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Best Practices for Fire Readiness


By Tommy Thompson, [email protected]

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates 16,360 structure fires occurred annually in stores and other mercantile properties from 2004 to 2008 resulting in $648 million in direct property damage.

Fires affect thousands of retailers each year resulting in injury, lost customer trust and building damage. Establishing a fire prevention and preparedness program is critical to the safety of retail employees and customers.”

Here are seven key steps for limiting damage, preventing injury and keeping stores safe:

  1. Implement a Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan. Emergency response is easier when everyone knows their respective responsibilities. Establish a detailed fire emergency evacuation plan that dictates how to respond, when to respond and identifies a path of egress. If employees have special needs or require special attention, address these details in the plan.

  2. Establish a Fire Prevention Plan. A fire prevention plan provides retail facilities with documentation outlining the employees responsible for identifying combustible materials, fire hazards and heat-producing equipment. It also outlines the procedures necessary to prevent potential emergencies. The fire prevention plan should be communicated with all employees and available in writing for review at any time.

  3. Train Team Members. On an annual basis, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and NFPA require fire extinguisher training for employees. Every employee should receive required training and be briefed on new or updated regulations.

  4. Maintain Emergency and Exit Lights. To ensure paths of egress and exits stay illuminated at all times, implement a routine maintenance plan to check lights and replace broken or burnt out bulbs. In addition, regularly test emergency backup power and exit lights to confirm they are functioning.

  5. Practice Proper Housekeeping Techniques. Daily housekeeping tasks play an important role in keeping facilities clear of fire hazards. Make sure trash and packing materials are in metal containers with tight-fitting lids. Clean up flammable materials immediately, including chemical spills and oil to reduce the risk of fire. Likewise, extra storage and equipment should be in proper storage areas clear of aisles or fire exits and not interfering with automatic sprinkler systems.

  6. Create a Fire Emergency Response Team. Develop a team of individuals who are trained and educated in fire emergency plan procedures and are willing to enforce fire safety and prevention methods throughout the store. The team members will assist others during a fire emergency and help guide people to safety in case of an emergency.

  7. Preventative Maintenance. Enlisting a licensed and certified fire protection company provides retailers with quality inspections, safety tests and repairs to fire protection equipment. Establish frequencies as outlined in NFPA code by the equipment manufacturer and the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

Tommy Thompson is VP of fire protection services, Cintas Corp., Cincinnati,(, which designs, manufactures and implements corporate identity uniform programs, and provides entrance mats, restroom supplies, promotional products, first aid and safety products, fire protection services and document management services to approximately 800,000 businesses. He can be reached at [email protected].

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