Fire Readiness

Being Ready to Respond to Fire in the Church October is National Fire Prevention Month

Based on the training course Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches [1][2]

In case of fire … be ready

Man checking fire extinguisher

In th Bible

[Putting out fire] (The faithful) quenched the power of fire (Hebrews 11:34).

[Unquenchable fire] ‘where ... the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:48 - Jesus quoting Isaiah 66:24).

[Evacuation] Though they escape from the fire ... (Ezekiel 15:7).

[Rescue] Save others by snatching them out of the fire (Jude 1:23).

[Threat of arson] "... lest we burn you and your father's house with fire (Judges 14:15).


Seen on the Screen

On the TV news we see firefighters dousing a burning house. The scene shifts to a reporter talking with the homeowners. Depending on the time and place, we may hear things like:

"I didn't renew the insurance."

"We're glad we put new batteries in the smoke alarms."

"I thought the fire in the fireplace was out."

"That rope ladder by the window was a lifesaver."

Ready for Fire

Comments such as these reflect the readiness or unreadiness of homeowners for fire. And yes, readiness includes prevention. But no matter how well we try to prevent a fire, we must be ready ... just in case. Ready, not only in our homes, but in the schools, at our places of business, and in our churches.

Areas of Needed Fire Readiness

Most of us will instantly think of one way or another that our church must be fire ready, such as an alarm, fire extinguishers, sprinklers, or exit signs. Some of us will think of several ways. To be honest, a checklist will help by pointing out things we may not think of. Here are a few categories we can put these into: Warning & Communication, Evacuation & Rescue, Suppression & Containment, Insurance Coverage, Prevention, and Training. This article will not cover these entirely, but other resources can provide more detail, including checklists.

Warning & Communication

Warning and communication are together because communication can also be used for warning.

Alarms -

There are two basic kinds of alarms: automatic and manual. Both can be found in a fire alarm system. [3]

Manual alarms are the kind we older ones were familiar with when growing up. A red metal box on the wall has a transparent cover or window. Instructions say to either open the window or break the glass and pull a lever or push a button. Some may also be call stations. Some alarms sound right there, perhaps wired to bells, buzzers, and/or strobe lights throughout the building. Others send a signal to the local fire department. Some do both. Those alarms are still in place today, even in new buildings. One advantage is that an observer who spots a fire can activate it before automatic alarms can react.

Automatic fire alarms are triggered by a product of burning. Some are sensitive to certain high temperatures, some by a rapid rise in temperature (which can be activated by leaving the door to an oven open while it is on). Others detect smoke, ozone, carbon monoxide, excessive carbon dioxide, or a combination of some of these. The advantage of an automatic alarm is that it works if no one is present. Like the manual alarm, it can sound locally, signal the fire department, or both. It can also be remotely monitored by a member of the church staff or safety team.

Communication -

Communication is a key to coordination in responding to a fire. Suppose fire is discovered in the kitchen during the worship service. Whoever finds the fire notifies a Church Safety Team member, who notifies the team leader on the two-way radio with, "Code Red, kitchen."

If the fire is put out right away, OK. We do not want to alarm people needlessly. If not, the leader notifies a member in the worship center, who passes the message to evacuate to the person leading on the platform, who halts the service and instructs the congregation to evacuate. The same notice to evacuate is relayed to the nursery and any classes in session, preferably through the classrooms radio channel. If there is no classroom channel, then by the public address system.

Throughout the evacuation, safety team members keep in touch, making sure everyone is out safely. Meanwhile, the on-duty team lead is in touch with local fire and law enforcement departments. The leader provides information such as where the fire is, the best way to reach it, and how many people are there, If there are any injuries, that should also be reported.

Evacuation & Rescue

Since this is still hurricane season, we are familiar with calls for evacuation of threatened areas. If there is a fire which cannot be put out quickly in a church, school, or other occupied place, we evacuate the building, get the people out. This is the second of four identified types of evacuation: Protective, Preventative, Rescue, and Reconstructive [4] - in other words, preventing injury. We cannot forecast a fire the way we do a hurricane or severe winter storm. We have to get people out NOW!

Rescue was defined as going back after an emergency to remove people. For our purposes here, we are rescuing them during the evacuation, finding people who cannot get out or haven't heard the alarm (such as deaf persons), and helping them out. Some equipment for evacuating injured and disabled persons should be on hand. What is needed depends on the building layout.

According to J. Pandolfo, procedures for evacuation should be created: plan, purchase equipment, train staff, conduct drills [5] Plan how the evacuations are carried out. Purchase needed equipment (as determined in the Fire Safety Assessment). Train church staff (including the Safety Team) in carrying out the evacuation plan. Conduct fire drills so everyone knows what to do.

Suppression & Containment

If there is a small fire, the first thing to do after evacuating people from the immediate area is to bring it under control. There are two kinds of control: suppression and containment. We all know what fire extinguishers are. Many of us know the five classes of fires and extinguishers.*

There are also automatic fire suppression systems [6]. Water-based sprinklers are now standard for most places where many people work, shop, or gather. In most jurisdictions, they are required by building codes. However, in some states and localities, places of worship are exempt because of religious liberty. It is prudent to install them anyway.

Special kinds of fire suppression should be installed in the kitchen and the furnace room and set to activate if a fire erupts. The ones in the kitchen are placed in the exhaust hood [7] over the range and the fryer (if there is one). These qualify as Class K extinguishers. The kind of automatic fire suppression installed in the utility room depends on the kind of heating equipment: Class B if oil or gas, Class C if electric.

*Classes of Fire Extinguishers:

Insurance Coverage

It should be no surprise that churches should have fire insurance coverage, but there's more to it than just being covered so you can repair or replace a building. It can also help the church protect itself from fire. Most insurance companies advise their clients on risk abatement. This is what it means for your church. Your insurance provider can help you prevent fires, and help you control the ones that start. For instance, Church Mutual Insurance Company has a publication - "Fire Safety At Your Worship Center" - that has several checklists [8]. Ask your insurance company for advice on preventing, and responding to fire.

Prevention

Preventing fires is preactive fire control. The best way to be fire ready is to fireproof the church as well as is feasible. A small or medium size congregation may not be able to do everything because of the cost, but they should do what they can. There are many fire hazards (some of these are named in "Fire Risk" [9].

Training

This is the key to making everything above work. That is the reason Sheepdog Church Security has training courses available, such as "Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches" [1][2].

References

  1. Sheepdog Church Security, OnlineTraining, "Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches" [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/arson-prevention-and-fire-drills-for-churches].
  2. Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingBundles, "Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches v3" [https://www.sheepdogchurchsecurity.com/shop/bundles/fire_safety.html].
  3. Wikipedia, "Fire alarm system" (accessed 09/21/2018) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_alarm_system].
  4. Christensen, K. M., Blair, M. E., Holt, J. M. (2007). The built environment, evacuations, and individuals with disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 17(4), 249-254; cited in References 1 & 2 (above).
  5. Pandolfo, J. (2015). Best practices for LTC facility emergency evacuation. Long-Term Living: For the Continuing Care Professional, 64(1), 36-37; cited in References 1 & 2 (above).
  6. Wikipedia, "Fire suppression system" (accessed 09/21/2018) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_suppression_system].
  7. Wikipedia, "Exhaust hood" (accessed 09/21/2018) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exhaust_hood].
  8. "Fire Safety At Your Worship Center," The Protection Series™, Church Mutual Insurance Company, © 2008 [https://www.churchmutual.com/media/pdf/fire_safety.pdf].
  9. "Fire Risk," Sheepdog Church Security, Articles, September 24, 2018 [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/articles/fire-risk/].