Fire departments across the country responded to an estimated 13,000 school fires between 2014 and 2018, according to the National Fire Protection Agency. Large-scale fires can disrupt learning, destroy property, and most importantly, claim lives. To help Fund members protect their organizations and their staff and students, our risk solutions team put together list of fire safety basics for schools.
Comply with fire code
Local fire codes protect life and property by addressing factors such as building design, materials, smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, emergency exits, and sprinkler systems. Work closely with your fire officials, also called the Authority Having Jurisdiction to ensure compliance. Small school districts may not have a locally adopted fire code, so it’s important to know the current fire code adopted by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.
Assess your risk
Educational entities should perform regularly scheduled fire safety assessments of each campus. Licensed fire inspectors are not required to perform these assessments; common sense and basic guidance can help create a fire-safe campus.
Store supplies safely
Fire sprinkler systems have been saving lives and property for more than 200 years. In fact, and NFPA study showed that sprinklers cut the fatality rate by 87 percent:
- In buildings that have sprinklers, supplies should be stored no closer than 18 inches from the ceiling. If you store supplies any closer, they could block the flow of water during a fire.
- Fire code requires that all stored combustible materials such as wood, paper, foam, cardboard, or plastic boxes have a ceiling clearance of 24 inches in buildings without fire sprinkler systems.
- Electrical rooms, air handling rooms, and mechanical rooms must remain free of combustible items and hazardous chemicals. Combustible items can easily ignite near electrical equipment that is hot or even warm.
Ceiling tiles form a barrier that helps prevent fire from entering the sub-ceiling and spreading to other rooms within the building. They also serve as protective area for HVAC air returns and for crawl spaces.
- Do not decorate, remove, or damage ceiling tiles.
- There should be no missing or damaged ceiling tiles.
- Ceiling tiles cannot be pushed up or vented and must fit securely within the grid.
- Items cannot be hung from or through ceiling tiles or tile grids. That includes electrical wiring and extension cords.
Keep entries and exits clear
Hallways and corridors are designed to allow quick entry and exit. Anything that blocks students’ and teachers’ paths creates a hazard.
- All entries and exits must be clear of debris.
- Routes in and out of classrooms must be clear of items such as desks and other furnishings, educational materials, and students’ personal belongings.
- Any door that serves as an exit or emergency exit should never be blocked, decorated, or covered with combustible materials. Decorating doors can camouflage or block the exit, making it difficult for students, faculty, and staff to evacuate quickly. Decorated doors also create a fire risk.
Practice electrical safety basics
Professional electricians have to log 12,000 hours’ training and pass an exam before earning their license. The rest of us can do our part to prevent fires by embracing these electrical safety best practices:
- Multi-plug adapters and electrical power strips should not be connected or used as a substitute for permanent wiring.
- Extension cords should not be run through holes in walls or the ceiling, connected to each other, used as permanent wiring, plugged into multi-plug adapters and electrical power strips, or used for more than 90 days.
- Portable electric space heaters cannot to be used within three feet in all directions of combustible material.
Decorate, but do it safely
Staff and students spend much of their time at school. Student artwork, holiday decorations, and other décor can make your classrooms, gymnasiums, and hallways feel more like home – but they can also ramp up the risk of fire:
- Décor and teaching materials displayed in corridors are not to exceed 20 percent in buildings that do not have a functioning sprinkler system. Buildings with full sprinkler systems may have up to 50 percent wall coverage.
- No decorations are allowed on ceilings, classroom doors, or within 36 inches of the door frame.
- Excessive combustible materials on walls could disguise and/or compromise evacuation route integrity.
Prepare for emergencies
In 1911, a fire erupted at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. Because the doors to the stairwells and exits were locked to keep employees from taking unauthorized breaks, 146 people lost their lives:
- Exit doors should never be chained, locked, or blocked.
- Emergency notifications will made in clear, concise, language, without the use of codes or jargon. When a fire alarm or other emergency announcement directs students, staff, and volunteers to evacuate the building, student accountability procedures begin.
- Emergency exit signs should be illuminated, and designated emergency exits should have three-feet clearance around them to provide adequate space for evacuation.
- Everyone must participate in fire drills.
- Fire evacuation maps, severe weather procedures, and emergency kits should be mounted near exit doors in all instructional and non-instructional rooms at a height appropriate for all occupant, including those who may have access or functional needs. Primary evacuation routes are shown in red and secondary routes in green.
Facilitate a speedy response
If a fire happens at one of your facilities, it’s important that emergency responders arrive as soon as possible:
- All instructional and non-instructional facilities should have reliable communication with the nearest campus or administration facility.
- Instructional and non-instructional facilities should have the address clearly marked on the marquee or front of the building. Addresses may be painted on a curb or directional sign but are not adequate as the primary addressing.
Learn more about fire safety basics for schools
Fund members with Workers’ Compensation pool coverage or Property coverage benefit from basic fire prevention training and fire safety surveys at no additional cost. For more information, contact your risk solutions consultant.