Article by Dale Grant – Marketing Specialist
In a study conducted over a four-year period, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) found that Fire Departments across the United States responded to an estimated average of 5,750 structure fires in healthcare properties per year. These fires caused an average of two civilian deaths, 157 civilian injuries, and a staggering $50.4 million in direct property damage.
Structure fires are unpredictable, and accidents are inevitable. What becomes most imperative are the steps taken to mitigate the risks and having the proper life safety systems and procedures in place and fully functional should an emergency occur.
Healthcare Facilities range from large high-rise buildings with both short-term and full-time residential facilities to outpatient care clinics. While the structures may be different, the fundamentals of fire safety remain the same.
Fire Detection and Notification:
Fires are often detected via its two main products, smoke and heat. It is vital to the safety of patients and staff that smoke detectors be present and functional in all areas as required by state and local authorities. These detection devices will set off a series of alarms, both audible and visual, alerting staff to the situation and prompting a response.
Like any building catering to the public, it is important to have clearly marked evacuation routes to inform occupants of the safest means of egress. Healthcare facilities present their own challenges as patients are often sick, disabled, and lack the mobility to escape on their own. This makes continuous training as important as the fire safety equipment itself.
It is imperative that staff know:
- Evacuation Routes
- The location and operation of fire extinguishers
- The location of fire alarms
- Their individual responsibilities should a fire occur
For healthcare employees who find themselves dealing with a fire, the RACE theory is often recommended as a pneumonic device on how to respond:
- Rescue any patients who are in danger
- Activate a fire alarm if you see a fire, or respond immediately when you hear an alarm
- Confine fires by closing off doors and hallways
- Extinguish small fires only; leave major fires for the fire department.
Regular safety drills should be a part of any healthcare facility’s standard operations.
Fire Suppression Systems:
An interesting finding in the NFPA Survey found that only 4% of fires in healthcare facilities extended past their room of origin. This is due, in large part, to the prevalence of automatic sprinkler systems. In most cases, fires are extinguished or contained by a single sprinkler head. The importance of fire sprinkler systems within healthcare facilities is so significant that by 2028, it will be a requirement in all facilities. As these new standards are put in place, it is important for facility management to meet with Fire Safety Specialists to ensure their current suppression system meets any updated requirements.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure:
The best way to avoid the safety risks and potential property damage of a fire is through good practices and preventative maintenance.
The previously mentioned study by the NFPA found that cooking equipment was involved in 2/3rd of healthcare facility fires. To avoid kitchen fires, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends the following:
- Avoid grease fires by thoroughly cleaning cooking appliances regularly.
- Store any flammable liquids, oils, and other items far from cooking equipment.
- Check all electrical cables for tears and frays.
- Keep portable fire extinguishers close and ensure your staff knows how to use them.
In addition to safety in food preparation areas, common-sense preventative safety measures can be undertaken throughout a facility, including diligence in maintaining clear, accessible exits as well as access to fire safety equipment and notification devices.
An often-overlooked preventative measure is the inspection and maintenance of a facility’s life safety systems. The most common reason a fire sprinkler fails to operate in an emergency is due to the system being manually turned off or improperly maintained. Having a trusted partner in fire protection regularly inspect a building’s life safety system is not only important for the safety of the building’s patients and staff but can also avoid costly fines for non-compliance with local fire codes and regulations.
The life safety systems of any building should always be a priority; however, the special circumstances of healthcare facilities make it imperative to meet, if not exceed, all safety measures required by law. The first step toward achieving this is to contact a trusted partner in protection to assess your facility’s needs and create a customized design to meet those needs.