Fires in multifamily buildings can spread quickly, threatening occupants of multiple units. It’s important to understand the risks associated with these types of fires and how property owners and managers can reduce them.
A good way to start is by ensuring all smoke detectors in apartment units are functioning properly. This can prevent a fire from spreading throughout your building, which will save lives and property.
1. Smoke Detectors
Smoke detectors are a vital part of any multifamily home's fire protection system. They provide early warning of a potential fire and help reduce the risk of death from smoke inhalation.
Detectors should be regularly tested to ensure they're working properly and batteries replaced if needed. They also should be cleaned periodically to remove dust and debris, which can cause false alarms.
There are two main types of smoke detectors: photoelectric and ionization. Both are incredibly effective at detecting smoke, but how they work is different.
2. Fire Extinguishers
A fire extinguisher is an important tool to have on hand in a residential apartment. It can save lives and help get tenants out of the building.
There are many types of fire extinguishers available for homes, but the type you choose depends on what type of fire you’re trying to extinguish. The most common is a multipurpose ABC fire extinguisher, which can handle paper, cloth, trash and organic combustibles; liquids or gasses; and electrical.
In multifamily apartment buildings, it’s also recommended to have fire extinguishers on every level. These should be located near exit doors so they’re easily accessible in case of a fire emergency.
3. Evacuation Routes
Evacuation routes are exits that can be used during a fire to escape a building. These routes are typically separated from the rest of the building by fire resisting construction.
Emergency managers and law enforcement officers will determine evacuation routes based on the type of threat and predicted location of a fire. They will also take into consideration safety zone design, fuel setbacks and capacity requirements.
Residents should know at least 2 ways out of their apartment complex or residence hall. Encourage them to practice evacuating their family and animals during a community drill.
It is also important that residents have at least one designated out-of-state contact and a meeting place outside their home in case they are separated during an evacuation. Update this person regularly on your status and where you are.
4. Fire Alarms
Smoke detectors and fire alarms are key components of a home's protection system. They save lives and reduce the risk of injuries.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends installing smoke alarms in every bedroom and outside each sleeping area on every level of your home, including basements. They should be interconnected, so when one sounds, all sound.
Detectors should also be installed in common areas, to notify all building occupants, permit timely and orderly evacuation and decrease the potential for injury and death. Detectors wired to a central alarm can alert the fire department, decreasing response time and expediting rescue operations.
5. Defensible Space
Defensible space is the buffer between your home and the surrounding wildland that reduces fire spread and provides firefighters an area to defend. It also prevents your home from catching fire from direct flame or radiant heat.
Typically, this zone is 100 feet from your home or property line. It is the first zone you should work to protect.
This means reducing the amount of flammable vegetation and fuels on your property to create defensible space. This can be done through landscaping and removing dead plants, weeds and grass.
Defensible space can also be reduced by selectively thinning and pruning of the remaining vegetation. This can be achieved through selective removal of lower limbs on trees and shrubs, and lateral separation of tree canopy.