Fire Safety and Prevention
Know the Drill
All parish personnel and volunteers who regularly meet on parish premises should be mindful of fire safety procedures and protocols. It is critical to know what to do in the event of a fire and how to guide children, the elderly and the disabled to safety. Parish administrators should conduct regularly scheduled fire drills, especially when religious education classes are in session. Religious education students or volunteers with special needs should be assigned an individual to assist them. Fire drills are a good opportunity to identify those who require extra assistance.
Everyone present at the time of these drills should fully participate. Everyone should be able to identify the sound of the fire alarm and know the exit routes and fire escapes.
Maintain order during all drills. While it is important to leave the building as quickly as possible, order is more important than speed when it comes to conducting a safe fire drill. To account for students in the religious education classes, instruct catechists to use rosters and to take the rosters with them during the drill.
During a fire, every second counts. In addition to fire alarms, all parishes should establish escape plans to help occupants leave the building in a timely manner. An escape plan should include at least two ways out of each room in the building. Managers should stress the importance of leaving the building immediately once a fire occurs; occupants should not re-enter the building for any reason. Once established, escape plans should be practiced every month to ensure that every staff member is familiar with the most efficient means of egress.
Fire Alarms and Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Every parish should have working fire alarms and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors will detect smoke and hazardous gases which can be the first warning signs of fire, while fire alarms alert all occupants and the appropriate authorities. Fire alarms should be installed on every level of the building. It is also beneficial to place the smoke detectors along the escape path from the building to help staff leave safely if visibility is low.
All devices should be tested once a month to ensure proper operation, and batteries should be changed twice a year. Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced at least every 10 years.
Fire Sprinkler Systems
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the combination of smoke detectors and fire sprinklers lowers the risk of death during a fire by more than 80 percent. A sprinkler system is a valuable fire prevention tool, but they must be professionally maintained and inspected regularly. Maintenance checkups will ensure that the sprinkler system gauges are steady, the water valve is open, and there is no debris blocking the pump connections. To avoid malfunctioning, do not hang anything from any part of the sprinkler system.
If your location has fire extinguishers, be sure to know where they are located. Most parish facilities have five-pound ABC extinguishers for ordinary combustibles, flammable liquids and electrical equipment. In addition, if you have a kitchen on the premises, the kitchen may have a Class K extinguisher for use on combustible cooking materials.
In general, extinguishers should only be used: 1.) in the early stages of a fire after occupants and the fire department have been alerted; 2.) when the fire is contained in a small area; and 3.) if you have a means of escape.
As with any mechanical device, fire extinguishers must be maintained on a regular basis to ensure proper operation.
Following good housekeeping protocols will help you maintain a safe environment.
- Many fires start due to the improper use of electrical equipment. Never plug too many power cords into one outlet. Check the plug and body of the cord while in use. If overly hot to the touch, replace it.
- Extension cords should only be used temporarily and are not meant for permanent use.
- Never allow lighted candles in your office or school locations.
- Decorations and displays should conform to established fire regulations. Materials should not block or conceal exit doors or exit signs, outlets, fire alarms or fire extinguishers.
- Keep chemicals and painting supplies in a safe location that is not easily accessible.
Arson is one of the leading causes of fires. In 2012, there were over 270 cases of arson reported. To help prevent arson, immediately report any suspicious activity or individuals. Take seriously any threats or other information you may receive about potential acts of arson and report this information to parish administration.
When the winter weather arrives, there are other considerations for preventing fires. Some buildings become drafty and cold, causing occupants to utilize space heaters. If using a space heater is permitted, make sure to keep the heater at least three feet away from anything that can burn, such as paper, clothing or furniture. A space heater that automatically shuts off if it tips over also helps to ensure safety.
According to FireSafety.gov, electrical fires cause nearly 70,000 home fires and over 500 deaths in the United States each year. December is the most dangerous month for electrical fires. Common causes of these fires include misuse and failed maintenance of appliances, faulty wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
Other considerations include the following:
- Make sure to use only heavy-duty extension cords for high-wattage appliances, such as freezers and heaters.
- Do not run electrical cords under rugs or trap power cords against walls because heat can build up.
- Check appliances and wiring often and replace worn, old, or damaged appliance cords immediately.
- Appliances that spark, smoke or overheat should be replaced.
- An electrician should check light switches that are hot, broken outlets and lights that flicker.
Fire Safety Codes - Windowless Basements
The State of New Jersey Department of Community Affairs issued a new rule regarding windowless basements on June 21, 2006. There are several important reasons for the new rules, not the least of which is protecting the firefighters by providing for early detection, early suppression and the sounding of an alarm. Although the code regulations have been in place for more than 11 years, most code officials did not require fire suppression if an approved central station monitoring and alarm system was installed in accordance with the NFiPA 71, 72A, 72C or 72D as determined by the fire official.
In recent years many property owners have been cited for failure to install a fire suppression system in windowless basement spaces of 3,000 square feet and greater. Schools and churches with basement spaces in excess of 3,000 square feet should consult with their fire alarm service and monitoring company to determine if the below grade spaces are in compliance with N. J. A. C. 5:70-4/7(h).
Windowless basement spaces less than 3,000 square feet are not required to have a fire suppression system but are required to have a supervised automatic fire alarm system installed in conformance with NJUCC requirements for building use groups A, E, I & R: A: Assembly – civic, social, religious, recreation, food, drink; E: Education – 6 or more people through grade 12, religious education, day care; I: Institutional – housing five or more persons on a 24 hour basis with limitations on evacuation speed; R: Residential
Spaces between 3,000 square feet and 10,000 square feet can be protected by a fire sprinkler system connected to the domestic water supply as long as an exterior fire department connection is provided which is marked “Basement Area Sprinkler Water Supply” and the space is monitored by an automatic fire alarm system that is installed in compliance with the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code. There is a significant degree of complexity to the code regarding the dimensions and locations of access points, doors and windows in relation to distance of travel to safe exterior space at grade. The fire code official can be very helpful; however, it is not the code official’s responsibility to guide you in compliance matters.