Evaluating the risk of fire in the church and the readiness to respond
October is National Fire Prevention Month
Based on the training course Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches 
October is National Fire Prevention Month, and this year October 7-13 is Fire Prevention Week. This is when we focus on protecting our loved ones and friends – and our homes, businesses, schools, and places of worship – from fire. The first steps in doing this are learning (1) how to prevent fires, (2) how to respond to them, and (3) what we need to do where we are. A fire risk assessment helps with the third step.
In The Bible
Risks of Fire Due to –
Carelessness: Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? (Proverbs 6:27)
Recklessness: Like a madman who throws firebrands (Proverbs 26:18).
Flammable materials: Now if anyone builds ... with ... wood, hay, straw … it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done (1 Corinthianius 3:12-13).
Arson: They ... burned all the meeting places of God in the land (Psalm 74:8).
In the News
January 30, 2018, Southern California - A suspect arrested by the House of Worship Task Force was charged with damage at several churches in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The charges included arson and attempted arson in addition to vandalism, attempted robbery, and hate crimes. 
September 2, 2018, Marshfield, WI - The fire which destroyed a church building over 100 years old started in the kitchen. 
May 1, 2016, New York City - Candles not completely extinguished were the probable cause of the fire that destroyed a cathedral. 
Other causes cited in church fires have been heaters left on, malfunctioning oil furnaces, electrical overload, and combustibles left near heat sources.
How does fire burn? Burning, as in a fire, is the oxidation of materials. A fire is self-sustaining rapid oxidation. Oxidation releases heat, and rapid oxidation releases a great amount of heat. For example, the slow oxidation of gasoline in a fuel tank produces water vapor and varnish (a film of polymerized hydrocarbons), but very little heat. The varnish coats the tank, and water vapor condenses, becoming water in the tank. However, in the engine cylinders, gasoline mixed with air is heated by a spark and burns explosively (a fire), moving the pistons.
Three things are needed for a fire to burn:
Removing one or more of these is the key to preventing or stopping a fire. We can snuff out the flame in a jar candle by putting the lid on, starving it of oxygen. We turn off the fire in a gas stove by turning off the gas, starving it of fuel.
Know the Causes
According to a report by the Pew Research Center , 51% of church fires in the United States in a 20-year period (1996-2015) were caused by arson. Over this time, the number of reported church fires declined from 430 in 1996 to 127 in 2014, a drop of 71%, but the percentage of arson fires went from 68% of all church fires in 1996 to 33% in 2014 (with about half undetermined), and 36% in the first half of 2015, still leaving arson as the most frequent cause.
In addition to arson, Church Mutual Insurance Company  lists other common causes of church fires: faulty wiring, faulty furnaces and stoves, overheated organ motors, careless use of candles and holiday decorations, lightning, and carelessness with smoking materials.
Fire Risk Assessment
A fire risk assessment of the church covers:
- Potential fire hazards
- Means and measures for controlling a fire
- Ease of evacuation
- Means of evacuating disabled persons
Potential fire hazards
Routine inspections inside and outside the church buildings should be conducted.
- Look for trash and other combustibles lying around, especially close to the building outside. These are invitations both to arson and to accidental fires (such as caused by careless smoking). This includes overfilled trash containers.
- Also look for dried vegetation next to the building. Landscaping can increase the likelihood of accidental fires, as happened to a bank branch in Virginia when a discarded cigarette ignited bark mulch.
- Check windows and doors to see if they are secure. Many arsonists first break in, then set fires.
- Look for overloaded electrical outlets or cords under rugs.
- Be sure that combustibles (such as paper, plastics, and flammable liquids) are not kept next to heat sources, such as stoves and space heaters.
- Find out where people go to smoke. Put safe smoking disposal containers there.
Inspect the building a
- Is the furnace in good working order?
- Is it cleaned and inspected each year?
- Does the furnace room have fire-resistant floor, walls, ceiling, and door?
- Is the wiring up to date and up to code?
- Check light fixtures, switches, outlets, etc. If any are arcing or not functioning properly, have them repaired or replaced. Ask for anyone using them to report problems with them so they can be checked.
- Check the circuit breaker or fuse box. If fuses, are they the right ones for the circuits they are on?
- Is the lightning rod properly installed and grounded?
- Check all appliances in the kitchen, especially those for cooking and heating food.
- Is the roof fire resistant?
- Are chimneys and vents unblocked?
Means and measures for controlling a fire
In case a fire does start, can it be contained or suppressed immediately?
- Does the church have a sprinkler system?
- Does the range have an automatic fire suppression system?
- Are there enough fire extinguishers close enough to where they may be used?
- Are they the right classes for their locations (A, B, C, D, K)?
- Are there fire doors to contain a fire?
Ease of evacuation
In case of a fire, it is important that everyone can get out unhindered.
- Do doors open outward?
- Are exit doors unblocked? Are exit routes unobstructed?
- Are there exit signs and lights? Are they working?
- Are there emergency lights? Are the batteries good?
- Are the doors and hallways wide enough to evacuate a full house quickly and safely?
- Are exit routes clearly marked?
Means of evacuating disabled persons
During a fire, as in any emergency requiring evacuation, there may be some individuals unable to exit without assistance. They may be permanently or temporarily disabled, perhaps injured.
- Does your church have devices (such as wheel chairs, stretchers, lift slings, etc.) for carrying or assisting these people?
- Are halls, stairs, and doors wide enough to navigate while assisting a disabled person?
This is not exhaustive. There is more on this topic in the Sheepdog Church Security training course on fire safety, which is available as online training and as a training bundle for classes (see references 1 & 2 below).
- Sheepdog Church Security, OnlineTraining [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/arson-prevention-and-fire-drills-for-churches].
- Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingBundles [https://www.sheepdogchurchsecurity.com/shop/bundles/fire_safety.html].
- Brittny Mejia, "Suspect in church fires charged with multiple felony counts," Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2018 [http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-suspect-church-fire-charged-20180130-story.html].
- John DesRivieres, "Fire at Marshfield church Sunday started in kitchen," WSAW-TV, Posted: Wed 2:40 PM, Sep 05, 2018, Updated: Wed 5:36 PM, Sep 05, 2018 [https://www.wsaw.com/content/news/UPDATE-Marshfield-church-fire-started-in-kitchen-cause-undetermined-492527261.html].
- Shawn Cohen and Chris Perez, "Massive cathedral fire may have been caused by church candles," New York Post, May 3, 2016 [https://nypost.com/2016/05/03/massive-cathedral-fire-may-have-been-caused-by-church-candles/].
- Aleksandra Sandstrom, "Half of all church fires in past 20 years were arsons," Pew Research Center, FactTankNewsinNumbers, October 20, 2015 [http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/26/half-of-all-church-fires-in-past-20-years-were-arsons/].
- "Fire Safety At Your Worship Center," Church Mutual Insurance Company [https://www.churchmutual.com/media/pdf/fire_safety.pdf].