Regular inspections by your local fire marshal are a part of doing business, and you need to be ready when they arrive. Since these visits are unannounced, the best way to remain prepared is to go through the inspection checklist yourself, to ensure that your business is in full compliance with the fire code at all times. This will not only help you to avoid expensive fines or even having your business shut down temporarily due to code violations, it can also protect your staff, property or even your livelihood.
While you may not give it much thought, a fire can be devastating to any business. In fact, more than 40% of businesses that suffer a significant fire close permanently.1 To help you avoid this type of disastrous scenario, it is important to remain in compliance with the regulations which can keep your business protected. With that end in mind, let's cover the checklist below.
Checklist Item #1: Clear Paths of Egress
The fire marshal will look closely at the paths of egress at your premises, and whether these are blocked or obstructed in any way. Having multiple exits in the event of a fire will increase the likelihood that everyone is able to get out safely, and it is required by fire code.2 Yet, if your staff or customers can't reach these exits or open them once they do, they are of little value.
The fire marshal will check to see that you have:
- A path which is at least 36 inches wide that leads to every exit door.
- Exit doors which can be opened easily and which are unlocked.
- If your facility has fire doors, that these can close without obstruction and are not propped open with anything that could prevent them from closing.3
Checklist Item #2: Emergency Exit Lights
Not only are all paths of egress required to be unobstructed, they must be clearly marked as well.4 In the event of a fire, your facility may lose power or visibility may be severely reduced due to heavy smoke. For these reasons, all exit signs should have backup batteries, so they will still be clearly illuminated for a minimum of 90 minutes in the event of a fire or power outage. Many of these units have emergency lights on top as well, to further increase the available light and make exits even more visible. The fire marshal will test to see that all of these bulbs are working and that they have functioning batteries.
Checklist Item #3: Fire Extinguishers
Designed to give any staff at your business the means to put out a small fire on their own, fire extinguishers can be a godsend. They may allow you to stop a small fire before it grows larger, avoiding widespread damage to your business and injuries to your staff or customers. For these reasons, the fire marshal will pay special attention to these units, to verify that they are in compliance. They will check to see that:
- The minimum required numbers of extinguishers are present – having a fire extinguisher within 75 feet of travel distance from any place in your facility is required in typical office settings. *These requirements may change depending on the environment.
- The extinguishers are the correct type to combat the fire hazards which are present at your business.
- These are the required size; Extinguishers must be at least a 2A-10BC size rating.
- Your extinguishers have been serviced within the past 12 months, all required inspections have taken place and the service tag is in place and updated.
- All extinguishers are mounted on the wall securely or in an approved cabinet.
- These units are not obstructed in any way.
- The top of any extinguisher which is 40 pounds or lighter is not higher than 5 feet from the floor. For extinguishers heavier than 40 pounds, the top of the unit should be no higher than 3.5 feet from the floor. All extinguishers must have at least 4 inches of space from the bottom of the unit to the ground.
Checklist Item #4: Fire Alarm Panels
The panel is responsible for controlling the system of fire alarms present at your facility. The fire marshal will inspect the fire alarm panel, to ensure that the annually required maintenance and inspection by qualified personnel has taken place and is documented.6 To ensure that you don't receive a citation, be sure that your inspection tags are up to date and that no warning lights are illuminated on your panel. A warning light will result in an automatic citation, so it is best to simply fix the problem in advance of the fire marshal's visit if one is currently present.
Checklist Item #5: Fire Sprinklers
If your facility has a fire sprinkler system in place, this will be carefully inspected by the fire marshal. When preparing for an inspection, know that the fire marshal will check to see if there is adequate clearance around each sprinkler deflector. This ensures that the water will be able to disperse without obstruction, and it is required by fire code. A common code violation is storing boxes or other items too high or having large furniture or shelving units placed in close proximity to the sprinkler head. According to NFPA 25, in most cases there must be at least 18 inches of clearance around each sprinkler deflector to comply with regulations.7 In addition, the fire marshal will check that the required annual inspection of your fire sprinklers has been carried out by qualified personnel and documented.8
Checklist Item #6: Fire Sprinkler System Water Supply
For this system to function correctly, not only must the sprinkler deflectors have the proper clearance, the water must flow as it should when called upon to extinguish a fire. The fire marshal will examine the critical components of the sprinkler system water supply, to determine that they are in good working order. These include the valves, hose connections and fire department connections. The fire marshal will also look for signs of leakage, physical damage, corrosion or obstruction by foreign materials or paint.9
Checklist Item #7: Proper Storage of Combustible Liquids
Combustible materials and liquids represent a special fire hazard and must be treated accordingly. These will provide fuel to any fire and they pose a significant risk to your facility, including explosion potential, so proper measures must be taken at all times. They should be stored in a fireproof cabinet, to minimize the risk of a conflagration and the accompanying property damage or personal injury it can cause.
Checklist Item #8: Maximum Occupancy Limits
Your building has a maximum occupancy limit which has been put in place for a reason. If a fire were to occur, this is the number of people who could safely evacuate the premises in a timely fashion. Therefore, exceeding the maximum allowable occupancy poses a serious risk, and you will receive a citation if you break this threshold. Different types of structures used for different purposes (business, healthcare, assembly, education, etc) have specific occupancy requirements which you must meet to pass your inspection.10 Refer to NFPA 101 6.1 for more information.
Checklist Item #9: Overloading Electrical Sockets & Using Extension Cords Correctly
Related to overcrowding of your facility, overloading any electrical sockets is a clear fire code violation. You may not plug too many items into a single socket, by using multiple power strips in the same location or improper multi-plug adapters. Plugging two or more extension cords together to extend the reach of the power in your facility, will also be cited during a fire marshal's inspection. It is prohibited to use extension cords in lieu of permanent wiring.11
Checklist Item #10: Electrical Panels
Since getting to the electrical panels in your building may be required for regular maintenance or any upgrades, or to run additional wiring through the building, they must be unobstructed and accessible at all times. Also, since electrical panels have live current running through them, any potentially flammable items (like cardboard boxes stored too close to the panel) must be far enough away to avoid fire risk. In most cases you're required to leave 3 feet of clearance in front of the panel, to provide sufficient working space and to lessen fire risk.12
Get Professional Assistance
While going through the above checklist on a regular basis is an excellent way to keep your business or facility in compliance with the fire code, it is easy to miss required items. The fire code is detailed and is constantly being updated – making it difficult for you to keep up with the necessary changes. Also, you are required to have regular inspections by qualified personnel of various protection measures like your fire sprinkler, fire extinguishers and fire alarm systems, and these cannot be performed on your own. For all of these reasons, having a respected fire protection and service company perform regular inspections is the best option. This will ensure that you avoid costly fire code violations and your property and staff are properly protected at all times.
2 NFPA 101 22.214.171.124 http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/document-information-pages?mode=code&code=101
4 NFPA 101 126.96.36.199 http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/document-information-pages?mode=code&code=101
7 NFPA 25 188.8.131.52.1 http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/document-information-pages?mode=code&code=25
8 NFPA 25 184.108.40.206 stipulates that a floor level inspection of sprinklers must be conducted annually: http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/document-information-pages?mode=code&code=25
9 NFPA 25 220.127.116.11.1 & 18.104.22.168.2 http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/document-information-pages?mode=code&code=25
10 NFPA 101 6.1 http://www.nfpa.org/codes-an