6 ways for hotels to improve fire safety

An estimated 3,900 hotel and motel fires occur each year resulting in $100 million in property damage, 100 injuries and 15 deaths according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As a professional fire safety inspector, I have inspected hundreds of commercial properties. During my inspections I see overlooked areas when it comes to fire safety that need immediate attention. Identifying and correcting these six issues will help ensure the safety of your guests and property in case of a fire emergency.

1. Test Alarms and Conduct Fire Drills

Fire alarms often are considered the most critical element of a hotel's safety system. When an alarm sounds, the occupants immediately know a potential danger exists and evacuation is necessary.
Hotel management should have employees conduct regular tests of the fire alarm system. Most systems can be tested through the control panel. Set your control panel to test mode, meaning it will not call the fire department, and press the button again to set off the alarms. For other systems you may need to activate the alarms manually by opening an alarm lever box with a master key and pressing the button within. Record your results of the test, keeping a list of every activating device and how it reacted to the test. If one or more alarms are faulty, this information will help a technician locate the problem quickly. When testing the alarms, it is recommended you also conduct a fire drill.

Hotel managers should conduct quarterly fire drills for staff as part of the company’s emergency action plan. Hotel guests are not required to participate in these sessions. These drills allow employees to practice evacuating the building and show areas in the plan that might need improving. Fire drills are not mandated by state or federal law but I would still recommend conducting them regularly to ensure public safety at your hotel.

2. Communicate Your Emergency Action Plan

Hotel management must provide written emergency action plans for employees to ensure everyone knows the exit routes and what fire emergency procedures are in place.

Emergency action plans should cover designated actions employers and employees need to take to ensure their safety during fire emergencies, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These actions include directing guests to the nearest exits and helping people in compromised situations exit the building. Management needs to ensure all employees understand fire-suppression procedures and escape routes to be followed by each location in the hotel. Evacuation route signs also need to be posted by the door in each guestroom.

Management is required to review the emergency action plan with each employee at certain times, including when the plan is developed, when an employee’s responsibilities change and when the plan changes.

3. Keep Fire Extinguishers Close

Multipurpose extinguishers rated class A, B and C, capable of putting out small fires involving wood, paper, oils and gases, are required in hotels. Extinguishers need to be placed 75 feet apart throughout the building, according to OSHA guidelines. Guestrooms are not required to have fire extinguishers, but extinguishers should never be farther than 75 feet away in the hallway for a guest to retrieve if needed.
Make sure your fire extinguishers are at the proper weight or gauge limit. This information can be found on the label located on the side of the extinguisher. Replace or recharge your extinguishers if they are not at the required levels and after every use.

4. Maintain Exit Signs

Maintain the exit lights in your hotel. During a fire, conditions can be chaotic and confusing. Smoke can obscure vision and make it difficult to navigate your surroundings. Illuminated exit signs make it more likely people will be able to see where to go and get out of the building. 

Exit signs are designed to switch to emergency power when they no longer receive electricity. These lighted signs need regular testing by the hotel management to ensure proper operation. Often this involves pressing the test button on the side of the sign to ensure they correctly switch to the standby power source.

5. Declutter Walls and Doorways

Hotel managers need to make sure their employees are aware of the amount of wallcoverings in the hallways and guestrooms. Large bulletin boards covered in paper, business areas with scattered documents and entryways with multiple pamphlets on the surrounding area's activities are high-risk fire areas. A small flame can potentially turn these areas into an uncontrollable fire.
Often in my inspections I see emergency exit doors blocked by debris such as empty boxes and trash. I recommend management have employees regularly inspect doorways for easy access. Move any boxes, equipment or trash from doorway so it doesn't slow down the process of getting to safety quickly.

6. Hold Regular Inspections

A hotel should have its lights, alarms, extinguishers and sprinklers inspected every year. Many hotels neglect their annual services. Neglecting your fire-safety system can cause the equipment to erode over tim,e resulting in faulty equipment.
After a professional inspection, you will receive a report from the inspection company. The report will include the date of the inspection, name and address of the property, type of occupancy, any issues that need addressed, contact details of the building owner and those interviewed during the inspection. You are required to keep this on file for at least two years, but I recommend five years.
Following these fire-safety reminders will ensure your guest and property will be safer in case of a fire emergency. If you ever have questions about your fire-safety system and plan, contact the local fire marshal.

Chad Connor is president of Affordable Fire & Safety.