Fire Prevention and Life Safety Practices for Commercial Real Estate Properties
7 Steps for Fire Safety

Halloween, a day characterized by lit candles inside vegetables, marked the last day of Fire Prevention Month. Why not end it with a non-fire starting bang?

You can’t just prevent fires by being a wet blanket – you need to follow codes and standards, brush up on safety information, train your team, and conduct routine maintenance and inspections. It’s a lot more to cover than a blanket can handle,  which is why I’m going to break it down for you. With help from Cintas Corp’s article on Fire Readiness and a recent interview with Peter Harrod, VP of Code Consulting and Fire Engineering Services at Cosentini Associates, I’ve gathered 7 fire prevention best practices for property management professionals.

1. Know the Codes -Ensure that the fire and life safety systems and features that you have in place are consistent with what the codes and standards mandate given your use and occupancy. Do you need to upgrade your systems or request more from your service provider? All the facilities in your portfolio should be tested, inspected and maintained in accordance with the applicable codes and standards and any contractual obligations. As you span different counties, states, and perhaps even countries there might be different levels of requirements and nuances associated with each jurisdiction. This is where managing information in a single location becomes essential. Refer to the National Fire Protection Association’s Codes & Standards for over 300 consensus codes intended to minimize the possibility and effects of fire or the International Code Council’s Codes, Standards & Guidelines.

2. Review Your Service Providers – Ask yourself if your service providers are giving you the level of service that you’re asking  or contracting for. Make sure you have a tight service specification and holding them accountable to everything they’re required to do with the appropriate documentation. You need access to relevant documents in case of a change in service providers, an issue, budget planning or an acquisition or disposition. Just because the local engineer is contracting with his local service provider to test and inspect his fire alarm system annually doesn’t mean that the testing inspection reports reflect as much.

3. Implement Time-Saving Tools – If you’re a corporate real estate manager with a fair breadth of facilities there are tools available to help you know if you are in compliance, manage compliance, and plan fire and life safety improvements once you discover deficiencies. Consider a software system that tracks and documents that all fire systems are being tested, inspected and maintained in accordance with the required frequencies. Check out Building Engines’ Risk Management tools to centrally manage and maintain your fire & life safety program, incidents, COIs and more.

4. Establish a Fire Emergency Plan – Emergencies can’t always be predicted, but they can be prepared for. Document and practice with your team how and when to respond to a fire emergency, various scenarios and special needs, and evacuation routes. Download this checklist for Implementing a Successful Emergency Response Plan.

5. Train Your Team – An up-to-date is plan is great, but it’s the people who need to execute the plan. Make time to train your team on your fire emergency plan and any new regulations. OSHA and NFPA require annual fire extinguisher training for employees and the National Fire Academy offers advanced technical training in fire emergency preparedness and response.

6. Conduct Routine Preventive Maintenance – Preventive Maintenance lowers the risk of an improperly functioning system and thus the risk of costly replacements or incidents. Fire protection equipment should have scheduled maintenance, repairs, safety tests and inspections as outlined in the NFPA code by the equipment manufacturer and the local AHJ. Maintenance that is automated and reported on shifts the process from a reactive to a proactive mode. Check out this Resource Center for Preventive Maintenance Programs.

7. Stay Informed – Brush up on industry resources for the latest best practices and standards. This resource center, “Conquering the Code,” is dedicated helping you properly assess and optimize your fire & life safety systems with video clips, blog posts, a sample fire protection conditions report and more. Here’s our “Fiery 5” in fire & life safety resources.

The US Fire Administration calculates that just office property structure fires cost $51 million a year in direct property damage. When you consider this in addition to the human risk involved for employees and visitors, you see why Fire Prevention deserves more than just a month.