Contributor: Chiara Lima, Business Development Manager at F.E. Moran Fire Protection
Writer: Sarah Block, Marketing Director at The Moran Group
"The phrase we tend to use is that we are deafened by silence - the silence in our house because we had a really busy house with three two year olds," said Martin Weekes, the father of triplets who perished in the Qatar mall fire that took the lives of nineteen people, including thirteen toddlers. The Qatar mall is being investigated over complaints that fire sprinklers and alarms were not working at the time of the fire. Any mall, shopping center, or retail outlet that does not fix discrepancies found in an inspection or fails to inspect according to the NFPA schedule could cause the same devastation.
Fire Risks in the Retail Market
Retail centers, shops, and malls have unique fire protection issues. The property is packed with merchandise and flammable display materials, making conflagration a definite possibility. On top of the flammable materials, synthetic partition walls and high shelving impedes firefighting efforts and eases the spread of fire. However, working fire sprinklers installed in a retail center will confine fires to the point of origin 94% of the time, greatly reducing damage.
There are 105,000 shopping centers in the United States with an average of 105 stores per mall. If a fire devastated the mall, the local economy could crumble with people out of work and businesses forced out of town. In addition to the possibility of economic strife, an unprotected shopping center is a risk to employees and shoppers. 97 million people frequent malls monthly; protect them by ensuring fire protection systems are in working condition.
The Importance of Regular Inspections
Fire protection systems require active ownership. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) collected data that showed that 4-8% of fires were caused by hazards that would have been found and corrected during an inspection. NFPA 25, the code for water-based sprinkler systems, necessitates weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly inspections. A facility's fire protection inspection schedule may vary depending on the type of fire protection equipment in the building, their insurance company's requirements, and the local fire departments requirements. Many of the weekly and monthly inspections can be performed by trained in-house personnel. However, quarterly and yearly inspections, should be completed by a certified fire protection professional, to ensure that the property's fire sprinkler system is ready to act in the event of a fire
Of the jurisdictions with inspection programs, those that used fire protection and suppression companies for their inspections had lower fire rates than facilities using dedicated fire inspectors exclusively. In fact, a study showed that properties that used inspectors from fire suppression companies had a significant drop in fires due to carelessness or mechanical failure. The study reasoned that the drop in fires could be from the overall attitude of fire safety and fire prevention in the community due to the visibility of fire inspectors.
Fix Violations to Protect People, Property, and Production
It is one thing for a facility to have their fire protection inspected according to NFPA, but it is another to fix violations. With budget cuts, fire departments are running on less manpower, and in turn, don't have the resources to actively enforce inspection violations. With enforcement becoming scarce, facilities sometimes choose to ignore violations in an attempt to save money. However, with a total of $648 million in property damage and 13 civilian deaths from 2004 to 2008 in the retail market from fire (NFPA report); the money saved by ignoring a violation is charged tenfold when a fire occurs.
The most common violation is having storage too close to the sprinkler head, facilities need to have at least an 18 inch clearance below each sprinkler head, if not, it can block the sprinkler spray from the fire. Other common violations are gauges over five years old, painted or corroded sprinkler heads, and buildings not completing their five year obstruction tests and internal check valve investigations.
By getting regular fire protection inspections and addressing all violations, malls, shopping centers, and retail stores can do their part in protecting their shoppers, employees, property, and merchandise.