Has the fire marshal ordered a fire watch on your property? If so, you may be wondering what a fire watch is and why it’s required. While it may seem daunting, it’s purely for protection. Fire watches are designed to safeguard your property and those on it against the threat of fire when your usual fire protection mechanisms, such as alarms and sprinklers, are out of action.
Property owners who haven’t had to consider fire watch requirements before are often confused about what they need to do when faced with one. In this guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about fire watch policy and procedure.
What is a Fire Watch?
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a citizen-run global nonprofit dedicated to fire safety, a fire watch is the assignment of a person to a specific area who is responsible for notifying the fire department and occupants in case of an emergency. They are also responsible for putting out small fires if necessary.
Fire watchers are typically employed when fire protection systems, such as sprinklers, standpipes, and alarms are temporarily out of commission. While NFPA fire watch requirements are not legally enforceable, many municipalities follow the same codes of conduct. A fire watch procedure is critical to any building’s fire safety plan and may also be required for insurance purposes.
What is the Purpose of a Fire Watch?
There are several purposes of a fire watch but the most important is to ensure the safety of everyone in the area. Under recommended fire watch requirements, NFPA guidance dictates that a watcher must:
- Watch for fires 24/7
- Notify both the fire department and the building’s occupants if a fire starts
- Assist in the evacuation of said building
- Control and fight small fires
While this may seem like a simple job at first glance, fire watch policy and guidance are clear on how these obligations must be met and the responsibility on the fire watchers shoulders can be a heavy burden. Proper fire watcher training is critical, and it entails much more than just having someone call 911 if a fire does break out.
When is a Fire Watch Required?
Not all buildings need a permanent fire watch in place. Under current fire watch procedures, NFPA guidance states that there are several situations when a fire watch must be employed to protect a building and its occupants. So, when is a fire watch needed?
Reason #1 – Fire Protection and Suppression Systems are Offline
There are multiple reasons why fire protection and suppression systems could be offline. From planned outages for upgrades to unexpected repairs, any impairment to a fire protection system could render a threat to safety.
The NFPA makes no distinction between emergency outages or pre-planned repairs. The NFPA 25 Handbook confirms that most devastating fires could have been avoided if a fire watch had been employed at a time when fire protection systems were impaired.
Reason #2 – Hot Work is Being Carried Out in the Building
“Hot work” is most commonly associated with welding and cutting, but the NFPA defines it as any type of work that could cause a spark or flame. Every year, hot work is the leading cause of industrial fires, with an average of $355 million in direct property damage, 198 injuries, and 15 fatalities every year.
Property owners underestimate the impact of hot work, with molten metal and sparks flying more than 35 feet. The ease of ignition means a fire watcher must be on duty when hot work is being conducted on the premises.
Reason #3 – During Construction or Demolition of a Building
The International Code Council (ICC) mandated changes to the International Fire Code (IFC) in 2021 to improve fire safety on construction sites. In particular, fire watch requirements have changed during non-working hours in regards to new constructions of more than 40 feet or on sites extending more than 50,000 square feet.
Reason #4 – Areas Where Dense Crowds are Expected
Fire watch policy also mandates that trained fire watchers must be in place in public assembly buildings, based on the type of event and the number of people expected. This policy was implemented following The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003, where 100 people were killed due to pyrotechnics causing soundproof equipment to burst into flames.
Meeting Fire Watch Requirements
While fire watch compliance may seem simple, there are set standards that must be followed to achieve compliance. Building owners and responsible personnel should familiarize themselves with NFPA requirements for conducting a fire watch.
Notify the Fire Department When a System is Offline
The moment a building’s fire protection or suppression system is offline, the local fire department or a fire code official must be notified. Advance notice makes it simpler to solicit a response if a fire does break out. It’s also important to speak to the fire department as your municipality may have compliance requirements in addition to the recommendations put forth by the NFPA.
Preparing for the Watch
Before beginning the watch, building management must meet with both designated watchers and a fire code official to discuss what is required. All watchers should have a full set of building keys and a planned route to follow for the watch. Anyone selected to conduct the watch should have an intimate knowledge of the area, including the locations of fire extinguishers and pull stations.
Building management must provide at least one means of communication for fire watchers to call the fire department if a fire does break out. If multiple watchers are required, they should also have the means to communicate with each other without leaving their designated routes.
Conducting the Watch
Fire watch policy mandates that watchers should regularly patrol their routes inside and outside the building. This includes unoccupied areas, such as storage facilities, closets, crawl spaces, and attics. A log sheet of each round, with beginning and end times, must be recorded and maintained. Fire watchers must not be given additional duties outside of their watch, according to the NFPA.
The safety of occupants is any building owner’s top priority. However, meeting fire watch requirements and investing in fire watcher training can be a headache. Instead, why not outsource to an experienced organization qualified to carry out fire watches?
The Guard Alliance provides code-compliant fire watches across California to building owners who need to protect their property and its occupants. Contact The Guard Alliance to learn more about fire watch services now.