Would you be ready if an unannounced fire marshal visit took place at your business? Let Centurion help you prepare!
Generally speaking, a Fire Marshal’s Office is responsible for fire code enforcement and can exist at a state, county or municipal level. The inspectors are considered law enforcement officers and may wear a uniform, carry a firearm, a badge, and have limited powers of arrest. Fire marshals can also have the additional responsibilities of investigating fires and compiling written reports. For violations of the fire code, a fire marshal is usually able to issue citations, levy fines and order corrective action within a specified time period. With certain situations, a fire marshal may have the authority to shut a business down for fire code violations. One of the more common reasons is when a building has a higher human occupancy level than permitted under the regulations. In some instances, a fire marshal may even have the authority to cancel a business owner’s occupancy license.
Business owners sometimes confuse a fire marshal inspection with a visit from their local fire department. Usually, a visit by fire department representatives will be for pre-fire planning purposes to note such things as access to the structure, the type of building occupancy, availability of water supplies, types of private fire protection and special hazards to include the presence of quantities of flammable liquids and hazardous chemicals. This serves to increase their knowledge level should they have to respond to that location to fight a fire. However, local fire departments may be authorized to conduct fire inspections if they have a trained inspector.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR A FIRE MARSHAL VISIT
If the business owner is different from the building owner, discuss what responsibilities each has in the event of a fire marshal inspection.
Good building exterior and interior housekeeping can help to create a favorable, initial impression with the inspector.
If the inspection comes at an inconvenient time, such as a period of high business activity, it may be possible to have the inspector reschedule the visit for a more convenient time.
Ask the inspector for main subjects or areas of inspection to avoid unnecessary delays such as obtaining keys or locating documentation.
The person who accompanies the inspector at all times during the course of the visit should have access to important building records as well as the ability to explain the facility’s emergency procedures and equipment.
The building representative should take notes of any violations or issues that the inspector mentions.
Due to the diversity and complexity of modern building fire protection and detection equipment, a fire inspection issue that arises may be resolvable by immediately contacting the respective vendor such as the sprinkler system contractor.
The building representative’s interaction with the inspector should be courteous, professional and focused on the subject at hand.
Since most fire marshal inspections are unannounced, it is good business practice to always be prepared.
PREPARE THE OUTSIDE OF A BUILDING FOR A FIRE MARSHAL VISIT
On the front of the building, the numbered address must be clearly visible from the street by being large enough and by adequately contrasting with its background.
Fire lanes have to be kept clear of vehicles and any other obstructions at all times.
Any fire hydrants on the property must have unobstructed access and kept free of vegetation for a distance of three feet in all directions.
The fire department connections for a sprinkler system cannot be blocked and have threaded metal covers fitted at the inlets to prevent the water flow from being obstructed by foreign objects.
Any sprinkler system outside water flow valves of must be locked and in the open position.
Sprinkler post indicator valves should be locked and the indicator window should clearly show the word “OPEN.”
Emergency exits must allow immediate access to an open outside area, be free from any obstruction that could interfere with the outward opening of the doors and the emergency egress of people.
Trash, combustible materials such as wood pallets and vegetation should not be allowed to accumulate against the sides of the building.
PREPARE THE INSIDE OF A BUILDING FOR A FIRE MARSHAL VISIT
The number of people currently in the building should be not exceed the rated capacity.
A diagram of the emergency exit routes should be prominently posted on each floor indicating the closest exists from the building.
The interior of emergency exits should be completely unobstructed, adequately lighted, unlocked from the inside, capable of being opened by only one person and swing fully to the outside.
Emergency lighting should be of adequate illumination, in a serviceable condition and tested monthly.
Corridors, aisles and hallways leading to building exits must be kept clear of trash or other obstructions at all times.
Portable fire extinguishers have to be wall mounted, plainly marked, free of visible damage, inspected monthly, serviced annually and a person must not have to travel more than 75 feet to reach an extinguisher.
Electrical panel and circuit breaker boxes must be kept clear of combustible materials for a distance of three feet in every direction, the doors kept closed and any unused hole openings in the box or cabinet should be fitted with non-combustible plugs.
Electrical cords and other temporary wiring should not be used as substitutes for permanent wiring, must be connected directly into a wall outlet and not by another cord or power strip.
For temporary use, it is usually better to use a power strip with an extended length cord than an extension cord.
If portable space heaters are permitted for use in a building, they must be UL approved equipment with an automatic shutoff feature, positioned on a flat surface, kept a minimum of three feet from any combustible materials and never to be used with an extension cord.
Fire doors separating the building’s fire divisions must be either kept closed or provided with automatic self-closing hardware and nothing may interfere with their proper functioning.
Each sprinkler system should have a metal box near the main control valve containing spare sprinkler heads and provided with a wrench to replace broken or unserviceable sprinkler heads.
If the sprinkler system control valves are not in a locked room or closest, they must be provide with anti-tampering devices such as locks, chains and/or water flow alarms.
As a general rule, materials such as boxes and shelving should not be stacked to within 18 inches of sprinkler heads.
Fire alarms and smoke detectors must be maintained in a serviceable condition and tested annually.
All flammable or combustible liquids must be kept in only those quantities necessary of short-term use and always stored in approved cabinets or containers.
Remember that the single, overriding concern of any fire marshal during a business inspection is the life safety of the building’s occupants and members of the public. While a violation issued by the fire marshal may come with a fine, additional penalties can be received if the corrective action is not accomplished by the mandated compliance date. Businesses may wish to contest any mistakenly issued fire marshal violations, but the practicality of this can be largely depended the amount of the fines. If the fine is substantial the building/business owner may need to obtain the services of a local attorney experienced in these matters. In addition, the vendor/servicer of the building’s fire detection and prevention equipment maybe able to add expert testimony or documentation with such appeals.
For Additional Information:
Centurion Insurance Services Loss Control Department is always available to answer questions on regulatory requirements such as fire code compliance.
Feel free to contact our Loss Control Manager, Robert Brooks at (606) 434-0739 or firstname.lastname@example.org.