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Don’t Flame Out

Avoid these common fire safety mistakes as a facilities manager.


By Scott Mason

Fire safety in multi-site facilities is no laughing matter. Regarding fire prevention, not only do facilities managers (FMs) oversee the physical building and its products, but they are also responsible for the health and wellness of patrons and those who work in these spaces.

Steve Goyette, Telgian Engineering & Consulting
Steve Goyette, Telgian Engineering & Consulting

With proper fire safety protocols being a matter of life or death, FMs can’t afford to make mistakes when preparing for this potential disaster. A facilities and fire safety expert for more than 30 years, Steve Goyette, Executive Vice President of Business Development at Telgian Engineering & Consulting, spoke with Connexus to share the five biggest fire safety mistakes he sees in his everyday work.


1. Lack of Regular Inspections


An integral part of every facilities manager’s job is ensuring all areas of a building are maintained, tested and inspected regularly and effectively. Not having a consistent inspection plan or process for fire safety-related equipment can prove disastrous.


Goyette said any fire safety network is made up of various equipment and systems that most people don’t think about regularly, from more obvious ones like fire extinguishers and fire alarms to less obvious elements like fire sprinkler systems, emergency lighting and fire pumps.


Regarding the timing of inspecting these systems, Goyette said there are two common approaches. “An FM may adhere to the local jurisdiction's requirements and enforcement, which may be only annually. But some organizations, from a risk management perspective, may ask FMs to formally inspect and test the equipment more frequently.”


Goyette recommends finding a good contractor who will be proactive with your organization’s inspection schedule. “You're not the one having to remember to call them — they're the ones calling you and saying it's time for your semi-annual inspection,” he said.


2. Self-inspection of Sprinkler Control Valves


Related to the first item but important in its own right, facilities managers should perform their own inspections of fire sprinkler system control valves, even if it is not an explicit legal requirement.


“Let's make sure that those valves that can shut off the water to the fire sprinkler system are in the open position,” Goyette said.


Cadence for this should be weekly or monthly, he continued. “Almost all these valves have an indicator of whether it's open or shut. It may be a weathervane-type measure or a sign within a small window that says open or shut. You should put eyes on it and check that box.”


These valve indicator systems should be monitored electronically, and if one has been tampered with or closed, a supervisory signal would typically occur at the fire alarm panel, thereby notifying the FM. However, if your fire alarm system is malfunctioning, you won’t get that notification, making a physical check all the more necessary.


3. Clogged or Cluttered Exits


A blocked or partially obstructed door or hallway could be detrimental to the safety of those inside the building if a fire occurs. This seemingly obvious safety measure is often ignored by FMs.


“This is another visual inspection that the FM or someone on the FM's team can do,” Goyette said. “Go around and check every single exit door and the pathways that lead to them to ensure that when there is an emergency, and an evacuation is needed, it can be done in an orderly fashion without people getting hurt.”


This goes not just for emergency exits, he said. “People will almost always go out the door in which they entered,” Goyette said. “Even when the exit door is right over there, and it's 30 feet away, many will walk 150 feet to the main entrance because it's just how we're wired.”


4. Ignoring Fire Code Violations


If a facility’s fire safety system is not up to code, a business may incur penalties, and an order to fix the problem may be handed down. According to Goyette, ignoring these violations is one of the biggest mistakes an FM can make.


“As a supplier partner, we see far too often that first and even second notice is either ignored, or it's getting routed through a corporate structure that winds up taking too long to address it,” Goyette said. The violation is usually a material fix, which should be taken care of as soon as possible.


The other issue that arises from ignoring violations is that the relationship between the business and the enforcement agency becomes soured. “That enforcement agency will tend to find more things they want fixed in the future, which only adds to the problem for the facilities manager and everybody else,” Goyette said.


5. Not Being Prepared for the Worst


Every FM should have a comprehensive emergency plan and detailed evacuation training for their employees. “You should create a fire safety plan, including processes, procedures and diagrams, including the floor plan showing exits, electrical and fuel shut offs, fire sprinkler risers and fire alarm panel. You should also identify an area of refuge outside the facility for when you do evacuate the premises and a institute a roll call of who's at work that day,” Goyette said.


This also goes for nonemployees inside the building, which can include a scripted voice announcement to let people know there is an emergency and what actions they should take to evacuate swiftly and efficiently.


Goyette also recommended that FMs lead fire safety training sessions at least once a year so staff have a practical understanding of what to do in case of emergency. “Having a plan is great, but when we throw it in the notebook on the shelf and don't ever do anything with it, that’s a recipe for chaos when an emergency arises,” he said.

Ensuring fire safety measures are in place and understood by your team also requires common sense.


“We don't get to pick and choose when the emergency is thrust upon us,” Goyette said. “But look around and think: If a fire emergency happens and the store currently looks like this, what would happen?”

For more fire safety expert advice, check out the previous Connexus article "Putting Out Fires" today!

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