One of the biggest responsibilities of any building or business owner is protecting your building and its occupants. Commercial fire protection is critical when it comes to safeguarding equipment, data, and human lives. To make sure your building is adequately protected, your commercial fire protection system should include the following three elements:
- Fire Alarms and Detection Systems
The first step in commercial fire protection is ensuring your building is properly outfitted with working fire and smoke alarms. Early detection is one of the most important aspects of fire protection. Fires go through four main stages: incipient, growth, fully developed, and decay. The incipient stage is when conditions first combine to ignite the fire. This is followed by the growth stage when, as the name suggests, the fire grows and expands. If the fire department is alerted 10 to 15 minutes before the fire reaches its growth stage, when oxygen and other resources provide fuel for it to expand, the fire department will most likely be able to limit the damage. Fire detection which can trigger a response within three minutes will have the largest impact.
Properly functioning commercial fire alarms are essential to any commercial fire protection system. Business and building owners should have regular professional fire alarm inspections to ensure your system is functioning properly and meets all building regulations. It’s also important to keep all documentation on your commercial fire alarm system. This includes the manual and records of previous inspections and maintenance done.
- Sprinklers, Fire Extinguishers and Other Suppression Systems
According to the National Fire Protection Association, a fire in a fully sprinklered building where the sprinkler system operated properly has never killed more than two people. While fire alarms are meant to be the first line of defense against a fire, sprinklers could be seen as the first line of offense. Sprinklers are capable of releasing anywhere from eight to 24 gallons of water a minute. This is hardly comparable to the 80 to 125 gallons per minute a fire hose can produce, but when it comes to combating fire, a quick response can be more important.
Having a building outfitted with adequate alarm and detection systems as well as quick response sprinklers can greatly reduce casualties. When paired with early warning systems, sprinklers have been shown to reduce property damage and injuries and loss of life by at least half.
Just as fire alarms alone aren’t enough alone to protect your building’s occupants, however, neither are fire alarms and commercial fire sprinkler systems combined adequate commercial fire protection. A study of reported structure fires in buildings with sprinkler system found that the sprinklers operated properly 91% of the time. Additional fire suppression systems such as fire extinguishers can help prevent the outbreak of large fires, but a more important life-saving strategy is to have an evacuation plan in place.
- An Evacuation Plan
Only 35% of businesses recently surveyed had a fire evacuation plan in place. An evacuation plan is an integral part of commercial fire protection. When it comes to saving lives, getting people out safely and quickly is essential. All staff members should be made aware of the evacuation plan and trained in the proper fire response procedures.
The evacuation route should be clearly marked and diagrams kept near all exit doors to show the way. It’s also wise to have emergency lighting system in place in the event that your building loses power during the fire. You should work with a commercial fire protection contractor to ensure your system has adequate power and lighting.
Emergency lights, including battery-operated exit signs, should be promptly activated the minute power goes out. The emergency lights should be tested like any fire alarm system. Many systems have a test button that can be used to accomplish this. Most emergency lighting inspections will involve two phases: a 30-second test and a 90-minute test. You should perform a minimal function 30-second test at least monthly and a longer 90-minute test once each year.
Keeping your building and its occupants safe is a major responsibility of building and business owners alike. Your building should at a minimum have the three key tenets of commercial fire protection: Fire alarms and early detection systems, sprinklers and other suppressant systems, and an evacuation plan.