Your church is more than a building, and it’s more than a place where people gather for an hour or two each week. It’s a meeting center, a place of comfort and fellowship, where children learn, meals are shared, and the less fortunate seek assistance. That’s why when a fire happens, it can be devastating, yet fires in churches are all too common. Nearly 1700 fires requiring emergency services occurred between 2007 and 2011, and, while thankfully, fatalities were rare, the financial losses were massive. That’s why we wanted to share ways you can prevent fires and mitigate damage, ranging from simple tips to more intensive preventative measures.
Common Causes of Fires in Churches
Looking at the data from 2007 to 2011 from the National Fire Protection Association, there are five main causes of fire in churches:
- Cooking and cooking equipment (30 percent)
- Heating and furnaces (16 percent)
- Arson (16 percent)
- Electrical and wiring (10 percent)
- Candles and lighting (4 percent)
Often church buildings are older which means that the systems and equipment may be outdated or not up to code, which increases the risk of fire, while there may not be exterior security measures in place to reduce the possibility of arson. These factors, when combined with minimal, if any, fire protection or an outdated fire alarm system, and this is a recipe for major damage.
Preventing Arson in Churches
Fires set intentionally are a true tragedy because not only is it unexpected, it’s a deliberate act of cruelty against your church. Churches are particularly vulnerable to arson because buildings are unoccupied and have predictable schedules, coupled with minimal security. Also, they are targeted because of beliefs as the arsonist is committing a crime based on prejudice.
The best ways you can minimize your risk of being targeted include:
- Locking up your building and using solid core doors and wire mesh embedded windows to minimize break-ins.
- Trimming away landscaping and reducing the amount of coverage to ensure improved visibility around your church.
- Illuminating the exterior of your building, particularly around the doors and parking lots, after dark, and adding motion-sensing lights around secondary doors and windows.
- Leaving interior lighting on overnight in highly visible areas, such as around the entries.
- Locking away any flammable materials and liquids that could be used as a starter or accelerants if someone breaks in.
- Speak with local law enforcement and ask if they can include your church’s property in their overnight patrolling.
Preventing Accidental Fires in Your Church
Electrical issues and kitchen fires are the leading cause of fires in churches, as we mentioned, so it’s important to have measures in place to prevent these.
Preventing Fires from Heat and Electrical Malfunctions
The most important step you can take to prevent fires from originating in your wiring or your furnace is having them inspected once a year. This ensures that everything is up to date and a licensed HVAC tech and electrician can identify areas of concern.
Housekeeping also plays a role in preventing electrical and heat-related fires. For example, you never want to store any combustible items in the area where your furnace or HVAC system is kept. Additional things lo look for includes:
- Keeping the organ off between use;
- Making sure extension cords and power strips are in good condition and are used correctly;
- Outlets are in good condition and equipped with face plates;
- Flammable items, including window covers and holiday decoration are kept away from outlets;
Preventing Kitchen Fires
Community meals are an important part of church gatherings, but they can also be a leading cause of fire.
Minimize the risk of kitchen fires by:
- Checking your hood vents and cleaning away any grease, dust, or debris;
- Check your store and burners to make sure they are working properly; Gas burners should ignite immediately when turned on.
- Make sure your appliances are connected to the proper electrical source and are grounded;
- Keep 16 inches of space between a deep fat fryer and any open flame, such as a gas-fired range top or place a steel sheet as a barrier between the two.
- If your kitchen has a fire prevention system, make sure it’s inspected and serviced by a qualified contractor and those who cook know how it works.
- Keep the space clean and free of grease.
- Ensure k-rated (kitchen-rated) fire extinguishers are visible and easy to access.
How to Minimize Damage and Injury from a Fire in Your Church
Preventing a fire is important, of course, but you also need to make sure there are safety measures in place if a fire does happen.
Fire Alarm System Inspection
The most important step you can take is to ensure your fire alarm system is working properly, and it reaches every part of the building that is in use. Churches often expand, turning basements into classrooms or building wings for child care and offices, and it’s essential that the fire alarm system is expanded with the building. Working with a fire alarm system inspection company will help ensure everything is in proper working order and up to code. This also applies to carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors, and sprinkler systems.
Exit Signs And Emergency Escape Routes
Your exit signs should be clearly marked and illuminated and there should also be diagrams and floor plans in highly visible locations to indicate emergency escape routes. You want to make sure everyone in the building is able to find the exit quickly and easily.
Fire Extinguisher Placement
Making sure there fire extinguishers easily accessible and always close at hand can stop a small fire from turning into a disaster. First, having the right extinguisher in place is important to being able to properly put out fires. In the kitchen area, they should be a Class K or Type K as they can be used on grease. Class ABC should be used throughout the rest of the building as they can be used almost universally for wood, flammable liquids, electrical, and other types of fire.
Placement and inspection are also important. Fire extinguishers should be placed every 75 feet and easily accessible, and they should be inspected annually to ensure they will be ready when needed.
Every quarter or so, do a fire drill so people in the building know the escape routes and you know in advance if there are any concerns, such as traffic jams, or confusion as to where the exits are.
Contact Us for Fire Alarm System Installation in North Carolina
If your church needs fire alarm system installation or needs your current system inspected, and you’re in North Carolina, we can help. We work out of Raleigh, Charlotte, and Winston-Salem, designing and installing proper fire alarm and fire protection systems, including sprinklers, that keep people safe. To learn more, reach out to us today at 800-255-5664 or fill out the contact form below to get started.