5 Tips to Help Multifamily Property Owners Improve Fire Safety

Fire safety is important for property owners so here are tips to avoid the most common cause of multifamily property damage, fire damage.

As a multifamily property owner, nothing is more important than keeping your residents and property safe. This means fire safety and protecting your property from one of the most common causes of multifamily property damage, fire damage.

By Steve Lockwood

According to the National Fire Sprinkler Association, there are an average of 88,600 apartment fires in the United States per year and it is the third leading cause for insurance claims according to the National Multifamily Housing Council.

The threat of fire damage is real which means multifamily property owners need to take fire safety seriously. As an expert in multifamily fire safety maintenance and testing, I know that many multifamily property owners can limit their liability with very minor fixes to their fire safety plan. Here are a few tips to help improve fire safety at your apartment complex.

No. 1 – Conduct annual inspections

The biggest mistake multifamily property owners make is also the simplest to fix.

All multifamily property owners must do an annual fire safety inspection. Too many apartment owners take too long to do fire safety inspections. I see property owners six to seven months past due for inspections because they have not fixed the deficiencies they were noted for the year prior. An annual inspection is the simplest way to learn about lapses in your fire safety plan. Do these yearly or you will run the risk of insurance not covering you when a fire occurs.

No. 2 – Don’t paint your sprinkler heads

Apartment complex owners are going to paint the interior and exterior of their property at some point.

A paint job is how one of the most common fire safety mistakes occurs. Accidentally painting sprinkler heads is an incredibly common but dangerous mistake multifamily property owners make. Painting a sprinkler head inhibits the spray pattern of the head which hurts its ability to put out fires. A sprinkler head that is painted shut can not discharge. If you paint over one you have to replace the whole head. You can’t just clean it. Hire a painter who understands this part of the fire code and properly covers up sprinkler heads before doing a paint job.

No. 3 – Replace bad pipes and valves

 Sprinkler systems will wear over time. Bacteria from the water in your system will build over time and rust your system from the inside out.

The piping in your fire system is bad on the inside, but it looks perfectly fine on the outside, so you don’t even know there is an issue. Not addressing internally corroded pipes will increase the chances of having a pipe burst. A pipe bursting during a fire emergency will make your sprinkler system unusable. The best way to fix this issue is to hire someone to do an internal pipe and valve inspection once every five years or do one on any multifamily property you are looking to purchase.  This inspection will let you know the condition of your pipes and valves and replace any faulty pipes before they fail you in an emergency.

No. 4 – Inspect fire extinguishers

 Fire extinguishers are the first line of defense against any fire.

If the fire extinguisher does its job in time your more extensive fire system won’t need to activate. Unfortunately, fire extinguishers are also always the last thing to be replaced due to compliance issues. Inspect your fire extinguishers annually; they need a full tear-down inspection every six years. This is when a fire safety expert will break down your fire extinguisher, empty it of powder, clean all the parts, and replace any defective ones. You should get a hydrostatic test every 12 years. This is when your fire extinguisher is filled with water or oil and then pressurized to test the integrity of its shell. Extinguishers get sun damaged, rusted, or dented all the time and are never inspected. Inspecting your fire extinguishers ensures you can stop fires before they become a bigger deal.

No. 5 – Getting a fire safety inspection

 You are going to need to get a fire safety inspection at least once per year.

Every piece of fire safety equipment will be marked with the date it was last inspected. Look at that date and one year from that date is when you need to get another inspection. The best way to get a fire inspection is to Google for a fire safety inspector and pick one that has a lot of good reviews. You can also ask any friends or property owners you trust who does their inspections. The fire department does not give recommendations for fire inspection companies in order to avoid the appearance of favoritism.

It is important to note that multifamily property owners are not required to have a specific fire evacuation or communication plan to operate but it is recommend that create one with the help of an expert. Creating a plan does not need to be complicated. A easily available property map with labeled fire escape routes will go a long way in helping people remove themselves from danger. An Annual email to tenants to remind them of your fire safety plan would also be a helpful but not required step to keep people safe during a fire.

About the author:

Steve Lockwood is the Owner of Mountain State Fire Protection LLC in Mesa, Arizona.

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