Fire Department Identifies Top Fire Code Concerns

Fire Department Identifies Top Fire Code Concerns

A recent fire in the Sky Harbor Business Park that caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to the property with several business tenants, is a stark reminder about the importance of fire safety and the fact that a fire can be catastrophic for a business.
Northbrook Fire Prevention Director Kevin Frangiamore cites the startling statistic that 75 – 80% of all small or medium-sized businesses who experience a significant fire do not re-open. “Businesses suffering a major fire not only lose their physical belongings but also their customers and their ability to operate,” he notes. “In fact, unless the fire is small, most buildings are eventually torn down.”

Pat Lederer with Korman/Lederer, which owns and manages numerous properties in the Sky Harbor business park, comments that a fire is a tremendous inconvenience for all involved. “There is rent loss, walls that have to be replaced, ceilings put in, and the property (which may be older) has to be rebuilt to modern codes.” In addition, insurance inspectors analyze the cause of the fire and try to pursue restitution when appropriate, which slows down the repair process. To rebuild also involves the permit process, permit review and other delays. “What would normally take about 30 days to build a space ends up taking five to six months,” Lederer adds. Tenants are still responsible for any lease and are at risk of losing their livelihood with the loss of office space.

Frangiamore and his team of fire inspectors conduct over 3,000 life safety inspections a year, trying to ensure that businesses are operating safely and up to code. The goal, he says, is to attempt to inspect at least each of the 3,700 – 3,800 businesses once every year. “Northbrook has a fantastic business community,” comments Frangiamore. “We’re here to protect and work with businesses – to keep them open and make sure they operate safely, which is our foremost concern.”

Some of the top violations according to Frangiamore include non-compliance with storage standards and blocked exits, “which we take very seriously.” Older buildings in particular are often under-sprinkled. The Fire Department offers a helpful Fact Sheet that can help businesses determine which type of sprinkler system is appropriate for their building. For example, a business that has over 12 feet in height of storage requires sprinklers that produce up to 10 times the amount of water required vs. buildings that are considered a light hazard such as offices.

Ten Most Common Fire Inspection Violations

  1. Extension cords should not replace permanent wiring; extension cords are only to be used temporarily. For example, it is acceptable to use an extension cord to power an audio-visual cart for one day, but should not be used to power a piece of permanent office equipment. Solution: Use a UL listed multi-plug power bar in place of the extension cord.
  2. Multi-plug adapters should not be used to replace the need for additional outlets. Plugging too many devices into an outlet can cause excessive heat to build up in the equipment. Solution: Use UL listed multi-plug power bars.
  3. Storage must be at least 18 inches below sprinkler heads. Sprinklers are designed to protect a specific square footage of floor space; obstruction prohibits a fire from being extinguished. The Fire Dept. can provide red tape to help business mark the wall as a guide.
  4. Exits must be unlocked and free of obstructions.
  5. Maintain 36 inch clearance between combustible storage and heat producing devices, such as hot water heaters, furnaces and space heaters. Solution: Do not use furnace rooms as storage areas.
  6. Maintain 36 inch clearance between combustible storage and electrical panels. This prevents items being stored too close to a heat source and allows for firefighter access. Solution: Never use an electrical closet as a storage room.
  7. Never store items in stairwells and exits. This obstructs exits and can support a fire from heat and smoke, making a stairwell un-passable.
  8. Exit lights should be illuminated at all times. Solution: Conduct weekly inspections of exit lights.
  9. Make sure all emergency lights are in working order. Emergency lights operate when the power fails. Solution: Make it a practice to check internal charger and battery on a monthly basis.
  10. Mount a commercial rated fire extinguisher and conduct annual maintenance by a recognized service agency.
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