Promoting Fire Safety in Your Community Association
Chances are that fire safety isn’t top of mind for residents. However, home fires are more common than most people realize. Plus, what may start as a small fire can get out of hand quickly causing expensive repairs, injuries and even death. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fire fighters in the United States responded to an estimated average of 358,500 home structure fires per year from 2011 to 2015. In Canada, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs reported an average of 12,329 home structure fires from 2010 to 2014. So, what can your board do to promote fire safety awareness?
Hold educational events.Events like the town hall held by Jim Hayden, general manager at FirstService Residential, are great ways to bring neighbors together to learn about fire safety. Hayden, along with his management team at the 980-unit, New York City co-op, collaborated with the association board to develop a safety program after a fire took the lives of two residents.
In addition to members of the Fire Department of New York and the New York Police Department, they invited a city councilmember, the Manhattan borough president and the co-op’s public safety captain to speak at the town hall. Insurance brokers, as well as vendors selling smoke alarms and fire extinguishers were also on hand.
Share fire safety tips with residents.“As both a property manager and a homeowner, I know how important it is to stay vigilant at all times,” says Morgan Lepson, property manager at FirstService Residential. “Small details may seem inconsequential, but they can lead to fire hazards if not addressed.”
If your board hasn’t done so already, you should consider creating and distributing an information packet with proven safety advice and insights. You can also share safety tips in your community newsletter, on your website and at board meetings. Lepson points out that there are many different areas you should remind residents to consider. “For example, they need to make sure their summertime barbecue grill and outdoor fire pit are far enough away from any structures,” she says. “They should also ensure their fireplace is clean, well-maintained and inspected before lighting it for the first time each year.”
In addition, Lepson recommends including the following 10 fire safety tips.
- Make a household plan.
Residents should have a fire escape plan for everyone in their household – including pets. They should review the plan and practice their escape procedures together as a group to ensure that everyone knows what to do and where to go in case of a fire. If your property is a high- or mid-rise building, remind residents to familiarize themselves with your building’s fire safety guides and equipment, as well as the locations of all exits and stairwells. Encourage residents to participate in fire drills so they become familiar with escape routes and procedures and to request extra training if they need it. (For more information, visit Fire Safety Tips for High-Rise and Condo Buildings.)
Tell residents to inform the property manager if they will require extra assistance in the event of a fire. If your community isn’t professionally managed, ask those residents to notify the local fire department about their special needs.
- Get to know the community emergency action plan.
Every community should have an emergency action plan and should communicate that plan to residents. Tell residents to review the plan periodically and to attend any meetings where your board will be going over the plan.
- Prep your pet.
Pet owners should always make sure that Fido or Fluffy is collared and tagged. Microchipping is a good idea, too. Point out the importance of keeping a leash or crate near escape route exits. Concerned pet owners may also want to find out if the local fire department has pet-size oxygen masks as part of their life-saving equipment.
- Install smoke detectors – and check them regularly.
Most home fire deaths happen when people are asleep, so it’s critical that residents have working smoke detectors in their homes to provide an early warning. How effective are they? The NFPA estimates that a working smoke alarm in the bedroom cuts the risk of dying in a fire by half. Residents should install smoke detectors in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area and on every level of their home, including the basement. Remind residents to test the batteries twice a year. A good way to remember is to do it when clocks are reset in the spring and fall.
- Complete your fire safety equipment list.
Although exiting your home during a fire should always be your first priority, small, contained fires (such as one in a wastebasket or a small kitchen fire) can be eliminated with a home fire extinguisher. Residents should only attempt to put out a fire after everyone else has exited the home and the fire department has been called. Every homeowner should have a multipurpose extinguisher on hand that isn’t too big to handle. Residents should be told to follow instructions on proper use and always keep their back to an exit to ensure they have a way to escape. If the room has filled with smoke, they should exit immediately.
For even more protection, recommend that homeowners install carbon monoxide detectors. They can alert residents to the presence of carbon monoxide gas. Because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, it is often referred to as a “silent killer.”
- DO watch those pots.
Kitchen fires usually happen when residents forget that they have something on the stove. Stray crumbs or food that boils over can ignite a fire and spell disaster if no one is there to take quick action. Once ignited, kitchen fires spread quickly.
- Unplug appliances when not in use.
Remind residents to unplug items – especially curling irons and straighteners – before dashing out the door. These appliances can reach temperatures of 450 degrees or more and can cause a fire if they come in contact with flammable items. Even malfunctioning kitchen appliances like toasters and toaster ovens have been known to cause fires, so the safest bet is to unplug these items as well when not in use.
- Clean your gutters.
Plant debris, sediment and dirt can build up inside homeowners’ gutters. During a dry summer, dried out debris can ignite if stray embers from a barbeque grill or fire pit are carried up to the roof by wind. Keeping gutters clean can significantly reduce the risk of fire.
- Keep your fireplace up to snuff.
In addition to the precautions mentioned earlier, Lepson recommends that homeowners get their fireplace inspected by a certified specialist to make sure it is in good working order. Hearths and mantels should be free from papers, decorations and other potentially flammable materials. Residents should supervise children and pets around fires as well and consider installing a childproof fireplace gate if they have young kids. Of course, they should never leave a burning fire unattended. Any fire needs to be completely extinguished before residents leave their home or go to bed.
- Be especially vigilant around holidays.
Holidays are often a time of lighting candles, putting up lights and spending additional time in the kitchen. Help ensure that residents’ holidays don’t turn into bad memories with these holiday-specific recommendations:
- Be sure last year’s lights – including electrical cords – are in good working order before plugging them in, and always shut them off before going to bed.
- Opt for battery-powered candles instead of real, wax candles.
- Keep all paper and plastic decor away from sources of heat or flame – and always out of reach of children and pets.
- Use extra caution in the kitchen, particularly when cooking multiple items.
- Look for décor that is flame resistant or flame retardant.
- If you put up a natural Christmas tree, keep it at least three feet away from any heat source and away from exits.
Helping residents become more safety savvy doesn’t take a lot of time or money, but the cost of not teaching them about fire safety can be very high. For even more comprehensive fire safety tips, information and resources, visit the National Fire Protection Agency or the Red Cross website.