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Taking the heat off fire inspections.

Are you prepared for a fire inspection of your facility? I was not. When confronted with the fire inspector for the first time, I panicked. With a background in crime prevention and detection, I was well versed in how to keep an intruder out of my facility but lacked knowledge of fire safety. Although my facility was given good overall marks, the discrepancies pointed out during the tour proved I needed to maintain fire inspection readiness year-round.

Fire code compliance relies heavily on building design and construction. Building architects have to meet certain fire safety requirements to obtain the certificate of occupancy. This design and construction work may have been accomplished without the assistance or input of the security manager. If so much emphasis is placed on design and construction, what can the security manager do to be ready for an inspection? Plenty.

Fire inspections are performed to enforce code compliance. Unfortunately, no national standards exist. In some states, local municipalities are responsible for code enforcement, while other states establish a minimum state code for each municipality. Still others may use uniform building codes as the standard for compliance.

Inspections conducted by state or local fire officials ensure that the code requirements are met. This helps limit the risk of life and property loss from fire. Inspections are performed during construction and after the building is staffed to enforce codes. The security manager must deal with the periodic inspections performed after occupancy.

Insurance companies also conduct fire inspections of insured facilities both before a policy is underwritten and periodically thereafter to ensure that all fire risks are minimized. Although insurance companies do not have the authority to demand correction of violations, they exert considerable influence through their power to deny insurance coverage for businesses with unacceptable fire hazards. Conversely, insurance companies can offer insurance savings to companies that actively decrease their fire risks. In this regard, inspections performed by an insurance company loss control representative are as vital to the security manager's fire inspection readiness program as the state and local fire official's inspection.

Fire inspections usually involve a complete tour of the building. During this tour, the fire inspector checks the premises, facilities, equipment, processes, operations, and fire protection systems of the property thoroughly and systematically.

The inspector requires paperwork confirming that various daily checks and required inspections of fire protection equipment have been made. Security should keep a folder containing copies of fire protection test records and log sheets for the inspector's review. Records of monthly fire extinguisher checks, sprinkler system water and air pressure gauge readings, generator tests, fire alarm tests and service invoices, and fire drills are examples of paperwork to be kept on file. The inspector may also ask for a floor plan of the building to aid in the inspection and overall process.

At the conclusion of the tour, the inspector usually discusses the results with the security manager. At this time, any problems that were encountered are explained and available options for correcting these problems are provided. The inspector then prepares a written report stating the violations, if any; their location, nature, and description; the time frame in which they have to be corrected; and any other recommendations that will be useful to security.

The security manager must then be prepared for a reinspection by the deadline date. The reinspection focuses on the previous violations and determines if the violations have been corrected or if significant progress has been made toward their correction.

The security manager should escort the fire inspector on his or her tour. Firsthand knowledge of violations and acceptable ways to correct them can be invaluable. If any deficiencies are cited, the security manager can explain them at the time they are noted. The inspector can impart his or her knowledge of fire safety during the inspection, thus assisting in preparation for the next onsite inspection.

By witnessing the inspection, the security manager demonstrates to the inspector that his or her recommendations are valued and helps forge a cooperative relationship, an essential ingredient for a successful fire inspection.

The best way to prepare for a fire inspection is to perform a self-inspection of your company's fire safety program, asking the same questions and examining the same conditions that the inspector checks. The following checklist, although not all-inclusive, is a good standard for a manager to follow to gain fire inspection readiness.

General storage. The general storage area should be checked to ensure that the following conditions are met: smoking is prohibited; unused pallet stacks are kept under six feet and stored outside if no sprinkler protection exists; material is stored no closer than eighteen inches from the ceiling; outdoor storage is given adequate clearance from the building; no storage is allowed in electrical, mechanical, and telephone rooms or in corridors and stairwells; the storage area is well maintained; and waste material is properly controlled or removed from the premises.

Electrical equipment. The electrical equipment should be checked to determine that fuse and control boxes are clean and closed; properly sized fusing and circuit breakers are provided; junction boxes are covered; frayed wires are repaired; and wiring and fixtures are in good condition and properly supported.

Heat-producing equipment. The security manager should ensure that portable space heaters are prohibited or, if allowed, strictly regulated and inspected regularly; heat-producing equipment, such as burners, heat exchangers, boilers, ovens, stoves, and fryers, is properly maintained and kept clean of accumulations of combustible residues; and equipment and vent clearances to combustibles conform to National Fire Protection Association codes and requirements.

Extinguishing systems. The sprinkler system should be tested annually. Pressure gauges should be checked and logged daily, and sprinkler control valves should be kept opened and labeled. In addition, security should ensure that the fire pump gauge readings are taken daily; the fire pump is run weekly and given a full test annually; standpipe hoses are inspected monthly for proper placement and storage and evidence of damage; and standpipe connections are unobstructed, in good condition, and labeled.

Smoking. No-smoking areas should be checked to ensure that they are designated and enforced. Security should ascertain that visitors and outside contractors are informed of no-smoking rules.

Housekeeping practices. Security should ensure that rubbish does not accumulate; combustibles, such as oily rags and paints, are safely stored; and kitchen filters and exhaust system are checked and cleaned regularly.

Extinguishing equipment. Portable extinguishers must be visually inspected monthly and given an annual maintenance check by a specialist to ensure that they are fully charged, operational, and in the proper location in case of emergency. The kitchen extinguishing system should be inspected and serviced semiannually.

Life safety considerations. The following are life safety measures that should be in place: periodic fire drills conducted; doors to stairwells closed and self-closing; stairwells unobstructed and numbered; exit lights operational; exit routes clear and free of obstruction; emergency lighting operational; and, if required, public address system operational.

Fire alarm system. Security should determine that the manual pull stations are operational and that the interior alarm systems are operational. They should be tested annually.

Flammable material. Flammable and combustible materials should be safely stored and arranged. Security should also ensure that they are used and stored in approved areas where no-smoking rules are strictly enforced.

Special considerations. Security should check to see that openings or breaches in floors, ceilings, or walls are filled with fire-rated material and that a floor plan and master keys are available for the fire department. The manager should also maintain a file containing the emergency evacuation plan, fire alarm procedures, all documented inspections and tests, fire drill records, floor plan, and incident reports.

A security manager should maintain a good relationship with the fire inspector and correct all violations to his or her satisfaction. Performing a periodic self-inspection of the fire safety program helps ensure fire code compliance and limits the risk of life and property losses from fire. The ultimate objective of any security manager is to protect lives and property. By being prepared to pass a fire inspection, that goal is achieved.

Michael J. DuBose, CPP, is facilities protection supervisor for Atlantic Mutual Companies in Madison, New Jersey. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Fire Safety
Author:Dubose, Michael J.
Publication:Security Management
Date:May 1, 1993
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