Fire Protection Guide for Small Businesses
by Carrie Gerbitz, Marmic team member since 2014
If you own or are opening a new business...Congratulations! Not everyone has what it takes to do what you’ve accomplished. Navigating through federal, state, and local regulations was tough but you’ve made it. Before you have that Grand Opening though, have you ensured your fire protection needs are met? Perhaps you're looking to get a certificate of occupancy but can’t because...surprise!...you didn’t meet safety codes. Or, perhaps you’re simply planning your budget for the year.
Either way, we want you to have the best possible start to your business so we’ve put together a short guide for some popular small businesses and what each of them can expect regarding fire protection purchases, inspection, and maintenance.
Restaurants and other Food Services
At minimum, a restaurant is required to have a kitchen hood fire suppression system(s) guarding the range and movable appliances. A note of caution: before moving appliances, such as commercial charbroilers, check with your fire protection service provider so that your system stays in compliance. Also, restaurants must have Class K portable fire extinguishers which contain a suppressive agent formulated specifically for grease fires.
While extinguishers are simple to install, a kitchen range hood installation encompasses design, installation, gas hookups, finishing work, AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) certification, and staff training. All of this is typically included in the quote your installer will provide. What may not be included is the cost of future inspections which are conducted semi-annually and required.
If your kitchen range is a workhorse, you may want to invest in Quarterly Hood Cleanings to prevent grease buildup in the hood and spray nozzles which can render a kitchen system ineffective. And, depending on your fire district codes, you may need additional equipment such as a sprinkler system and/or fire alarm system.
Automotive Repair and Body Shops
Shops specializing in automotive repair and spray painting require ABC Fire Extinguishers in every shop. Needless to say...but we’ll say it anyway...the “hotwork” done via welding and cutting should be conducted with plenty of distance between such work and flammables. Not all shops are the same size or configuration so how many extinguishers and where they’re placed will depend on your unique needs. There will be times that portable equipment gets moved to other locations within the shop, sometimes closer to flammables; so, situational awareness and, of course, the right fire suppression system are key to maintaining safety.
In the case of spray paint shops, the type and concentration of flammable chemicals call for a special type of suppression system called a paint booth system. Similar to other industrial suppression systems, this type will require semi-annual inspections and occasional maintenance.
Since daycare facilities involve children, special care and regulation will compel you to have multiple fire safety components. In addition to fire extinguishers and kitchen hoods (if a range is present) a fire alarm and sprinkler system will add protective layers to your overall safety plan. Although this article discusses fire protection, it won’t hurt to consider access control and CCTV as part of overall safety in a childcare setting.
Healthcare / Assisted Living
Similar to daycare, facilities housing vulnerable populations such as the elderly and special needs residents will demand a variety of fire protection components to maintain safety compliance and keep property damage to a minimum.
According to a National Fire Protection Association report, most fires in healthcare facilities start with cooking equipment. However, fires with the most expensive impact start elsewhere in these facilities, usually due to electrical components and lighting. Even when fire sprinklers are present, their effectiveness can be diminished by inadequate coverage, inappropriate or painted sprinkler heads, and poorly maintained early warning systems such as heat and smoke detectors.
So what does all that mean for this type of business? Investment in kitchen hood fire suppression systems, sprinkler systems, and fire alarm systems should be at the forefront of your budget planning whether purchasing an existing facility or building new.
Art Galleries and other Sensitive Environments
Setting up shop in an old turned trendy district lends itself to the art scene but while the buildings in these districts may be “grandfathered” against some fire codes they could be, in reality, a fire waiting to happen. Art Galleries and historical sites should consider clean agent systems such as FM-200 and Inergen and clean agent portable extinguishers that won’t damage works of art or sensitive materials. Naturally, this kind of specialized equipment is pricier for both installation and inspection/maintenance but well worth the investment.
On the other side of the spectrum, the last decade has seen a rise in data storage and archive centers for which the same principles of fire protection apply. Use a clean agent system that won’t damage electrical or sensitive materials and ensure access control egress (exiting) is working safely.
For all businesses, there are numerous things that can break a budget but fire prevention doesn’t have to be one of them. Avoid putting it on the side burner reasoning that it’s a once, sometimes twice a year item to tick off the list because it really isn't.
Equipment used in rough or poorly controlled environments will break down more frequently and require more extensive repair work and maintenance. Even then, there will be mandatory, additional testing.
Beyond required inspections, periodic testing of equipment integrity is necessary for fire alarms, fire extinguishers, kitchen range hoods, and industrial or clean agent suppression systems.
- Fire extinguishers require 6-year maintenance and 12-year hydrotesting.
- Fire Alarms receive a 2-year sensitivity test.
- Sprinkler systems call for fire pump, 5-year Internal Pipe inspection, and backflow preventer testing.
- Like fire extinguishers, kitchen range hoods, and industrial / clean agent systems require hydrotesting on every system tank every 12 years.
Other factors such as the physical size of your business, its location, and your insurance requirements all play parts in fire protection management too. Each of these can affect the quantity, placement, type of equipment, and frequency of inspections. Some insurers go so far as to require quarterly, monthly, even weekly inspections of sprinklers and fire extinguishers. But these inspections are less involved and often just visual inspections such as checking gauges and physical damage. Even though these “visual” inspections are more frequent they do not take the place of the annual inspections.
In between inspections, you can perform your own walk-throughs to make sure your equipment is accessible, undamaged, and ready to use.
Planned, timely inspections can help you stave off surprise expenses throughout the year in terms of both repair costs and AHJ fines but ultimately, the safety of your customers, yourself, and your business is paramount. In a matter of seconds, a fire can destroy all your hard work and put you out-of-business. But planning your budget with fire protection in mind and setting up a fire inspection schedule with a service provider you trust can extend a good safety net for whatever type of small business you open.