Businesses and Fire

By:  Robert Avsec

Tis the holiday season once again in the USA and around the world.  The shopping center impactnews.comparking lots are filled with more cars than any other time of the year.  Who doesn’t “dread” going to a store this time of year for a small “everyday” purchase because of the long lines at the check out (No “in-and-out” shopping at the “big box” stores, for sure!).

When I was a member of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department, this time of year also meant evening “mass exit inspections” by fire companies across the county.  We would put on our Class A uniform, get on the fire truck, and head for our assigned stores and restaurants to conduct quick “in-and-out” inspections that consisted of looking for:

  • Locked exit doors, particularly at the rear of businesses;
  • Blocked exits (Particularly in retail stores where extra stock coming in for the holidays usually meant unopened or empty boxes being stored in the path of egress);
  • Blocked sprinkler heads (from boxes stacked up so high that there wasn’t the required 18” of clearance for the sprinkler head); and
  • Any obvious fire code violation, e.g., flammable liquid containers improperly stored.

www.insurancechat.co.zaI think the topic of what the REAL impact of a fire WILL be on even a large business, but particularly a small business, is vastly understated in our business.  I heard a statistic early in my career that has always stuck with me–70 percent of businesses will either never reopen, or will fail within 5 years.  The problem is that in researching material for this blog post I could not find a reputable source for such a statement (And believe you me, I tried!).  The best I could come up with was this from Continuity Central’s webpage, Business continuity statistics: where myth meets fact:

Many businesses never entirely recover – losing orders, contracts, key employees or may go out of business resulting in lost jobs and services to the community.

Related: See the entire attempt by Continuity Central to “track down” this fire prevention “urban myth”

But think about it, competition for business, especially from the Internet, is “cut-throat” to say the least, isn’t it?  What business owner these days can afford to be out of business for even a week?  Think of what they have to lose:

  • Market share when their customers have to go to other vendors for their needs
  • Loss of employees who will have to seek other employment (Everyone has bills to pay!)
  • Valuable business assets, particularly information management technology, e.g., their customer databases, payroll and employee records, etc.

The table below contains fire data relative to non-residential structure fires in the USA for the period of 2002-2012.

Direct Property Damage

(in Billions)

Year

Fires

Civilian

Civilian

As Reported

In 2012 Dollars

Deaths

Injuries

2002

130,000

105

1,950

 $        2.8

 $        3.6

2003

131,000

2409

1,950

 $        2.7

 $        3.4

2004

130,500

115

1,825

 $        2.5

 $        3.0

2005

130,000

75

2,025

 $        2.5

 $        2.9

2006

128,000

125

1,850

 $        2.8

 $        3.2

2007

131,500

135

1,750

 $        3.2

 $        3.5

2008

128,500

145

1,800

 $        4.1

 $        4.4

2009

118,000

130

2,090

 $        3.2

 $        3.4

2010

112,500

115

2,070

 $        2.8

 $        2.9

2011

114,500

120

1,725

 $        2.8

 $        2.9

2012

115,500

90

1,825

 $        2.8

 $        2.8

Totals

1,370,000

3,564

20,860

 $      32.2

 $      36.0

Source: Fire Loss in the United States 2012, Michael J. Karter, Jr., NFPA, September 2013.

Fires due to equipment failures might make headlines but 85 percent of the fires that occur in commercial buildings are due to human error or intent, reports Maine Municipal Association Risk Management Services (MMARMS). Over 3,000 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur every year in the US because of fire and fires consume $10 billion in property damage costs annually. MMARMS reports that 70-80,000 workplaces experience fire every year, causing disruption of public services and utilities and the loss of valuable property and information.[1]

my.firefighternation.comI’ve always tried to emphasize this aspect of fire prevention when speaking before business groups or teaching classes to firefighters and officers.  This is the #1 reason why business owners should comply with—and seek to exceed—fire code requirements: the life of their business depends upon it.

What do you and your department do to inform and educate business owners about understanding and managing the risk fire presents to their business?


[1] FitzGerald, S. Most Common Causes of Fire in Commercial Buildings. eHow Money. Available from: http://www.ehow.com/list_7653819_common-causes-fire-commercial-buildings.html#ixzz2n0w3KyEz

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Avatar
Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.