Industrial fire inspections are necessary
FIRE PREVENTION to many people means only a constant vigilance in “carefulness.” Carefulness is a prime requisite of fire prevention, but is of little value unless there is a willingness to install fire protection devices in structures of good, safe design. Inspections are necessary, for it is at this point that competent personnel making adequate and intelligent surveys may convince others of the need and necessity for expenditure of funds or labor to gain fire safety.
A general inspection is particularly valuable when a new property is being put in operation or when reopening a shut-down plant. Such an inspection should be made in order that a safe plant will exist when operating level is reached.
Renovation and alterations often take place during shut-down periods to provide for new processes or facilities. These innovations may be of a more hazardous type, or an entirely new type, to the industry. Such hazards may require considerable research to produce a satisfactory safe practice procedure from the standpoint of life hazard and fire protection.
Why inspection is necessary
To show the necessity of inspection in order to overcome careless and indifferent attitudes toward safe practices, attention is called to an interesting incident which occurred in 1959:
An electrician in a western city was called to a nearby town for the purpose of correcting the “single phasing” of one of the well pump motors at the water works. Upon inspection, several cabinet boxes were bulged. After questioning, the operator said, “Yeah, we lost one motor but it will never happen again. I filled all them fuse cartridges with black gunpowder. Now when a fuse goes out it blows the whole damn works off the post and shuts the well down.” Not only were the cabinets bulged, but the operator’s head was warped, too.
The human element must not be overlooked at any time and the relationship between the inspector and the occupant of the premises under inspection must be thoroughly understood. After all, the owner or occupant is engaged in a business for the purpose of making a living. No doubt, he is extremely busy; his background has convinced him that, in the economics of the business world, the insurance policy will protect his building and contents, preventing financial disaster should fire occur.
Fire inspectors are introducing a phase of economy into this business environment which is strange and difficult for the average person to understand. Inspection by a competent fire protection engineer at periodic intervals will bring management up to date on what hazardous conditions are present and the best means of correcting them. He will advise on the recent developments in basic fire protection and prevention and make recommendations for certain phases of “built in protection’’ while additions and alterations are in the planning stage. The purpose is to safeguard the lives of the workers and the investment in the business which insurance cannot protect or replace.
Webster defines an inspection as “a critical, official examination.” With such a definition it is no wonder many people take a defensive attitude when approached by a person requesting a fire inspection. During the course of a year, management of any large corporation will be exposed to anywhere from two to 10 inspectors ranging from state level down to the municipality. They may come singly or in pairs with no two of them thinking alike. To the layman, it seems confusing; hence, it behooves all who make inspections to reassay the approach and make certain that the human relationship with the client is of the highest caliber.
Cooperation with and inspections by the local fire department serve a number of purposes which benefit our economy and everyday life. You may consider the following methods as being essential to good inspection practices:
- Check up on the compliance with the laws, ordinances and regulations dealing with life safety, fire protection equipment and conditions which might create an unusual fire hazard. In some areas, these matters will be under the jurisdiction of the local fire department, but whether specifically so or not, the inspector should be able to recognize important violations so as to report them to the proper authority.
- Impress upon the owners and occupants of buildings by educational efforts that the fire department is being maintained by them, at considerable expense, for the prevention and control of fires.
- Provide the members of the fire department with a working knowledge of the conditions liable to be met in the fighting of fires in their territory.
- Secure proper maintenance of features offering protection against spread of fire, and where possible, the adoption of such additional measures as may be necessary for reasonable protection to life and property.
- Obtain the correction of conditions creating an undue fire hazard. Long spans and non-fire periods can produce overconfidence and an underestimate of the fire danger.
Cooperation between management and the local fire department can, for example, result in good storage and stacking in warehouses. If a plant representative accompanying the fire protection engineer or fireman on an inspection were to imagine himself on the nozzle end of a hose line or as officer in charge of a fire department engine company, the effect may be electric.
Continued on page 652
Continued from page 609
For example, imagine the following situation: The storage area is fully involved upon arrival. Working into the building to knock down the fire and find the point of origin is practically impossible due to irregular narrow aisles, storage stacked to the ceiling, windows blocked with storage, tight windowless buildings, possible Rube Goldberg types of security measures, and soft ground or unimproved access to structure particularly in undeveloped areas.
It would improve the fire department’s method of attack and size-up if a little thought were given to the condition by management. For instance:
- Establish a main 8-foot aisle from entrance doorway to exit doorway.
- Lateral aisle to windows should not be less than 4 feet wide.
- Place a 10-inch high-visibility yellow dot under the window sill to designate to the officer of the firstarriving fire company that an aisle space is available within that point. This is particularly useful when laddering a building for access to areas above the first floor.
- Discipline employees who violate the established aisle-marking procedure.
- Indentify knock-out panels in windowless buildings for ready access; also provide roof skylights for overhead approach, lessening roof damage by the truck company.
- Use a standard type of security lock to permit use of usual forcible entry procedures.
- Hard-surface access about the perimeter of structure to permit ready approach by apparatus.
Let us look at the reasons for some of the fires as listed in the annual report of a medium-size city in Texas. Of a total of 512 alarms answered, only 12 were listed as unknown. Some 79 of those reported could have been avoided through a periodic inspection by the occupant of the premises.
It is of interest to note a few of the causes which may not be charged off to lack of inspection, for instance: Couch over floor furnace; light in doghouse; cigarette in bathroom; fire in unfinished fireplace; squirrel playing with matches; tramps cooking in bam.
Continued on next page
However, inspections could easily have avoided the following incidents: Brooms ignited by water heater; clothes and rags on stove; lint on presser; clothes near water heater; towels and paper wrapped around water heater: hot grease in vent.
The above, taken from the actual report of the fire marshal, definitely brings out, in the writer’s opinion, the need for inspections and the education of both the employee and management, in addition to the general public. However, one quick way to break the morale of employees is for management to fail in the correction of unsafe conditions.
Whenever an inspection of a work area is made, it shows management’s interest in safety. It often will likewise interest the employees who will then scrutinize their particular work area. Such encouragement is desirable and helps to promote fire safety and safe practices among the employees.
Fire inspections, although they appear to “lower the boom” and “find out how many things are wrong,” really show how much of an operation is right. A safer and more profitable plant will result, if it is brought up to accepted standards through discovery and correction of unsafe acts and practices. Management will profit, as well as the employees, through more efficient and economic operations.