Having a strategy for an accident that may not take place at all is one of the most important aspects of fire safety in an outlet that has a large number of people moving in and out. In a retail outlet or a commercial set up, there will always be restrictions to having in place a system for a fire accident that may not take place. However just because it doesn’t take place for ‘X’ number of years is no reason to be satisfied that it will never take place. Which is why it is essential to be prepared for the unknown. Fire safety strategy for an outlet of this nature is made up of three essential elements; Passive fire safety measures, Active fire safety measures and management fire safety measures. For a building to function safely each of these elements must be adequately provided.
Passive fire safety measures
Passive Fire safety measures are features which are built into the structure of the building and are physical features of the building. These features include the provision of escape routes and exits, the provision of fire resistance to the building structure and the provision of access to and around the building.
Active fire safety measures
Active Fire Precaution measures are systems which activate or are required to be activated in the event of an outbreak of fire. Active Fire Precaution measures would include fire detection and alarm systems, emergency lighting and firefighting equipment. Fire safety management within a building must include a full appraisal of the active and passive fire safety measures within the building. All deficiencies in the fire safety measures should be noted and a programme of remedial works to upgrade the building to an acceptable standard should be put in place.
Management Fire Safety Measures
Management Fire safety measures relate to the day to day management of fire safety in a building. There is a legal responsibility on persons having control over premises to take reasonable measures to prevent the occurrence of a fire and to protect the lives and safety of occupants in the event of fire. The active and passive fire safety measures outlined above could be completely negated unless the building occupants are aware of the significance of the measures, of their role with regard to prevention of fire and of the appropriate action to take in the event of fire. A fire safety programme must be established in a building in order to correctly manage fire safety and meet legal obligations.
A person should be designated Fire Safety Manager with responsibility for drawing up, implementing and overseeing the fire safety programme. The Fire Safety Manager should be of adequate status within the organisation and should have authority to effectively discharge his/her responsibility. It should be noted at the outset that the elements of the fire safety programme are based on the assumption that active and passive fire safety measures are present within the establishment. In the absence of adequate active and passive fire safety measures within a building more stringent management fire safety measures will be required.
Fire Safety Programme
The main elements of a Fire Safety Programme are:
Emergency procedures/evacuation drills; Regular fire safety inspections; Maintenance and servicing of fire equipment; Staff training; Information to occupants; Keeping of records and Emergency Planning.
All occupants must be capable of responding correctly in the event of fire. Accordingly, a plan should be prepared outlining the procedures to be followed. This predetermined plan can be broken down into a number of sections:
a procedure for raising the alarm; a procedure for calling the fire brigade; an evacuation procedure; an assembly point and roll call procedure; a procedure for fighting the fire; a procedure for assisting the fire brigade.
(i) A Procedure for Raising the Alarm:
Depending on the establishment size the fire alarm system may be very simple or may be sophisticated. All occupants should be aware of how to raise the alarm. Alarm sounders should be different and distinct from any other signal used in the building.
(ii) A Procedure for Calling the Fire Brigade:
The Fire Brigade should be called immediately in the event of fire, however small. Where there is a receptionist or telephone operator he/she is usually given the responsibility of contacting the Fire Brigade. When calling the Fire Brigade give clear information including: Name Of Building Address Of Building? Directions to the Building if necessary. It may also help to inform in advance about type Of fire situation which means fire location, fire size, materials involved, persons missing.
(iii) An Evacuation Procedure:
Initiate the evacuation procedure once the fire alarm has been sounded. The evacuation procedure will depend on the building use e.g. the evacuation procedure for a hospital will be different from the procedure for a manufacturing facility or an office building
(iv) An Assembly Point and Roll Call Procedure:
Designate an assembly area (or areas) clear of the building. All building occupants should proceed to the assembly area on evacuation. The assembly area should be clear of access points for the Fire Brigade. At the assembly point a roll call should be taken to ensure all occupants are accounted for. Missing persons should be notified to the Fire Brigade when they arrive at the scene.
(v) A Procedure for Fighting the Fire:
In the early stages of a fire it may be possible to successfully contain it or extinguish it with first aid firefighting equipment. To accomplish this staff members should be instructed in the use of hand held extinguishers and hose reels. Certain members of staff may be designated as a fire fighting team as part of the emergency procedures. Their function would be to assess and “if safe to do so” tackle the fire with the available equipment until the Fire Brigade arrive.
(vi) A Procedure for Assisting the Fire Brigade:
When the Fire Brigade arrive they need to be given as much information as possible in order to take the best course of action. The type of information required includes:
location of the fire; materials involved; details of missing persons; location of nearest fire hydrants; location of all access doors to the building, location of any special risks and keys for access into any locked areas.
- to ensure safe, orderly and efficient evacuation of all occupants of the building to use all exit facilities available in order that occupants are familiar with them. to test all aspects of the emergency procedures.
- to achieve an attitude of mind that reacts rationally when confronted with a fire or other emergency situation.
The frequency of drills will depend on the building use. Initially drills should be held at frequent intervals e.g. every two months until everyone is familiar with the procedures. Thereafter drills should be held at least twice yearly. The drill should be initiated by activating the fire alarm and all stages of the drill should be observed and a review of the drill should be held. Any deficiencies can then be noted and remedied. [Where the fire alarm system is connected to a remote monitoring centre this centre should be notified of the proposed drill]
Regular Fire Safety Inspections:
Regular inspections are required to ensure the continued functioning of the active and passive fire safety measures in a building and to detect dangerous practices. The following should be monitored by regular inspection.
Stairways and Exit Doors: Stairways and final exit doors must never be obstructed, and all exit doors must be capable of being opened easily and immediately from the inside while the building is occupied.
Fire Resisting Doors: Fire doors are provided in a building in order to contain smoke and fire gases. Fire doors must be kept closed when not in use.
Rubbish and Combustible Waste: Rubbish and combustible waste including paper, cardboard, plastics and chemicals should not be allowed to accumulate in any area. Where large quantities of combustible waste are produced at the site it should be removed to an outdoor storage area or waste skip located away from the building.
Outdoor storage of combustible materials should be well clear of the building and other outdoor facilities e.g. transformers, bulk flammable liquid tanks etc. The material should be stored in well defined stacks with clear isles between them. The stacks should be located so as not to obstruct access for fire fighting. Where there is outdoor storage regard should be had to the security of the site against intruders.
Indoor storage of combustible materials should preferably be in designated storage areas. Storage should be arranged with clear isles between stacks at least one metre wide. Goods should be stacked clear of light fittings, heating pipes and appliances, and firefighting equipment. Flammable liquids, gas cylinders, aerosols and materials liable to spontaneous combustion should be segregated from other storage. Detailed guidance is available on the storage of such materials.
Machinery and equipment should be checked regularly for signs of wear, damage or overheating. Faulty equipment should be removed from use until repaired.
Maintenance and Servicing of Fire Equipment:
Active fire precautions systems installed in the building require regular checking and maintenance to ensure their continued operation and availability. Visual checks are required for most types of systems on a frequent basis with full operational check by a trained person required once every year. Maintenance and servicing is required for:
Fire Alarm Systems. Emergency Lighting Systems. Fire Extinguisher Hose Reels.
Fire Hydrants. Reference should be made to the installation codes (Irish or British Standards) for full details of the required type and frequency of maintenance checks.
Staff Instruction and Training:
For a fire safety programme to be effective, staff must be familiar with the parts of the fire safety programme which relate to them. Comprehensive instruction and training should be given to staff to enable them to carry out their functions under the programme. All staff should receive instruction in:
- Everyday fire prevention measures Emergency procedures
- First aid fire fighting
- All staff should receive a written copy of the emergency procedures and of the procedures for any other task that has been delegated to them in the event of fire. All staff should also receive some instruction in the use of first aid firefighting equipment. Where a specific fire fighting team has been set up those who have been designated for the team will require further instruction and training with the firefighting equipment.
Fire Safety Register:
The Fire Safety Manager who is responsible for the implementation and oversight of the fire safety programme should keep a Fire Safety Register as a complete record of all fire safety matters on the premises. The following information should be recorded in the register:
- the name of the Fire Safety Manager, and those nominated to deputise for him/her; the details of specific fire duties that have been assigned to staff; the details of instruction and training given to staff, and by whom; the date of each fire and evacuation drill and results of exercises held; the type, number and location of fire protection equipment in the premises, including water supplies, hydrants etc.; the date of each inspection of the building itself, its fittings and services and the actions taken to remedy any defects found
- details of all fire incidents and false alarms that occur and the actions taken as a result.
- The register will serve as a record and also as a checklist for the Fire Safety Manager to ensure that checks and training which are required are being carried out on an ongoing basis.
Fire may still occur in spite of good fire prevention procedures. Advance planning should be carried out to minimise the cost and disruption of a fire. While insurance will cover the material loss, loss of customers and suppliers and other consequential losses may ultimately cause the failure of the company. Damage control plans should address the procedures required before, during and after the fire.
Before the fire:
A damage control team consisting of the key personnel from the different departments within the organisation should be established. Their task would be to examine the consequences of possible incidents and to formulate a planned response to the incidents. A response team should be established whose task it is to carry out damage limitation work during and immediately after a fire. A list of outside agencies whose services could be required in the event of fire should be compiled and maintained. This list could include building contractors, plant hire companies, fire engineering firms, estate agents, insurance brokers etc.
The building itself should be examined and modified where necessary to mitigate the effects of a fire. Assuming active and passive fire precaution measures have been put in place, issues such as ventilation and drainage should be considered. All vulnerable stock should be stored clear of the floor in racking or on pallets.
During the fire:
Work to prevent any extension of fire/water damage should begin as early as possible. When the Fire Service are in attendance this work will be carried out at the discretion of the officer in charge at the fire. Work will primarily be aimed at preventing consequential water damage. Machinery and stock should be covered with plastic sheeting. Dams placed across doorways or at other areas will prevent water from flowing into unaffected areas. Drains which may become blocked with fire debris should be cleared. Stock in danger from the fire may be moved from the area if safe to do so.
After the fire:
The level of work required after the fire will depend on the extent of damage and the following should be considered. Temporary repairs to roofs and window openings should be carried out to make the building weather tight. Debris should be checked for any recoverable items and then cleared away. Water should be pumped from basements, pits and lift wells. Machinery and equipment involved in a fire will deteriorate quickly even if they have not been directly wetted. Machinery should be cleaned, dried and coated with oil as early as possible. Contaminated electronic equipment should be and cleaned as early as possible.
Take a second look at that sprinkler.
Shopping malls go hand-in-hand with adaptation. The evolution of the mall began with Trajan’s Market, built in Rome around 100-110 AD. The concept of the mall evolved from an open air market to the modern day, enclosed mall, first built in Edina, Minnesota in 1956. Shopping malls continue to change to adopt new retail ventures. It is this continuous change that provides a backdrop to hidden areas that may unknowingly be prone to freezing fire protection sprinkler pipes.
What are common fire hazards in malls?
Malls have a greater than average chance of fire due to the transient population. Each year, 1,710 fire events take place in the retail industry and 119 are caused by arson, according to the NFPA. Other issues that stem from the transient population, including short-term employees, are smoking within the building and unsafe storage of combustible and flammable materials. Additional fire hazards are electrical malfunctions and the open flames, sparks, and hot surfaces found in most restaurants. Large numbers of people, expensive property, and large stocks of merchandise rely on a full fire protection solution to keep them safe. Because of the menagerie of retail outlets and a diverse population, fire protection must also be kept at its peak performance.
Why does fire sprinkler piping freeze?
There are several causes for the freezing of fire sprinkler pipes throughout the life of the building. During the construction phase, wet-pipe sprinklers may be installed in the interior of the mall; however, heat is not yet circulating throughout the building. If the temperature drops to 40 degrees or below, wet-pipe sprinkler piping runs the risk of freezing. In unheated areas, such as exterior areas, attics, or storage rooms, dry-pipe, pre-action, dry-pendent, or dry-sidewall sprinklers are typically installed by an expert fire protection service provider. However, if the sprinklers activate and are not adequately drained, the sitting water has the opportunity to freeze within the pipe.
What can happen if a pipe freezes?
If temperatures reach below 40 degrees, any water within a fire sprinkler pipe runs the risk of freezing according to NFPA. The most common areas that freeze in fire sprinkler piping are short-runs of sprinkler piping, such as exterior walls and attic spaces. These pipes are often forgotten by property personnel when a sprinkler head activates and pipes need to be drained. When water freezes, it increases in size by 10%. This is significant enough to increase the pressure to the point of bursting a pipe, fitting, or sprinkler and can cause the release of up to 30 gallons of water per minute. Each time a pipe bursts, it will typically cost a property owner $30,000+ per event. If a fire event happens when the fire sprinkler piping has an ice block, it will inhibit water flow and the sprinkler head may not activate.
Leaks from frozen pipes typically appear when the pipes begin to thaw, so properties are more likely to experience a burst pipe in the early spring or on warm winter days. With the erratic winter weather in the Midwest, property owners need to be particularly pro-active about their fire protection inspection, testing, and maintenance, especially after a sprinkler activates.
How do we prevent fire sprinkler pipes from freezing?
The initial opportunity to prevent a pipe from bursting due to freezing water is to work with a fire protection service provider that is well aware of the risks of freezing weather on fire sprinkler piping. They will design a system that will mitigate the risks of burst pipes. Installing dry-pipe, pre-action, dry-pendant, or dry-sidewall sprinklers will ensure water is not in the pipes unless a fire sprinkler activates, reducing the likelihood of freezing pipes. If a sprinkler activates, call your fire protection contractor immediately to properly drain pipes of excess water.
Steps can be taken to prevent freezing pipes:
- Have employees stay alert and be aware of cold weather conditions.
- Check fire protection frequently during the winter months.
- According to Bollinger Insurance, do not attempt do-it-yourself repairs on fire protection systems. Obtain the services of a trained professional.
- During annual fire protection inspections, ask your contractor to test all valves.
- Have personnel trained on how to shut down valves in the event of a burst pipe.
If an ice blockage is discovered, do not use an open flame or temporary heating equipment in an attempt to melt the ice. This will present an unnecessary fire risk.
Fire protection systems are essential to the safety of customers, employees, property, and merchandise in malls. 98% of sprinkler failure is due to human error. If a frozen pipe is discovered, contact your fire protection contractor to provide emergency maintenance and reduce the chances of a burst pipe causing $30,000 in damages or a fire sprinkler malfunction when you need it most.