Preventing a Conflagration
Keeping the Flock Safe from Fire
In the Bible
For lack of wood the fire goes out (Proverbs 26:20).
(They) quenched the power of fire (Hebrews 11:34).
Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? (Proverbs 6:27).
In the News
Magalia, California, November 9, 2018 - While most church buildings in and around Paradise, California, were destroyed in the massive 2018 Camp Fire, the Magalia Pines Baptist Church survived, sheltering 30 people from the raging firestorm. Sure, it was a miracle. Their evacuation route had been cut off and fire exploded around them, so they took refuge in the church, not knowing if it would hold out. 
Part of the miracle happened years before, when the congregation made construction choices. Without knowing it would protect the building from a wildfire, the church was built with a metal roof and non-combustible siding, all vents were screened, and the only trees on the property were deciduous and at a distance from the building. God apparently guided their choices, knowing that they would save lives someday.
Manhattan, New York City, New York, April 19, 2019 - Vigilance prevents arson. A man entered St. Patrick's Cathedral with gasoline, lighter fluid, and long-nosed fireplace lighters. He was stopped by the security staff, questioned, and arrested by police who had been called.
Stop It Before It Starts
Fire protection begins with fire prevention. This also means putting up roadblocks for fires that do start. This is just as important in churches and other places of worship as it is in homes, businesses, schools, and public buildings. The whole package of fire prevention and fire blocking can be called "fireproofing." The best fire is the one that does not start. Second best is the one which does not spread.
Fireproofing is easier when planning construction of the church building. Use non-combustible materials wherever and whenever practical and affordable. Magalia Pines Baptist Church probably chose the metal roof and non-combustible exterior wall covering because they cost less than more fashionable materials, such as cedar shakes, asphalt tile, and wood or vinyl siding. Keeping trees away from the building made it easier for attendees to park closer, as well as making it easier to keep the property clean. Fireproofing may or may not have been the deciding factor, but these measures helped the church to survive a firestorm years later.
Other fireproofing of a church building which can be intentionally built in are
- Adequate wiring with a capacity well above the expected level of use,
- Sprinkler systems,
- Kitchen fire suppression system,
- Fire alarm system, in-house and to local fire department,
- Quick-escape doors,
- Safety lighting,
- Corridors and room entrances designed to facilitate evacuation,
- Firestops where utilities pass through walls, ceilings, and floors,
- Fire doors and fire-resistant walls,
- Planned locations of fire extinguishers,
- Safe disposal location for burning materials,
- Up-to-date and fire-safe heating and cooling system,
- Fire-containment storage for flammable materials,
- Secure out-buildings for combustion-powered grounds maintenance equipment, set a safe distance from the main building(s),
- Lightning arrester with high-capacity grounding.
An existing church building can be fireproofed. However, depending on the way it is built, and the cost of retro-fitting, what you can do may be limited.
Fires in older-style church buildings are extremely difficult to fight, such as the Notre Dame fire in Paris and the fire in a Pittsburgh church on September 9. On the good side, as historic Roman Catholic cathedrals in the United States are being renovated, they are also being equipped to suppress fires in their most vulnerable area, the lofty roofs and ceilings.
The most obvious means of fireproofing an existing church building are (1) install a sprinkler system, (2) install a fire detection system with an automatic and manual (3) install or upgrade fire extinguishers, and (4) upgrade exit signs/lights and emergency lights. Other fireproofing measures could be (depending on the building):
- Bring the building into compliance with the local fire prevention code.
- Upgrade the heating/cooling system.
- Upgrade the electrical wiring (this includes replacing fuses with breakers or upgrading the breakers.
- Install fire-resistant walls, ceiling, and door in the furnace room.
- Inspect all chimneys and repair them if needed.
- Install or upgrade lightning rod(s).
- Remove highly-flammable shrubbery and trees (such as cedar, spruce, and pine) from close to the building.
- Harden auxiliary buildings, such as grounds maintenance, garage, and outside storage. Place the one with flammable liquids (such as lighter fluid, motor oil, and fuel) furthest from the main church building, make its door more secure and install an entry alarm.
- Upgrade emergency exit routes and doors -
- exit corridors should be no less than 6 feet wide,
- outside doors which remain locked should have emergency panic bars for opening from the inside.
- Place outside trash receptacles (dumpster or cans) in a cinder block enclosure with a locked gate.
- Put safe cigarette disposals outside where smokers might light up.
Proper and timely maintenance is one of the keys to preventing fires in the church. Here are a few maintenance tasks to improve fire safety:
- Perform annual maintenance on the heating and cooling systems
- If any rooms have fireplaces -
- have the chimneys inspected and cleaned,
- be sure the damper works properly,
- if it is a gas fireplace -
- have the gas nozzles cleaned,
- check the gas connections,
- if it burns wood -
- check the grate, ash box, and ash bucket,
- have a designated safe place for ash disposal.
- Fix any electric outlets and switches in need of repair or replacement.
- Check electric cords, replace if defective.
- Inspect Kitchen appliances regularly. Have serviced if necessary.
- Inspect/test all fire suppression systems annually.
- Inspect/test fire alarms annually.
Fire Prevention Practices
There are ways we can do things around the church to prevent fires, to keep those that do start from spreading, and to facilitate evacuation and firefighting. This is not just for the Safety Team, but for everyone who participates in church programs, whether staff or volunteers. Some these are:
- Use candles with care -
- Don't let children use candles without adult supervision,
- keep the flame away from burnable materials, such as paper, clothing, and curtains,
- do not leave burning candles unattended,
- completely extinguish candles (wait for 30 minutes to be sure they do not reignite) and place them in fireproof containers - a tight lid to cut off oxygen is a good idea
- Be alert for fire hazards wherever you are in the building or on the grounds.
- Do not overload electric circuits and outlets.
- Do not run electric cords under rugs or floor mats.
- Do not let children put objects other than power plugs in electric outlets.
- Keep trash and debris cleaned up outside to discourage arson.
- Keep matches and lighters in secure locations.
- Keep evacuation routes clear of hazards and obstacles.
- Allow only authorized and trained persons to fuel vehicles, yard care equipment, lamps, etc. Have it done in specified areas, well-ventilated, away from open flame or other ignition sources.
- Keep ignitable objects away from sources of ignition.
Fire Prevention Help
Besides the Sheepdog Church Security training course, there is additional advice on preventing church fires from Church Tax & Law  and insurance companies, such as Church Mutual , Brotherhood Mutual , and AIG .
Only You …
Remember the Smokey Bear posters that say, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires"? How about a Church Safety poster: "Only YOU can prevent church fires." You, individually, cannot do everything, but do what you can.
There Is More
Other articles in this series for Fire Safety Month are "Spark" (How Do Fires Start?), "Quench It" (Fire Suppression), and "Out from Danger" (Evacuations and Fire Drills).
- Kris Moloney, "Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches," Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, Training Materials (Classes) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/arson-prevention-and-fire-drills-for-churches-training-bundle], Online Training (Individual) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/arson-prevention-and-fire-drills-for-churches].
- Will Maule, "‘We Were Totally Unscathed': Pastor Recalls Miraculous Wildfire Survival Despite Church Group Being Surrounded By Raging Inferno," CBN, November 15, 2018 [https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2018/november/lsquo-we-were-totally-unscathed-rsquo-pastor-recalls-miraculous-wildfire-survival-despite-church-group-being-surrounded-by-raging-inferno].
- Beth Griffin, "U.S. cathedrals rely on state-of-art fire prevention, remain vigilant," Crux, April 21, 2019 [https://cruxnow.com/notre-dame-cathedral-fire/2019/04/21/u-s-cathedrals-rely-on-state-of-art-fire-prevention-remain-vigilant/].
- "Annual Fire Safety Checklist - Assessment: 10 ways to keep your church safe from fire," Church Law & Tax, n/d [https://www.churchlawandtax.com/web/2011/march/churchsafefire.html].
- Staff, "Fire Safety At Your Worship Center," Church Mutual Insurance Company, n/d [https://www.churchmutual.com/media/pdf/fire_safety.pdf].
- Staff, "Fire Safety and Prevention," Brotherhood Mutual, n/d [https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/index.cfm/resources/safety-library/risk-management-articles/disasters-emergencies-and-health/fire-safety-and-prevention/].
- Staff, "Houses of Worship: Fire Prevention Checklist," AIG, n/d [https://www.aig.com/content/dam/aig/america-canada/us/documents/brochure/plcb-houses-ofworship-fire-prevention-checklist.pdf].