Fire Safety in the Church
Today we'll walk you through fire safety planning and preparedness whether they are intentional (church arson) or accidental.
Types of Fires
Fires need three things: oxygen, heat and fuel. The type of fuel is how the fire is classified.
Class A fires are fueled by combustibles like wood, cloth, paper or trash. A small fire in a trash receptacle is usually a Class A fire.
A Class B fire is fueled by flammable liquids and gasses. These include gasoline, cleaning solvents, propane, oil or pain thinner. These fires appear 'runny' or 'liquidy.'
Fires that are fueled by electricity are Class C fires and commonly start with overloaded electrical outlets.
Fires involving burning metals and alloys are called Class D fires and are very rare in churches.
Finally, Class K fires involve vegetable oil or animal fat at very high temperatures. Typically, only commercial deep fat fryers can heat fats enough to start one of these fires.
Often times preventative measures are the answer to avoiding fires, including arson. Common fire hazards include:
- Overflowing dumpsters and piles of debris (arsonists love these).
- Overloaded outlets or extension cords underneath rugs.
- Unattended stoves
- Storage lockers, sheds and garages are popular spots for dumping garbage that can lead to fires thanks to a hot cigarette.
- Smoking areas, even when not official, are fire hazards. They are usually located near dumpsters to remain out of sight. Make sure there is a proper disposal for cigarette butts in these areas.
Fire Safety Planning
Identifying and eliminating common fire hazards is only the first step of fire prevention. When it comes to fire, there are other things to consider. Smoke is the #1 killer in a fire, so you want to make sure that your church can be evacuated quickly and easily. Here's how to help with this.
Make sure there are no locked or blocked exits. Fire doors should have a breaker bar and open outward. Never lock these doors from the inside. Check outside of all doors to make sure nothing is blocking them. Never prop open doors. If your fire doors have magnetic holders that release when a fire alarm is activated, never stop these doors from closing. They do so to choke off the fire and slow its spread.
Clear hallways of items that would impede an evacuation. Fire exits, including doors and hallways, are rated based on how many people can effectively evacuate through the area. If less-used hallways are storage for chairs, boxes or tables move these items so that they are free from obstruction if needed during a fire emergency like church arson.
Items such as plants, bookshelves, and tables should not be placed in stairwells. Stairs should also be clear from other items that may become tripping hazards. If stairs are covered for slip protection monitor and fix any bumps or detached areas immediately.
Fire Exit Signs, Emergency Lights, Alarm Pulls: An Important Part of Fire Safety Plans
Fire exit signs and emergency lights must be in working order at all times. Check them regularly. They run on battery backup which ensures they will work even during a power outage.
Check the signs and lights by pressing the test buttons. Check that lights are pointed correctly and operable. Finally, make sure that all fire alarm pulls are functional and not obstructed.
Don't wait until an evacuation to learn about the fire hazards and other hindrances to your members' safety. Include assessing these risks as part of your fire safety planning.
Learn more about this topic and several others with our Certified Safety Member Course. It is available as an online video-based training that can be taken anytime and from anywhere using your own computer. Each section ends with a short test to demonstrate an understanding of the material. Once you've completed all 7 sections, you will be certified for 2-years with Sheepdog Church Security.
Just like there are different kinds of fires, there are different kinds of fire extinguishers. Generally speaking, the correct type of extinguishers are located in the correct places. Read fire extinguisher labels carefully and know when to use which type. The good thing is that fire extinguisher labels match the type of fires. Class A extinguishers work against Class A fires and so on.
The National Fire Protection Association advises fire extinguishers should be close to where it would likely be used. They also recommend that those weighing more than 40 pounds should not be hung at more than three feet (Great American Insurance Group, 2016).
Fire extinguishers should be inspected on a regular basis by members of the Church safety team. This type of inspection is quick:
- Is the fire extinguisher in the correct location?
- Can the instructions and other labels be read clearly?
- Check the locking pin and tamper seal.
- Check the pressure gauge.
- Visually examine the body of the extinguisher for signs of damage.
- Verify the last professional service date.
How to Use a Fire Extinguisher
Small fires can often be put out easily using a fire extinguisher. Team members should be trained using the acronym PASS (National Fire Protection Association, 2012):
- PULL the pin and release the locking mechanism,
- AIM low at the base of the fire,
- SQUEEZE the handle,
- SWOOP the base from side to side.
Fire is one of the most common threats churches face, whether accidental or intentionally set. All churches should plan for fires and implement good fire prevention habits. The best fire evacuation - whether the fire is accidental or a case of church arson - uses the acronym RACE: Rescue, Alert Others, Confine the Fire, Evacuate and/or Extinguish (Kiurski, 2008).
Evacuate people from the immediate fire area. If a person's clothes or hair is on fire do not panic or run. Wrap them in a blanket. Help them lie down and roll from side to side. Once the fire is out keep the person calm and notify emergency medical personnel.
Call 911. Advise dispatch that there is a fire. If you know what kind of fire it is let them know. Provide your name and location and be sure to stay on the phone until the dispatcher tells you it's okay to hang up.
Close all doors and windows around the fire. This chokes the first of air and slows the spread of flames and smoke.
If the fire can't be easily put out, evacuate. For small, but uncontained fires, you can use a preventative evacuation. This partial evacuation affects only the immediate area. Rescue evacuations remove everyone from the church.
Safety team members should be remember to be especially careful of opening doors during the fire. Check before leading people into a new area of the building. Stay low and have people cover their faces if there is smoke. Close all doors as you pass through them and move at least 100 feet away from the building to a predetermined assembly area. Do not allow anyone to return to the building for any reason.
If there are people trapped in an area of the building have them move away from the fire, close doors between them and it and seal vents to reduce smoke. They should stay low and call 911 who will talk them through the situation.
Never use elevators during a fire.
Every church fire safety plan should include information on evacuating those with disabilities and children.
Stay with a disabled person or others who are unable to get out as long as possible. Consider other options for evacuation, including windows. A broken leg is a far better option than staying in the building. If a window can be used hang the person out as far as you can before allowing them to drop.
When staffing childrens' programs it is vital to consider what happens during any evacuations because the adult to child ratio often makes evacuations incredibly difficult.
Teach your church safety team how to prepare for and handle fire emergencies with the help of our book, Defending the Flock.