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Be Prepared For A Fire

Furniture World Magazine


Are you prepared for a fire emergency?

Fires that destroy whole businesses make TV and front page news but many emergencies aren't of this magnitude. A more typical situation is a small fire after hours with considerable smoke before the fire's heat activates the sprinkler and/or alarm system. If your building doesn't have sprinklers, heat/ smoke alarms are (should be) part of your security system. Either way, the tips in this article could speed response and possibly save thousands of dollars.

When heat/smoke alarms are set off or sprinkler water flow is sensed by the security system, the fire department is called automatically or via a security monitoring firm such as ADT. In buildings equipped with sprinklers, the fire may be confined or even out before the fire department arrives.

However.... often the fire department doesn't have access to the building so the exterior and interior doors are axed. They enter a dark smoke filled building. Since this crew hasn't been in the building for many years, they wander around in self-contained breathing apparatus until they find the area where water is flowing. After determining that the fire is out, they finally find some unmarked sprinkler shutoffs. A deluge of water continues while they figure out which valve to close. The fire department would have preferred to turn on lights and exhaust fans but they have no idea where the switches are. What switches they do find aren't clearly marked either. A company employee finally arrives but he isn't real sure where the switches are. Eventually the lights and fans are turned on. There aren't any spare sprinkler heads so the firemen plug the heads and reactivate the sprinkler system.

In this scenario, fire damage is a few hundred dollars but the smoke and water damage is in the thousands. Replacing the axed doors costs another several thousand dollars and a sprinkler contractor has to be called in to replace the plugs installed by the fire department with new heads.

Sounds too ugly to be true? Unfortunately this is exactly what happened at a recent furniture store fire. By following the guidelines in the boxed areas, you will minimize the potential for fire losses. Keep in mind that many businesses that are destroyed by fire never reopen. Make sure your business doesn't become a statistic.



  1. Improve response time for emergency services to reach the fire or victims.
  2. Minimize/eliminate smashed-in doors in case of fire alarm.
  3. Minimize water and smoke damage after a fire.
  4. Restore fire protection promptly after the fire is out.
  • If emergency assistance is called when the building is occupied, send a guide to the street. Valuable time is saved when emergency services know which entrance is closest to the victim or fire.
  • Install a "Knox Box" at each primary entrance. This is a miniature safe to hold building keys so they don't have to axe their way in. It is mounted on an inconspicuous spot on the building exterior at locations determined through consultation with the local fire department. Knox Boxes are so beneficial that some communities require their installation. Don't be concerned about a thief getting into the Knox Box and breaking into the building. The box is very rugged and entering the building would set off security alarms anyway. If there is a fire, you don't care about that alarm going off. The building keys are put in a tamper evident bag inside the knox box so verification they haven't been used is easy. Several small building layout drawings may also be included.
  • Have a sprinkler zone drawing at the sprinkler risers. Mounted in plexiglas, the overall building drawing shows the areas covered by each sprinkler riser. Hang the drawing on a chain so the firemen can easily take it down for study. Use large easy to read type.
  • Show light switch panels and exhaust fan control locations on the sprinkler zone map. This will allow the firemen to turn on the fans to clear the smoke quickly. In many situations, the sprinkler system has put the fire out before the firemen arrive but the building is filled with smoke. All switches on panels should be identified. As soon as the firefighters have determined it is safe to do so, they will turn on the exhaust fans and lights to clear the smoke and improve visibility. This also reduces smoke damage to other products stored in the warehouse.
  • Keep spare sprinkler heads on hand. Several spare sprinkler heads of each type used in the building should be kept in a cabinet by the main sprinkler controls. If the heads are available, most fire departments will change the heads and re-activate the sprinkler system. Otherwise, they may plug the sprinklers and you will have to shut down the system later to replace heads. In rare cases, the sprinkler system will be out of service until a contractor can come in. This is a very poor choice because many fires have re-ignited after initial suppression.
  • Maintain clear access to sprinkler risers and electrical panels. An excellent approach is to paint these areas yellow and paint the floor yellow with stenciled letters DO NOT BLOCK. There should be at least 18" clear space in front of all sprinkler risers.
  • Familiarize your own employees with the procedures for fire safety. Everyone should know the evacuation plan and their gathering place outside the building. Before leaving, each supervisor (or backup in case of absence) should verify that everyone has left the work area and then verify count at the meeting place. Supervisors should also have a basic understanding of the fire plan so they can direct fire personnel to the appropriate area, if known.
  • Have walk through familiarization tours with the local fire department. They are suggested at least annually or when there is a management change. Schedule a walk through for each shift crew. Most fire departments have three crews, each working 24 hours and off 48. Point out the locations of lock boxes, shutoff valves, light switches, fan switches, any areas where flammable items are stored, etc.
  • Reinforce all fire training when renovation is being done. This is a high risk time because outside contractors may be in the building, there may be welding or cutting, and electrical wiring may be disrupted. Insist on a fire watch with plenty of fire extinguishers close by. Management and the contractor should make a review every day before crews leave.

Daniel Bolger of The Bolger Group assists companies achieve improved transportation, warehousing and logistics.  Questions about any aspect of these areas can be directed to Mr. Bolger care of FURNITURE WORLD at dbolger@furninfo.com.