Although any building can be at risk for fire, the causes of fires in apartment buildings are very different from other types of buildings. Unlike single-family residences, where many fires start in the heating system or in the chimney or fireplace, apartment buildings most often see fires caused by cooking. In fact, an astonishing 74 percent of apartment fires are caused by cooking, which is nearly twice the number of cooking fires that other types of residential buildings experience.
When you’re managing an apartment building, it’s not just your life that you’re concerned with; you have the lives and safety of dozens (or maybe hundreds) of people on your mind. Following this checklist is a great way to make sure tenants are prepared and know what to do in the event of a fire.
__ Do you have a plan? The No. 1 priority when a fire breaks out is for everyone to know what they’re supposed to do and where they should go. Remind tenants to make a plan so they can quickly reach the stairs closest to their unit. You can even encourage them to use this outline for making their own plan.
__ Are your stairwells safe? Stairwells are often the forgotten part of a building, but in an emergency situation, they’re key to getting everyone out safely. Conduct regular inspections of your stairwells to make sure they’re clean and uncluttered, assuring that tenants will be able to move freely down the stairs to the exit. When seconds matter, obstructed stairwells can make the difference between life and death. Clean up spills or messes that could cause people to slip, too. And finally, make sure the exit lights in your stairwells are in good working order and are bright enough to be visible even in smoky conditions.
__ Are all smoke detectors working? Housing laws require apartments to have working smoke detectors, and each apartment should have one outside every sleeping area as well as in every bedroom. Make sure you are following your state’s safety requirements for smoke alarms and have the detectors tested at least once a year.
__ Are fire escapes accessible? If your building has outdoor fire escapes, make sure that tenants aren’t using them as a place to store things like tables or other outdoor furniture, bicycles, etc. Require tenants to keep their fire escapes clear of anything that could prevent them from moving quickly down the fire escape.
__ Does every tenant have a fire extinguisher? Fire extinguishers should be in every unit — but even more importantly, every tenant should be educated about how to use them. Consider offering a brief safety seminar to show tenants how to use fire extinguishers properly.
Talking to Tenants About Fire Safety
As part of your responsibilities as an apartment manager, educating tenants about fire safety and preventing fires in their units can help reduce the risk of having a fire. After all, it only takes one mistake from one tenant to affect the entire building. Giving tenants a checklist of their own to review could help alert them to some of the hazards. Some of the important areas to address with them are:
Electrical cords. People are using more electronic devices than ever these days, and that means there are more things to plug in — but not necessarily more outlets. There are several things to look at to help prevent electrical fires, including:
- Make sure electrical outlets aren’t overloaded with too many plugs
- Make sure cords aren’t frayed or worn; if they are, they should be replaced immediately
- Never plug more than one heat-producing appliance into a wall outlet at the same time
- Never use extension cords as a permanent solution, and never use them to plug appliances into a wall.
Space heaters. Space heaters are another common cause of fires. One of the biggest dangers with space heaters is that, because they’re so portable, they’re often placed too close to items that can catch on fire — like curtains, clothes, chairs and beds. Make sure space heaters are always at least 3 feet away from flammable materials, and never leave one running unsupervised. That includes turning it off overnight when everyone goes to bed.
Stove safety. Since cooking fires are the leading cause of apartment fires, it’s important that every tenant knows how to make his or her kitchen safer. Some tips to do that include:
- Make sure the counter space near the stove is free of items that can catch fire and might help it spread. That includes paper and plastic bags, towels, wooden utensils, oven mitts and potholders.
- Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing that could catch on fire. Loose sleeves over an open fire can ignite quickly, and while they only account for about 1% of kitchen fires, they’re responsible for 16% of cooking fire deaths.
- Keep pets and children away from hot surfaces and active burners, and never leave an active burner unattended — even for “just a minute.”
- Know what to do in case a kitchen fire breaks out. It’s critical that tenants educate themselves as to what works and what will only make a fire worse. For example, pouring water on a grease fire might be a natural instinct, but it’s a big mistake. Following the right safety procedures in a kitchen fire can mean the difference between containing it and allowing it to spread.
A Simple Way to Increase Safety
Installing StoveTop FireStop is a great way to increase safety for your tenants and have confidence that cooking fires will be suppressed before they’re able to cause lasting damage to a unit or to the entire building. As one of the most efficient tools for saving lives, money and property, StoveTop FireStop is designed to suppress kitchen fires without any need for human intervention.
Since unattended cooking equipment accounts for 32% of cooking fires, it makes sense to equip every kitchen with a solution that can handle cooking fires quickly, effectively and safely. Learn more about how StoveTop FireStop can become part of your Apartment Fire Safety Plan by reviewing our selection of products.