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Fire Safety Audits for your Industrial Property

By Becca Jones

Fire Safety Audits for your Industrial Property: Your Complete Guide

Your palms are sweating, you’re biting your nails, what’s that? It’s time for your industrial property’s fire safety audit! Geez, it’s like you’re taking an exam back in high school! But it doesn’t have to be such a stress.

At VFS Fire & Security Services, we are experts in industrial fire protection. Whether your fire audit is for a health care center, school, oil and gas facility, or even a vessel, we’ve got you covered. But first, let’s talk about fire safety audits, why they’re important, and what to expect during yours.

What is a Fire Safety Audit?

A fire safety audit is a necessary examination of a building or structure and its relevant fire safety documents. A fire safety audit measures how well your building—whether it be a business, school, health care center, and so on—is managed in regards to fire safety. Legally, buildings must comply with a set of building codes and ordinances to keep their occupants safe. A fire safety audit ensures you are doing so and calculates the potential risk factor in a given premise.

Why Fire Safety Audits?

Fire can be an extremely detrimental force not only to people but also to a business or organization. Whether small or large, the damage from fire to a building is often irrevocable without a large financial cost.

Fire safety audits are often pre-arranged and are preventive at heart. They help building owners and managers to identify potential fire hazards and to make the necessary changes. For those who choose not to comply with fire safety audits and guidelines, the punishment is substantial: typically a large fine or in some cases, time in prison.

Although this routine audit might feel like a hassle in your tight schedule, there’s no such thing as being too safe.

What to Expect During Your Fire Safety Audits

Each fire safety audit will vary, of course, depending on your organization and building. In all audits, however, you will be asked to provide all relevant fire safety documents. This might include:

  • Evacuation Protocol
  • Fire Risk Assessment
  • Fire Drill and Staff Fire Training Records
  • Proof that Preventative Fire Systems have been tested (fire detection, alarms, sprinklers, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, ventilation, firefighting equipment, electrical wiring, and so on)
  • List of potentially dangerous substances in building or on grounds
  • Fire Safety Maintenance Checklist

During your fire safety audit, you can anticipate a walk-through inspection with your examiner, and for said examiner to speak with others on the premise to validate the fire safety information that you’ve provided.

Here, we’ve compiled a brief summary of what to expect in different industrial properties: health care, education, oil and gas, and marine.

Health Care

Fire safety audits for health care are especially important considering a large number of people in health care facilities at any given time. This considered you should be familiar with the inspection and auditing processes—yay! Here’s a rundown of what you can expect:

During your visual inspection, the examiner will take occupancy limits and clear exit paths into a special account. That means no electrical wiring hanging around from equipment! Hazardous materials, chemicals, and extinguishers are to be stored properly and in correct locations.

Considering the number of patients in a building, your examiner will pay special attention to your evacuation plan, policies, and maps posted. Additionally, your examiner will need proof of your fire drills, which are to be held annually if not quarterly in your building.

Lastly, the audit will cover disaster protocols and preparation. This includes effective parking measures (i.e. can make clear, unobstructed use of fire hydrants and lanes) and questioning employees about the health care center’s fire safety measures. To ace your audit, ensure all employees are undergoing periodic fire training and drills.

Education

There’s nothing scarier than the thought of our children being unsafe! Fire safety is extremely important in schools, especially considering the wide variety of ages and abilities in a school. Requirements for educational fire protection, in most states, are based on NFPA codes. Here are some pointers of what to expect in an educational fire safety audit:

Educational facilities hold strict requirements on space. According to the NFPA, your examiner will ensure that there are at least 20 square feet per person. Space requirements influence how and where students can be in a building. For example, certain aged children cannot be on the second floor.

Schools additionally are required to have proper fire detection systems, fire sprinkler systems, and extinguishers. Routine fire drills are a regular and necessary part of educational fire safety, and all schools must have an approved emergency action plan (EAP).

And of course, examiners pay special attention to exits, flammability and amount of decor and artwork, flammable materials, and areas of assembly.

Oil and Gas

Considering the high number of petrochemicals at an oil and gas facility—not to mention their high level of combustion—the biggest danger here is fire. Oil and gas facilities are extremely high risk, so here are some tips to successfully prepare for your fire safety adult:

We already know that properly working fire detection systems and alarms are a legal essential but have you considered installing a mass notification system? This way, a message or call can be sent out to your employees, notifying them of a potential fire or dangerous system.

Similarly, installing a gas monitoring system is a great step. Gases are often, at oil and gas facilities, highly flammable and the reason for combustion. A gas monitoring system can work to reduce fire by tracking dangerous gas levels.

During your fire safety audit, an examiner will be looking to ensure your facility go through routine inspections and drills. Additionally, they will ensure that your employees are informed on what to do in case of an emergency. A fire brings enough chaos of its own. Additionally, implementing on-site emergency equipment is a wise choice, as often, emergency services get there after much damage has been done. If, however, you make this choice, ensure your employees have been properly trained on how and when to use said equipment.

Marine

We know, we can’t believe it either… fire on water! But it’s more common than you’d think. There are a lot of boxes to be checked when it comes to keeping your maritime operations safe. Let’s get you thinking about the current safety of your marine operations with a checklist.

For starters, there is a long, varying list of certificates and documents that are to be carried on board at all times. This might include a Cargo Ship Safety Equipment or Passenger Ship Safety Certificate, servicing records including proof of fire extinguisher servicing and pressure tests, a damage control manual, records of testing, drills, and maintenance, and a variety of training manuals.

Of course, let’s not forget safety equipment that must be carried and inspected during your audit.

  • Sprinkler Systems
  • Ventilators and Fire Dampers
  • Proper fire detection and fire alarms
  • Properly installed extinguishing systems
  • Personal Equipment, including fire fighting protective wear, SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus), and EEBDs (emergency escape breathing devices)
  • Properly functioning gas and CO2 systems

Additionally, pathways must be always free of obstruction and clearly marked in the case of evacuation. Doors must always only be held open by approved methods.

Approximately 90% of marine fires start in the engine room, so be sure that this will be a big check zone during your audit, including your engine room’s fire pumps, emergency shutdowns and valves, high-pressure fuel lines, and main zones

Lastly, ensure your crew is familiar with the use of these fire protection systems and able to abandon ship if necessary. You should perform fire drills routinely. Preparation is key for tip-top marine fire safety! As for deck safety, structures in place might include a variety of paint lockers, ventilators, and international shore connections.

Emergency equipment, including emergency generators, batteries, pumps, and tankers, however, must be properly maintained, inspected, and ready to be used at any given moment. Now go ace that audit!

What Happens Next?

Well, this depends on how well your audit went and how your structure scored! With VFS by your side, we promise you’ll get a gold star!

You should receive a report after your audit is conducted. This will contain any findings from your walk-through and action steps for you to take. These action steps will address any ways in which your building might be deemed unsafe and identify a solution. Typically, minor breaches in fire safety law are informal and the examiner will set a deadline as to when the issue needs to be fixed. On the other hand, if your breach is more serious or if the property is categorized as dangerous, building access can be revoked or prosecution can occur.

At VFS Fire & Security Services, we know that there is nothing more important than keeping people safe—and we have the expertise and the tools to do so. Don’t get caught up in a fine, serving time in prison, or worst of all, putting individuals in danger. Contact us today to see how we can help make your fire safety audits a breeze!

Fire Protection for Education Buildings

By Becca Jones

Fire Protection for Education Buildings

While the kids are away the fire protection must stay

It’s SPRING BREAK! Woohooo! But before you go off to the beaches, ensure your building remains protected. What do you know about fire protection for education buildings? Though the kids may be away, the fire protection must stay.

Educational facilities have a few specific regulations when it comes to fire protection since so many lives need to be protected at all times. What fire protection systems do you need to be aware of?

Educational facilities’ minimum fire protection and life safety requirements are outlined in NFPA 101: Life Safety Code. In this code, educational occupancies are defined as “any building used for educational purposes through the twelfth grade by six or more persons for four or more hours per day or more than 12 hours per week.” This is expanded to include preschools and kindergartens that meet these requirements:

  • The purpose is primarily educational, even though the children who attend such schools are of preschool age.
  • The children are all 24 months of age or older.

What requirements are included for educational facilities?

Space Requirements

Determining your code requirements for your specific facility starts with the capacity of your building. According to NFPA 101, the capacity of a building is assessed by calculating the occupant load of the space, which means how large the area needs to be based on the total number of people in the school. To remain compliant with the occupant load required, you need to plan for at least 20 square feet per person. 

This code provides information on where and how students can be located throughout your building. Younger children must be located closer to the ground floor in order to make evacuation easier and more efficient. Specifically, classrooms for preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade must be on the level of exit discharge. Classrooms for second-grade can be located no more than one floor above the level of exit discharge.

What is the level of exit discharge?

The level of exit discharge is defined as “the story that is either the lowest story from which not less than 50% of the required number of exits and not less than 50 % of the required egress capacity from such a story discharge directly outside at the finished ground level; or where no story meets the conditions of item (1), the story that is provided with one or more exits that discharge directly to the outside to the finished ground level via the smallest elevation change.”

Finally, for education facilities, flexible and open floor plans that have more than 300 students per room, require at least 2 means of egress. They must open to separate atmospheres. It’s important that your local fire marshal or authority with jurisdiction signs off on these floor plans and configurations. 

Operations and Planning

Education facilities are required to have an emergency action plan in place to ensure the inhabitants of the building remain safe from harm. The emergency action plan should illustrate a plan for various emergency situations. As you work to prep this plan, ensure you consider common emergencies, as well as area-related emergencies. On a basic level, without area-specific emergencies in mind, you should include the following in your action plan:

  • A procedure for reporting emergencies
  • Evacuation, relocation, and shelter-in-place procedures
  • Elevator use details
  • Occupant and staff response information
  • The design and conduct of fire drills
  • The various fire protection systems and their coverage areas
  • Other information required by local jurisdiction and fire authority

It’s important that you define which administrators will be responsible for the emergency action plan creation process and which positions will be responsible for managing it in the event of an emergency. Educational facilities should conduct and document fire and emergency egress drills at least once per month when school is in session. In these drills, all building occupants must participate and all alarms must be activated.

Staff members should inspect all exit areas, and ensure all stairwells, doors, and exit passageways are clear, unobstructed, and in proper working condition. Ensure all these inspections are documented. 

For schools, there are very specific requirements when it comes to what can go on the walls. Fire code only allows for 20% of a wall area to be covered with art and paper products, as they are extremely flammable. If fire sprinklers are installed throughout the school, that coverage can be increased to 50% of the wall area.

Fire Safety Equipment

Ensure you have proper fire safety equipment in place to keep your building and your faculty, staff, and students safe from harm. Let’s dive into what equipment is essential to the safety of your building and your people. 

Fire alarm systems

Educational facilities typically require fire alarm systems. Small facilities that are no larger than 1,000 square feet, with a single classroom, and located further than 30 feet from another building can be without fire alarms. For example, this includes mobile or portable buildings that are utilized as classrooms and spaced 30 feet from the school and other mobile classrooms.

There are multiple exceptions and specifications depending on specific facility needs that may affect your fire alarm system implementation. This may include the elimination of manual alarm pull stations or the addition of a mass notification or emergency alarm communication system. In order to understand your specific building needs, contact your authority having jurisdiction or a fire safety expert, like our team at VFS!

Fire Sprinkler Systems

A building greater than 1.000 square feet with multiple rooms requires automatic fire sprinkler systems. Buildings under 1,000 square feet and those with single rooms do not require fire sprinklers. All kitchens and cooking appliances should be protected with special hood and fire suppression systems. 

Fire extinguishers

Lastly, education facilities require fire extinguishers to be installed throughout the building. The specific placement and number of extinguishers are based on the size and the layout of a building. Extinguishers should be installed, tested, maintained, and selected following NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. 

Our team at VFS Fire & Security Services is equipped to help with your unique fire safety needs. We firmly believe in building long-lasting relationships with our clients. From planning to implementation to testing and maintenance, our services are always tailored to meet our clients’ specific needs. 

Fire Safety Audits for your Industrial Property
Fire Safety Audits for your Industrial Property: Your Complete Guide
Fire Protection for Education Buildings
Fire Protection for Education Buildings