How to protect your commercial property from a fire

3-minute read

Before buying a building, you'll need to evaluate how well protected it is against fire and what it would cost to improve that protection.

A fire will cost you a lot more than the actual building. If you're unable to relocate your operations quickly, the very existence of your business could be threatened.

Enormous costs

Fires carry an enormous social and economic cost. A study by the Institute for Research in Construction estimated the annual cost of fires in Canada at more than $11 billion, including nearly $3 billion in losses.

A building's fire protection depends on two main factors—the fire resistance of the materials used in its construction and the presence and layout of firefighting equipment.

Risk assessment calculation methods

Methods used to calculate a building's vulnerability to fire sometimes involve models that simulate the spread and growth of fire, the movement of smoke, occupant response times in evacuations and the effectiveness of the local fire department.

In most cases, these calculations are performed by specialized fire protection engineers employed by industrial consulting companies. These specialists can analyze your situation and help choose the best fire protection systems for your building.

A policy to monitor all types of work involving heat—such as welding, for example—must be established to ensure compliance with the standards of the National Fire Code of Canada (NFC). This monitoring must be done regardless of whether the work is done inside or outside the building.

Available protection systems

There is a wide range of fire protection systems on the market. To choose the system that's best for you, you'll need to know what activities will take place on the premises or in different parts of a building.

Conventional sprinklers might be adequate in some parts of the building, while other areas should be equipped with carbon dioxide systems.

Among the most common types of fire protection systems are "wet pipe" systems that use conventional automatic sprinklers, waterless or "dry pipe" systems that often use compressed air and are designed for areas where water cannot be used as the extinguishing agent, and foam systems for high-risk areas that contain flammable liquids or materials.

Cyclical and integrated systems deliver only the amount of water or foam needed to control a fire and are activated and shut off automatically by special detectors. Carbon dioxide systems, meanwhile, are recommended for areas where water cannot be used as the extinguishing agent—these include computer rooms and other areas where sensitive equipment is located. Gas systems can also be used to reduce some risks, particularly in warehouses and plants containing flammable or explosive materials and in hydrocarbon loading areas.

However, these systems can only perform as planned if they are combined with an effective detection system and a sufficient supply of portable firefighting devices such as extinguishers and protective hoods.

It is recommended you contact your municipal fire department and arrange for a visit so that the firefighters are familiar with your location and facilities. If the fire risk warrants it, visits should be repeated every year.

Evacuation plan

Your company's evacuation plan should be tailored to a variety of situations. In most cases, partial evacuation will be enough to protect anyone in danger.

The plan must kick into gear automatically as soon as a dangerous incident occurs. Both your own company's internal emergency personnel and, if possible, outside agencies should be made familiar with all the deployment mechanisms so they can apply them effectively.

Depending on the size of the organization, an evacuation plan should identify gathering points, clear lines of responsibility for those implementing the plan and criteria for deciding when to evacuate the premises.

Everyone in your company needs to be familiar with the evacuation plan, and exercises should be performed on a yearly basis with different types of trial runs performed each time.

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