In 2019, there were an estimated 110,900 nonresidential fires which led to 100 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries, according to data from the U.S. Fire Administration. These fires not only cost human lives but also more than $2.8 billion in damages. Having properly installed smoke detectors and fire extinguishers can save lives but there are several other things a rental store owner can do to reduce the risk of a fire.
Rental Management recently spoke with Kevin Gern, the American Rental Association’s (ARA) director of safety. He has a background in medical and emergency services, pharmaceutical, biotech and contamination research. Gern also is the emergency management coordinator for South Hanover Township, Pa., and serves as an assistant fire chief and trustee for his local volunteer fire department.
In the interview below, he shares fire safety tips and what should be done at a rental store to help reduce risk.
Rental Management: When thinking about fire safety, what are the first steps a rental store should take?
Kevin Gern: Good housekeeping is key to basic fire safety. This comes into play in a few different ways. First, if you clean up spills right away and dispose of any trash or boxes instead of letting them pile up, this prevents fuel for a fire. The second part is that it ensures clear aisles and walkways should your employees need to evacuate the building. Good housekeeping will help to keep your business efficient and reduce risks for everyone.
Rental Management: What can companies do to minimize workplace fire hazards?
Gern: Perform regular walking inspections of your facility. Note any areas that need additional attention for cleaning or organizing. Look closely at fire exits as well as fire extinguishers to ensure they are not blocked and are in good working condition. Look at any sprinkler heads to ensure they are not blocked and are free of obstructions. Businesses have been known to stack equipment or boxes high on shelves and block these sprinkler heads which will not allow them to function properly should you need them. Also, make sure to test your fire alarm systems and your emergency lighting on a regular basis to ensure everything is working correctly.
Rental Management: Are there particular fire-prone areas of a rental store that owners should pay extra attention to?
Gern: Absolutely. We need to pay special attention to areas where hot work is performed. Examples of these would be things like welding, cutting torches, grinding and other things that create heat or sparks. It is important to keep these areas clean and free of oils or other flammable items. Ensure you have a properly rated fire extinguisher in this area and that all employees know where it is and how to use it properly.
Rental Management: Besides smoke alarms and fire extinguishers, what other fire detection and protection systems should a company have in place?
Gern: In some shops, they have installed air horn stations. This is literally an area where a portable handheld air horn is mounted to the wall. If a shop is loud or is not prewired with alarms and flashing lights, the airhorns can be utilized to signal an issue and that all employees should evacuate the building immediately. Again, make sure you train your employees to understand what this sound is for.
Rental Management: What can a rental store owner do to ensure their staff is properly prepared to deal with a fire incident?
Gern: Training, training, training. Make sure that you have gone over fire safety with your staff annually as well as with new hires. It is important to document any training that you do with employees. This can be documented via a simple sign-in sheet. Discuss the importance of cleaning up spills, keeping fire extinguishers and fire exits clear from obstructions, and also evacuation routes as well as muster points. Make sure to also practice your fire drills each year and look for any issues or inefficiencies that can be corrected.
Rental Management: As we head into the colder winter months, are there certain fire safety techniques a company should consider during this time of the year?
Gern: As we all know, colder weather means that we will be turning on the heat. Make sure you inspect your heating systems prior to turning them on. Walk through your facility and ensure that filters have been changed and that ducts are not blocked. If you have radiant heat sources like oil burners, wood stoves or kerosene heaters, make sure to keep all combustible materials out of the area. Also, make sure that anyone using space heaters in offices or under desks have them on timers or ensure that they shut them off when they leave the area. You also need to ensure that space heaters are on proper circuits that can handle the load.