By Theresa Jachnycky
Every type of business has some degree of fire risk but autobody and auto repair shops are especially high-risk for fire because of the combination of spray painting, welding, and storage of flammable liquids. Tires add to the fire load if tires are stored on the premises.
In 2018 seven autobody fires were reported across Canada. All were multiple-alarm fires meaning the fires were severe requiring back- up by additional fire departments to contain the blaze. While no injuries were reported in any of the blazes, property damage was extensive.
No statics are available on the number of fires that were quickly contained upon discovery without the aid of fire departments.
Regardless if the business is large or small, the National Fire Code requires owners to:
i. Maintain the good and safe operating condition of the sprinkler systems, alarm systems, door closers and emergency equipment
ii. Prepare an evacuation plan and procedure
iii. Provide needed staff to evacuate the building; the number being determined based on the pre-established evacuation procedures, the occupant load, the use of the premises (occupancy), and the age and fire resistance (class) of the building
iv. Inform the occupants as well as the personnel about the safety measures in place and evacuation methods
v. Provide staff the necessary instructions on the use of fire extinguishers, alarm systems, and exits vi. See to it that, at least once a year, the appropriate fire evacuation and rescue drills are being conducted
Additionally, a Fire Safety Plan containing these details is required when any one or more of the following is present:
• The building is equipped with a fire alarm system
• Flammable or combustible liquids are stored on the premises
• Hazardous materials are handled on the premises
• Premise that is considered a construction site
Autobody shops satisfy at least two of the conditions for requiring a Fire Safety Plan. What, then, is a Fire Safety Plan? A Fire Safety Plan is a written document that informs occupants about what steps to take in the event of a fire or other building emergency requiring evacuation.
The plan sets out locations of all exit doors, fire extinguishers, pull stations and responsibilities of occupants in the event an evacuation is necessary. A well-articulated fire plan also provides critical strategic information to first responders to assist them in mitigating the emergency in a safe and well-coordinated manner. As part of the safety plan host regular fire drills as this form of training allows staff to practice the evacuation procedures when there is no actual emergency. As National Fire Plan sets out only the minimum requirements for a fire safety plan, consider rehearsing the fire plan more often. Fire drills and mock evacuations are excellent for team building because everyone is involved in the rehearsal plus a debrief afterwards encourages people to speak about what went well and what needs improvement.
Be prepared. As a best practice, every business or organization should have fire safety plan ready in case the unexpected happens. A well developed, well-tested plan will help your business respond effectively, with minimal disruption, and help reduce uncertainty for your staff and customers, so your business can recover faster.
The key features of the plan should include:
Reporting the Emergency:
– The first and one of the most important parts of a safety plan is the procedure for notifying occupants and others of the emergency. In buildings without a fire alarm it is important to identify the best means for alerting people to the emergency (e.g. shouting “fire”, blowing an air horn or whistle, using a megaphone, hand bell, strobe light, intercom or other signaling device). If work takes place in a noisy environment, the plan should also identify a secondary method for alerting people.
Fighting the Fire:
– In most situations, immediate evacuation is recommended unless the fire is small and is not spreading to other areas. If properly trained in the use of fire equipment staff may attempt to extinguish the fire. The fire plan should specify the number of seconds or attempts to be made by staff before abandoning firefighting (ABC fire extinguishers lasts between 10 and 20 seconds)
Where to Evacuate:
– Once an emergency occurs, occupants need to know where to exit in the safest way possible. The plan needs to include maps and instructions on the evacuation procedures showing the safest routes to take. Also signs and maps need to be posted showing the nearest exits easily available. For businesses where extreme weather conditions prevail a secondary location for sheltering the business’s evacuees should also be identified. This will entail speaking with neighboring businesses, schools or other public places to set out instructions on whom to contact to prepare for the incoming evacuees.
Fire Safety Equipment:
– Locations of fire safety equipment should be specified in the plan and with signs. Fire extinguishers, hoses, hydrants, blankets and other safety equipment should be accessible to help in fighting any fire.
– Key contact names and numbers should be available in the fire evacuation plan. This will facilitate communication and keep everyone properly informed. Also, a checklist of employees and any visitors should be available so that all personnel can be accounted for during the emergency.
– If any equipment is running, the safety plan should indicate if the machinery should be shut down and what the procedures are to shut down the equipment. Also, staff should be educated on when to abandon equipment in order to save their lives.
Fire Suppression Systems:
– Location of sprinklers and inspection frequency should also be specified.
Gathering (Muster) Point:
– A specified location should be indicated in the plan that is a safe distance away from the building and allows staff to gather and report their status.