One only needs to watch the news regularly to get a sense of the devastation wrought by fire on a home or community. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in 2012 (the most recent year on record) some 97,000 fires broke out in apartment buildings (including condos and HOAs) across the U.S., resulting in nearly 400 deaths nationwide, and over 4,000 civilian injuries—many of them grievous.
What's more, Paul Rouse, a member of the Florida Fire Equipment Dealers Association and 34-year veteran of the fire industry, says that over 12 million unintentional fires go unreported, causing 640,000 injuries annually. Some of those fires happened right here in South Florida—and some of them robbed condo residents of their homes, dreams, and even lives.
According to the NFPA, the top causes for fires in multifamily buildings are cooking-related mishaps, electrical and heating misuse or malfunction, and smoking materials, such as cigarettes and pipes. While these multifamily buildings take great care in their fire prevention programs—adding cutting-edge smoke alarms, mandatory sprinkler systems, and utilizing top-of-the-line flame-resistant building materials, unfortunately, fires still do happen. And whether they’re a small blaze caused by an out-of-control barbeque on a private balcony or four-alarm infernos the result of electrical problems, the main concern of anyone in the building is to get themselves and their families and neighbors out safely.
Have a Plan
Bill Worrall, vice president of FirstService Residential in Miami says his firm has a long list of items that building staff and management need to understand when it comes to fire safety. These include the plans and schematics for the building overall, as well as both electrical and plumbing systems; all should be on file in hard and electronic format. “All staff and management should review emergency plans and incorporate them into the community’s emergency preparedness plans,” he says. “This should include evacuation routes, notifications, etc., and this plan should be communicated to all residents in the building on a regular, recurring basis.”
With the recession-related reduction in fire fighter staff in Miami and the surrounding cities, stopping fires before they start is more of a concern than ever, says Worrall. “First, we make sure our rules and regulations comply with local fire codes, i.e., no barbecues on the balcony. Second, we keep our building inspector’s approval on file in the management office,” he says. “Third, we communicate to our residents of any changes to the local laws and changes to our building’s plans on an annual basis. In an emergency we believe it is always better to be prepared.”