It’s pretty common to hear someone say they want to achieve fire code compliance. That’s the right goal, but there’s a better way to think about it. Think of it as maintaining compliance, not achieving it.
Achievement somewhat implies that the work is done. But fire code safety is a year-round activity. The work doesn’t stop just because you’ve passed an assessment or inspection. Because fire code compliance is a journey, not a destination.
The Problem with Achievement
Let’s say you complete a new build, you’re incredibly diligent, and you pass every single building and fire code compliance test. You’ve achieved compliance. Bravo! Now, the work to maintain your compliance (and pass your NEXT inspection) begins the very next day.
The odds are very good that many of your life safety system components require monthly, weekly, or even daily inspections/checks. At the same time, when your residents start moving in, maintaining compliance becomes an everyday task. You need to keep them from doing things like propping doors open, stacking boxes in common areas, or leaving scooters in the hallways.
It’s also important to remember that you may get very little notice from the fire department for your next inspection, if any at all. It’s not unusual to be notified on Tuesday afternoon that you can expect someone to be there Wednesday morning. If you’ve stayed on top of your duties, you have nothing to worry about. But if you try to cram a few months’ worth of work into 12 hours, you’re likely in some trouble.
The safest buildings and organizations are the ones that weave fire safety into their culture. Fire safety is on their minds 365 days a year, not just in the weeks leading up to an inspection.
They do a lot of little things that add up to a major impact. They do things like regular walk-throughs throughout the building to ensure everything is compliant. Or they get their cleaning staff to perform quick weekly inspections. They keep their fire records documentation organized, and ensure that their fire safety plan is up to date. They also ensure that fire safety procedures and responsibilities are a crucial part of onboarding every new employee.
I can think of one example that our team’s Tom Marchese recently blogged about. He did an on-site smoke control inspection for a building, and there was a bit of confusion about whether or not one was required. It turns out that the building did not actually need an inspection at this time. But, the building owners asked Tom to do one anyway, even though they had no legal or regulatory obligation at that time.
Guess what? Tom’s inspection revealed some potentially dangerous issues before they became serious problems. These were issues that could only be identified through testing and could have very easily gone unnoticed for a few months, until it was time for the required inspection.
Because the board of directors went the extra mile, beyond what was required, the building was far safer.
Doing More is Actually Less Work
If you only pay attention to fire safety in the weeks leading up to an annual or fire code inspection, those weeks are probably very stressful. You may be scrambling to find documentation or the contact information for your elevator or other service providers. You may tell your staff to really start focusing on finding tripping hazards or doors that are not latching.
Remember: An airplane burns the most fuel during take-off. But once it’s in the air, it doesn’t have to work nearly as hard. Scrambling to achieve a pass on a compliance inspection is hard. Making fire safety a part of your everyday operations is actually much easier. Once again, you’re maintaining, not achieving.
It’s also worth noting that the fire department can tell when you have taken an active role in fire safety, and they appreciate it. They may be a bit more lenient if they find something, and they may be more willing to give you an extension to get something fixed. A fire department visit can be a welcomed event. They are here to help keep you, your building, and keep your people safe.
We have encountered some condo boards that said they don’t feel the need to do anything until the fire department shows up and points out what they need to do. That is a bit like waiting to get a speeding ticket to know your speed. You can just watch your speedometer and avoid the ticket.
Your Journey Probably Has a New Step
There is no doubt that maintaining your fire code compliance is more involved than ever. That’s because our life safety systems have never been more complex.
A few years ago, there were pull stations and alarms. Today, there are alarms, doors, vents, elevators, fans, and a whole network of other fire safety features and integrations keeping your building safe. As new life safety innovations become available, we get new codes and standards to make sure those systems are functional and being used properly.
For example, over the past 3 years, we’ve seen the introduction of S-1001 – Integrated Systems Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems Assessment. If you’re planning a new build or an extensive life safety system retrofit, your journey now includes integrated testing.
How is this different from previous standards? Prior to the summer of 2020, all of your systems were tested individually. Your elevators passed their tests, your alarms passed their tests, and so on. However, there was no specific standard to test how they interacted with each other. Integrated testing ensures that all of these systems are connected and the proper sequence of events occurs when an alarm is triggered.
If you pass your assessment, the work is not finished. You will have to book your next assessment again in 5 years. So, it’s in your best interest to stay on top of your equipment maintenance. That way, there are no unwelcome and expensive surprises when it’s time for your next inspection.
Need Help on Your Journey?
Your ongoing journey to maintain sustainable compliance can be complex, so don’t do it alone!
If you want to ensure that your building is safe and compliant, please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-281-8863.