Fire and Smoke Damage: What Every Business Owner Should Know

Fire and Smoke Damage Can Wreck Havoc on a Business

Every minute lost is less money the business can take in. Knowing how to prepare and what to watch out for can help reduce the amount of damage and time it takes to repair. Ensuring the business gets back-up-and-running as soon as possible.

Don’t Wait for Disaster To Strike, Be Proactive

Fire protection is a must for any business or commercial property owner. While no property is 100 percent immune, there are a number of preventative measures a business or property owner can take to reduce their exposure and risk, as well the amount of damage that might occur should disaster strike.

Does this require extra effort on the part of the property owner or business? Certainly, yes. But because fire can be such a destructive force – especially in high-risk, high-density areas – the time and effort spent installing and maintaining effective fire suppression systems, developing an emergency response plan, and performing regularly scheduled maintenance is a drop in the bucket compared to what it will cost to restore and repair the damage.

Primary Fire Damage Versus Secondary Fire Damage

When it comes to fire damage there are two types. Primary fire damage is the evidence that a fire has taken place. For example, charred materials, ash, and soot. Secondary fire damage has to do with the things you don’t see. For example, the strong odor that worms its way into every surface, fiber, and material as a result of smoke disbursement.

Water damage that occurs as a result of fire suppression systems like sprinklers or a hose team is also considered secondary damage.

What Is Considered Fire Protection?

The term fire protection is pretty self-explanatory. It involves the steps a property owner or business can take to reduce their risk of a fire event. It’s also important to remember that there is no one-size, fits-all solution as to what is considered the right amount of fire protection. Different properties share different risks. A factory or warehouse that houses highly combustible materials is going to require a different level of protection compared to a small one-story business office or a single family home.

Determining The Level of Fire Protection Needed

Fire protection and fire safety requirements often vary by region, business type, and the size of the structure. It may also depend on things like population density and the odds a fire event may occur. This is especially important in areas prone to wildfires.

With that being said, it is always recommended to review any local rules, regulations, and ordinances that may be required for a business to operate. For example, a commercial warehouse in a wildfire-prone area may be required to create a defensive space around their structure by removing brush, twigs, and dead trees from the ground, dead leaves from gutters, and removing things like pallet stacks stored out in the open. Failure to do so may result in fines, the cancellation of a business license or, in the worse cases, legal action should the property be accused of negligence.

Fire Suppression Systems

In order to maintain proper coverage and ensure a commercial fire claim will be covered, a business or commercial property owner may be required to enlist specific fire suppression systems or resources. This may include things like:

  • A commercial fire alarm system
  • A commercial fire detection system
  • A commercial fire sprinkler system
  • A commercial kitchen fire suppression system (if applicable)
  • Commercial fire extinguishers (the proper type for the respective area)
  • Fire evacuation plan
  • The installation of fire doors (to reduce the risk a fire will spread)

Remember — a proper functioning sprinkler system can go a long way towards extinguishing a fire and preventing it from spreading. Ensuring the sprinkler system is up to code and performing as intended is crucial for any business or property owner.

It Never Hurts to Check with Your Local Fire Department

Many cities and towns already require a fire marshal visit businesses once a year to ensure they maintain a level of fire preparedness as required by law. This visit can go a long way towards identifying risks and violations that could expose the property to a potential fire.

However, if something in the property changes or there is some uncertainty as to whether the right steps are being taken, it never hurts to place a call and doublecheck with a fire professional. If they cannot help themselves, they may be able to provide information as to who to contact.

An Insurance Carrier Will Have Input As Well

An insurance company can often be the best source when it comes to taking steps to reduce the risk of fire or smoke damage that can affect a business or property. Insurance companies – especially those who work in the business and commercial sector – have strict requirements when it comes their policies, particularly with regard to natural disasters, flooding, and fires.

The last thing a business or property owner wants to hear is that their damage isn’t covered due to some minor oversight, so it is always recommended to review the policy in detail or contact the carrier to discuss what is needed.

Fire Extinguisher Requirements for Businesses and Commercial Buildings

Much like fire suppression systems, different commercial buildings and businesses are subject to different fire extinguisher requirements. For example, a commercial kitchen fire extinguisher designed to put out a grease fire may not be the same as what is required in a traditional office area. Ensuring the proper extinguisher is functional and in place can make a huge difference when it comes to preventing the spread of a fire.

Regional Risks: Urban High-Density Areas to Wildfires

As population densities continue to increase and access to open space decreases, more and more commercial and residential buildings and single family homes are being built closer to one other. This poses an obvious risk as the lack of distance between structures makes it easier for flames or embers to travel to a neighboring property. A similar threat exists in high-risk areas prone to wildfires as embers can often travel for miles before touching down and sparking a blaze.

To reduce the risk a structure may catch fire, it is always advisable to create a defensive space around the property. In rural areas this includes removing any potential fuel such as dead branches or twigs, leaves, grass, or pine needles. And eliminating the use of woodchips as a landscaping staple. For urban areas this means removing everyday items such as pallets, loose cardboard, refuse, or any other combustible materials or objects that may catch fire. Not only will this cut down on the amount of fuel surrounding the property, it will also make it easier for first responders to access the building should it catch fire.

Commercial property and business owners in wildfire-prone areas can also take additional steps like replacing traditional roof shingles with a metal roof. Or adding extra fine screens to any exposed air ducts to prevent embers from finding their way inside. This will prove more costly than simply doing a little yard work, but it may be worth it in the long run if it means the structure will be saved.

Prevention Is Key

In any case, the best way to reduce the chance of fire and smoke damage is to take preventative steps ahead of time and to know any risk factors that may affect the property.

Preventative maintenance tips include:

  • Make sure fire suppression systems are functioning and up to code
  • Make sure fire suppression systems have the reach they are designed to have so that they are effective in the event of a fire
  • Know where the utility shutoffs are located and how to do it
  • Make sure electrical items/machines are serviced and maintained regularly to avoid malfunctions or shorts
  • Keep high risk areas clean and free of clutter or objects that could lead to fire or smoke damage

Put Together A Plan And Stick To It

One of the many benefits of consulting with a restoration professional is their ability to assess the property and make recommendations that might help prevent the risk of fire in the future.

Some restoration professionals can also help put together a disaster-response plan outlining the steps that need to be taken should fire damage part or all of the property. This is especially valuable for business and property owners who need to get back up-and-running fast as it will help expedite restoration, repairs, and inspections to reduce lost time.

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