.

How to Keep your Commercial Kitchen Safe Even During COVID

By Jackie Berens

How to Keep your Commercial Kitchen Safe Even During COVID

UberEats is still a thing… how to keep your commercial kitchen safe even during COVID 

Though COVID may have your indoor dining capabilities on hold, the risk of kitchen fires remains. With DoorDash, Postmates, UberEats, and other take-out and delivery services, your kitchen can still be up and running! With cooking equipment being the leading cause of fires, with 61% of incidents, it’s important your kitchen remains safe with the proper equipment in place.

While fire may be essential to your kitchen’s functionality, it’s important that you don’t let that fire let loose on your personnel. Here are a few ways you can protect your kitchen today:

Ensure your cooking equipment is maintained. 

The majority of restaurant fires are due to cooking equipment. Ensure your equipment is in proper working condition and is fitted with suppression systems. Suppression systems can be extremely beneficial, as they shut down gas and electrical when a fire occurs. 

The suppression system’s ability to shut down gas and electricity can be the difference between a flare-up and a devastating fire. It’s important as a business owner to have their fire suppression systems inspected by professionals. 

Provide training for your employees.

Be sure your kitchen staff is informed on the proper fire safety and protocols in place to protect their wellbeing. In a kitchen, there are various types of fires that can occur, be sure your employees know how to handle each fire with care. 

In kitchens, grease fires are common, meaning your employees need to know what to do and what not to do during a grease fire. The nature of grease fires causes a reaction with fire, therefore the flames spread higher and can cause more injury. The best way to handle a grease fire is to smother it, if it can be done safely. 

Another aspect of training that is essential is how to prevent fires before they occur. In order for the kitchen staff to perform their duties in a safe way, they must maintain good practices within the kitchen. 

Ensure you have a proper escape plan in place

Illustrating an escape plan that puts your people out of harm’s way should be a top priority. When a fire grows uncontrollably, your employees need to get out. It should be designed to avoid a crowd of people, and ensure no injury is caused to all those leaving the restaurant. 

Clean up grease

Cleaning your kitchen is an essential part of fire safety for your business. Grease is extremely flammable and extremely dangerous as we mentioned above. When fires get out of control, it looks for a source of combustible energy… aka grease. It literally acts as fuel to the fire. Make sure your team has a thorough and regular cleaning schedule that includes cleaning off all built-up grease from surfaces.

One important place your team needs to clean grease is the ventilation system. This system is one of the most volatile and can multiply the effect of the fire. The ventilation serves as a trap for grease, smoke, and particles that are extremely combustible. Per the NFPA fire code, the hood, fan, and ductwork should be inspected and cleaned regularly. 

Be sure your sprinkler system works effectively.

Your kitchen’s sprinkler system will kick in when a fire gets large enough to activate sprinkler systems. These systems are triggered by smoke from the fire, so it is essential they are working properly. 

While fire sprinkler systems are the last defense against an out of control kitchen fire, they can be extremely effective in saving your building. All employees should be out of the kitchen at the point the sprinklers can be the difference between a burned kitchen and a burned down restaurant. 

Have extinguishers… and then have backup extinguishers

Fast-acting crew members are sometimes needed to help douse the flames and extinguish the fire. Ensure your fire extinguishers are clearly marked and in an accessible area for your team members. These extinguishers need to be inspected regularly by both your building manager as well as an expert inspector. 

Be sure all flammable material is away from flames

As we stated above, fire needs fuel. Once it begins to grow, it will continue if given the proper fuel. Within a kitchen, a fire can get out of control by being close to flammable materials that shouldn’t be close to the flames.

Flammable materials that may cause harm are items like food, clothing, paper, or towels. If your kitchen remains organized, you should be in good shape to prevent potential fires. 

Lastly, watch electrical cords within the kitchen area

Electrical equipment causes a large amount of fires, both within the kitchen and outside the kitchen. Within the kitchen, there are a lot of electrical appliances. When simultaneously running appliances, your restaurant’s electrical system can be burdened, leading to a fire.

Over time, electrical cables can fray and melt. Poorly designed outlets can become damaged. These damages can cause the equipment to malfunction. Inform your employees to look out for obvious damage and report it to management right away. 

At VFS, we understand how important your fire safety systems are to the wellbeing of your employees and the survival of your building. Because of this, we implement the specific fire and security systems needed for your unique building. 

We also provide inspections, testing, and maintenance of fire sprinkler and fire alarm systems, All inspections are conducted by VFS trained personnel as outlined by the requirements of the NFPA and local codes. 

Following every inspection, our staff will submit a report listing any changes or corrections that need to be made in order to ensure continued compliance. Your success is our success. We want to make sure your people and buildings remain safe. Contact us today to learn more! 

Your 2021 Fire protection checklist

By Jackie Berens

Your 2021 Fire Protection Checklist

It’s a new year… you’ve already skipped the gym don’t skip on your fire protection. Here’s a checklist to help

We’re four days into the new year, if you haven’t already ditched your resolutions, you’re amazing. We’re not going to lie… we snuck a piece of chocolate cake after dinner last night. While a piece of chocolate cake, or a day off of the gym won’t seriously harm your wellbeing, there is one resolution you can’t forget about- fire protection for your building.

This year, it’s time to make fire protection a top priority. That being said, we’ve come up with a few items that should be on the top of your mind if you’re committed to fire safety. 

First, ensure your building has a clear path of egress/ exit. 

Identifying the ‘means of egress’ from your building is essential to keeping your employees safe from harm. Properly designed exits provide a safe path of escape from a fire or other emergency environments. The design of the exit should permit all occupants to reach a safe place before they are endangered by fire, smoke, or heat. The goal of an effective means of egress is to get everyone out of hazardous areas in the shortest amount of time possible.

A few components make up the means of egress, including exit access, exit, and exit discharge.

  • Exit access is the travel path or area between where a person is located and an exit.
  • Exit is the portion of the means of egress that is separated by construction or equipment from other areas of the building. Components of an exit include walls, floors, doors, etc. An exit may include vertical or horizontal means of travel, like stairways, ramps, and passageways. It is important to note that elevators are not accepted as exits!
  • Exit discharge is the portion of a means of egress between the end of the exit and a public way or other safe places.

As a building manager or owner, it is important that you self-inspect these means of egress. In doing this, you need to make sure each component is easily identifiable, visible, accessible, and unobstructed. The door must operate in the direction of the exit so people won’t be trapped inside. 

Next, check your electrical wiring and power cords.

NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC) ensures all wiring and electrical installations comply with regulations. Building owners and managers do not need to be an expert in electrical code, however there are a few things you should be on the lookout for to be cautious!

The first thing you should do to ensure your electrical wiring is safe is to ensure all electrical boxes, switches, and outlets have their covers in place. Also, be sure to check that extension cords are in good condition and free of any cuts or splices. Extension cords should never be a substitute for permanent wiring, they are only permitted to be used with temporary equipment. 

Surge protectors must be connected directly to an outlet and, like extension cords, cannot be attached to the structure, extend through walls or the ceilings, be run under doors, or be covered by floor coverings.

The last item to check in the electrical wiring category is electrical panel boxes. Electrical panel boxes and main building disconnect must be identified and accessible for fire department personnel. All panels and breakers must be labeled and open spaces should have proper covers in place. 

Good housekeeping is essential– no we’re not talking about dusting and mopping. 

In the ‘fire safety’ sense, housekeeping refers to the general condition of the building and the items stored within it. Be sure you properly dispose of flammables, combustibles, trash, and debris, and ensure these items do not accumulate. Flammables and combustible liquids must be stored in approved containers and cabinets and should be clearly labeled to avoid accidental ignition. 

Electrical, boiler and HVAC rooms cannot be used for storage and must remain clear of items that are not essential to the operation of the equipment within them. 

Ensure fire sprinkler systems run effectively in between inspections

Fire sprinkler systems must meet NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-based Fire Protection Systems requirements. These standards require that different parts of the sprinkler systems receive inspections in quarterly, semi-annual, annual, and five-year intervals. 

The inspections are performed by the fire protection contractors and other qualified personnel. As a building owner or manager, you do not have to directly handle any of the actual inspections. However, as a building owner, there are a few things you can do to ensure these inspections run efficiently and effectively, starting with scheduling the inspection appointments when due!

Once you receive an inspection, you must maintain the report and other documentation, as well as ensure all problems found are repaired as soon as possible. 

A building owner or manager can utilize a simple visual inspection to ensure these systems run effectively between inspections. First, ensure that no items are stored within 18” of any sprinkler head. Next, ensure all sprinkler heads are free of paint and corrosion and nothing is attached to them. If you come across violations of these requirements during your visual inspections, the issues should be reported and remedied immediately. 

Fire alarm maintenance and inspections

Under NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code all fire alarm systems must be inspected, tested, and maintained at semi-annual, annual, and even quarterly intervals. Like sprinkler systems, these inspections are done by trained and certified inspection personnel. Fire alarm system experts are trained in the inspection, maintenance, and testing of a particular brand of fire alarm systems. 

As a building owner, your responsibility is to maintain all reports and correct any deficiencies noted. Building owners and managers can also make sure the fire alarm panel is accessible, the location is labeled, and all documentation is maintained and available. Manual pull stations should be visible and accessible. All alerts should be reported to the alarm company so that any issues can be addressed quickly. 

Lastly, look at your fire extinguisher. 

NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers illustrates the requirements to select, place, test, and maintain fire extinguishers. A trained and certified expert must perform annual inspection and maintenance. Additionally, building owners are responsible for inspecting all extinguishers once a month.

The inspection requires that extinguishers are visible and accessible. They must also be free of rust, damage, and the gauge read in the “green” operation level. Additionally, all extinguishers must mount on the wall. The weight of the extinguisher determines the appropriate height of placement: 40 lbs or less may be installed at 5 feet above the floor. Any heavier should sit at a maximum height of 3 ½ feet. The base must be at least 4 inches above the floor. 

As you look to ensure your fire safety in your building for the new year, start by utilizing this checklist! Ensuring you remain prepared for the unexpected is the first step to ensuring the safety of your people and your building’s safety.

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Fire Safety Tips for Commercial Property Owners
Fire Safety Tips for Commercial Property Owners
Active vs. Passive Fire Protection
Active vs. Passive Fire Protection
Your V-Day Building Fire Protection Checklist
Your V-Day Building Fire Protection Checklist
How to Keep your Commercial Kitchen Safe Even During COVID
How to Keep your Commercial Kitchen Safe Even During COVID
Your 2021 Fire protection checklist
Your 2021 Fire Protection Checklist