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Fire Prevention Tips Every Property Manager Needs to Know

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As a property owner or manager, you want to make sure your property is protected and safe. With October being National Fire Prevention Month, now is a good time to assess the fire safety of your property and determine what – if any – upgrades or changes should to be made.

You Might Not Know About Fires on Your Property

Unfortunately, it’s not always evident when a fire has occurred in one or more of your apartments until after the tenant has moved out.

The  U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that millions of home structure fires go unreported every year. In fact, it is believed that for every reported fire, another 30 to 50 fires are unreported. As with all fires, whether they are reported or unreported, cooking is the number one cause, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

For this reason alone, it is imperative that property owners/managers be proactive when it comes to protecting their assets from cooking fires. But there are many other reasons to be vigilant with fire safety.

The Costs of Residential Fires

The costs of cooking fires, both to the bottom line and to reputation, can be crippling to property owners.

The NFPA estimates that every year cooking fires cause:

  • An average of 530 civilian deaths;
  • An average of 5,270 civilian injuries; and
  • An average $1.1 billion in direct property damage.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), cooking is the leading cause of multifamily residential building fires.  In fact, almost 3 out of every 4 multifamily building fires are cooking fires!  From 2013 to 2015, property loss from fires in multifamily buildings totaled $1.4 billion. Add in reputation loss, relocation costs, and restoration stress and cooking fires are a problem best avoided.

An Ounce of Prevention

The best way to prevent these expenses is to focus on the source and ensure that a property’s fire safety strategy includes cooking fire prevention. It could help save money, property and even lives.

Smoke Alarms/Fire Extinguishers

A fire can start and be in an “out of control” state in under two minutes.  Cooking fires can happen even faster.  Exponentially faster if a tenant tries to extinguish a cooking oil fire with water. You can’t always rely on your tenants to monitor their smoke alarms and replace the batteries when needed. Further, if you have a non-functioning smoke detector and one of your tenants is injured (or worse) as a result of a fire, you may be held liable.

The NFPA reports that over half of fire-related deaths occurred in residences where there was no functioning smoke alarm. Further, it found that 43 percent of non-operational smoke alarms were due to missing/disconnected batteries and 25 percent were due to dead batteries. This illustrates why it is necessary for property managers to check every smoke alarm on their property, regularly.

The NFPA suggests a smoke alarm be outside of every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of the property, including the basement. Be sure kitchen alarms are at least 10 feet from appliances to avoid nuisance alarms. This will help reduce the risk of tenants removing the batteries or disabling the unit.

As you are inspecting smoke alarms, inspect fire extinguishers as well. Ensure they are not outdated and, if so, have them replaced immediately. Be sure there is a fire extinguisher in kitchens, as well as common areas such as hallways or lobbies.

Inspect Electrical Wiring

According to the NFPA, electrical fires were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires from 2012-2016 with 39 percent occurring during the winter months.

Be sure you have your electrical wiring up-to-date and talk with the occupants of your property to find out if they have noticed any strange electrical disturbances. If you are not sure, contact a professional to assess the wiring of your property for potential dangers.

Upgrade Equipment

With cooking fires posing the greatest threat of a fire to property owners and tenants, it makes sense to upgrade your units with equipment that can help prevent a cooking fire from starting in the first place.

Technology, such as the SmartBurner™ and SmartElement™ have been designed to reduce the risk of cooking fires on electric coil stoves, by preventing burners from reaching the temperature at which most cooking oils or household items ignite. The technology used in both SmartBurner and SmartElement has been installed in hundreds of thousands of apartment and institutional kitchens without a single confirmed cooking fire. No fires. No property loss. No cooking fire injuries.

Other product solutions that property managers should consider upgrading their cooking appliances with include the Safe T Sensor™ and the SmartRange™. To prevent cooking fires in microwaves and, more commonly, to avoid nuisance alarms from burning food that can result in building evacuations, Safe T Sensor shuts off the microwave at the first sign of smoke. SmartRange performs a similar function for electric stoves. It is especially recommended for glass top and induction stoves. Essentially, SmartRange measures the overall temperature of the cooktop, as well as the rate of increase in temperature of the cooktop. If a dangerous cooking situation is detected, an alarm will sound attracting the tenant’s attention. If the tenant does not respond to the alarm the range will be automatically shut off before a cooking fire occurs.

Rather than opting for suppression devices that help put out a fire after it has started, property owners and managers should consider using technology that can prevent cooking fires from starting in the first place. Prevention can significantly reduce the risk of cooking fires, property damage, and fire related injuries.

When you consider all of the costs associated with a multifamily building fire, it’s easy to see why property owners and managers should stay on top of the latest technologies to help keep their properties, tenants and employees protected.

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