Fire Inspection Checklist

A fire inspection checklist to conduct an assessment of your business—and get ready for that fire marshal inspection

In 2016, the city of Oakland, California, experienced the deadliest building fire since 1906. This incident occurred in a large warehouse that had been illegally converted into an "artists’ collective." It housed multiple residents, and, on the night of the fire, it was hosting a concert. The infamous “Ghost Ship warehouse fire” claimed 36 lives.

Though the official cause was never determined, an inadequate electrical system, numerous electrical and extension cords, and artists’ supplies—paint, wood, sculptures, and tapestries—contributed to the devastation. The master tenant and the warehouse manager were arrested and criminally charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter—though, in 2019, they were acquitted of criminal charges. Nevertheless, civil litigation by the family members of the deceased continues.

Picture of Ghost Ship Warehouse Fire

The Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Source: Dolan Law Firm

Beyond the obvious potential human tragedy and liability caused by a massive fire like this, even a small blaze can have a significant negative impact on any business. These effects can be economic, organizational, legal, psychological, and political. Major jurisdictions throughout the United States have implemented fire safety inspection programs to prevent disasters like the Ghost Ship fire—making sure that businesses and their structures are compliant with fire code.

These programs involve periodic inspections of structures, warnings and potential fines for violations, and notifications of possible fire and life safety hazards aimed at safeguarding the community. But in the time between these official inspections—and way before a code violation is issued—business owners and facility managers should “police” themselves through an internal self-inspection process. Periodic evaluations ensure safety in your business and prepare you to pass an official fire marshal inspection with flying colors.

Six critical areas significantly contribute to increased fire and life safety hazards:

Building owners and property managers should be aware of these areas and ever-vigilant about their compliance. These areas will be reviewed during an official fire marshal inspection and should be a prominent part of any fire inspection checklist.

Picture of QRFS Red Exit Sign

Exits and egress paths must be visible, unobstructed, and clearly marked with photoluminescent or electric signs. Read this blog to learn more about fire and life safety signage.

1. Maintain a clear path of egress

The “means of egress” is the way out of a building. Three components make up a means of egress: exit access, exit, and exit discharge.

  • Exit access is the path leading to the exit.
  • The exit is the door or opening itself.
  • The exit discharge is the area directly on the other side of the exit. The discharge opens to a public way or into an area of refuge.

A self-inspection should include an assessment of these means of egress areas. Each component should be identified, visible, accessible, and unobstructed. Doors must freely operate in the direction of egress so that people cannot be trapped inside. NFPA 101: Life Safety Code®, a model code published by the National Fire Protection Association, outlines these basic maintenance requirements:

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 101

7.1.10 Means of Egress Reliability.* Maintenance. Means of egress shall be continuously maintained free of all obstructions or impediments to full instant use in the case of fire or other emergency.

Graphic of Exit Components

The three components of a “means of egress.” Source: United States Access Board

2. Check your electrical wiring and power cords

All wiring and electrical installations must comply with NFPA 70: National Electrical Code (NEC). As building owners and managers, you are not expected to be an expert on the electrical code. But there are several items that you can observe and correct.

All electrical boxes, switches, and outlets must have their covers in place. Extension cords must be in good condition with no cuts or splices, and they are only permitted to be used with temporary equipment and cannot be employed as a substitute for permanent wiring. Surge protectors must be connected directly to an outlet, and not “daisy-chained” to each other. Extension cords and surge protectors cannot be attached to the structure, extend through walls or the ceiling, be run under doors, or be covered by rugs or other floor coverings.

The electrical panel box and main building disconnect should be identified and accessible for fire department personnel or in case that quick access is needed for electrical shut down. Electrical panels and breakers must be labeled, and any open spaces should have proper covers in place.

Picture of power strip on fire

Overloaded power strips and those used as a permanent wiring solution are dangerous and will be flagged by a fire safety inspector.

3. Good housekeeping is essential to fire safety

Here, “housekeeping” refers to the general condition of the property and items that are stored within it. Flammables, combustibles, trash, and debris must not be allowed to accumulate and should be regularly removed from the premises. Any flammable or combustible liquids must be stored in an approved container or cabinet.

And electrical, boiler, or HVAC rooms cannot be used for storage and must be clear of items that aren’t essential to operating the equipment. NFPA 1: Fire Code® details these requirements:

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 1

10.18* Storage of Combustible Materials.

10.18.1 General. Storage of combustible materials shall be orderly.

10.18.5 Equipment Rooms. Combustible material shall not be stored in boiler rooms, mechanical rooms, or electrical equipment rooms. Materials and supplies for the operation and maintenance of the equipment in the room shall be permitted.

Picture of Flammable liquids storage cabinet

A typical flammable liquids storage cabinet.

4. How to ensure effective fire sprinkler operation

Fire sprinkler systems must be maintained according to the requirements in NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. ITM tasks for different portions of the system generally fall under quarterly, semi-annual, annual, and five-year intervals.

These activities are conducted by fire protection contractors or other qualified personnel who are specifically trained and certified in the inspection, testing, and maintenance of systems. It is the building owner's responsibility, however, to ensure that these inspections are scheduled and completed.

The systems will be tagged as they are inspected, and a full report will be left with the building owner. It is also the building owner's responsibility to maintain the report and all other documentation, and ensure that any noted deficiencies are repaired as soon as possible.

There are some maintenance steps a building owner or tenant can do, however, to ensure that these systems function properly. A simple visual inspection will ensure that no items are stored within 18” of any sprinkler head, that sprinkler heads are free of paint and corrosion, and that nothing is attached to them. If these issues are found during a self-inspection, they should immediately be remedied or reported if the solution requires professional repair work.

Picture of tagged fire sprinkler risers

Fire protection ITM professionals leave tags on fire sprinkler risers to denote the results of inspections. Source: FireSystems, Inc.

5. Addressing fire alarm issues and maintenance

NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code mandates that fire alarm systems are inspected, tested, and maintained at semi-annual, annual, and—depending on the types of system and devices—quarterly intervals. These inspections are done by companies and personnel specifically trained and certified in the inspection, testing, and maintenance of that particular brand of fire alarm system.

Fire alarm systems should be tagged upon completion of the inspection, and the building owner will receive a full report. Again, it is the building owner’s responsibility to have any noted deficiencies corrected.

There are also basic things that building owners or managers can do, however. Make sure the fire alarm panel is accessible, its location is labeled, and that all documentation is maintained and available. Also, any manual pull stations should be visible and accessible. Alerts such as a trouble or supervisory signal that may appear on the panel display must be reported to the alarm company so that any issues can be addressed quickly.

Picture of alarm control panel with inspection tag

Fire alarm panels should be tagged upon the completion of an inspection. Source: Professional Alarm

6. Know what to look for on your fire extinguisher

NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers outlines requirements for selection, placement, inspection, testing, and maintenance of fire extinguishers. Annually, these units must be inspected and any maintenance performed by a certified and trained professional. These units may need to be recharged or replaced if the extinguishing agent is low, and they require 6-year maintenance (hydrostatic testing of the cylinder) or replacement. A qualified extinguisher technician will advise when this is necessary.

Nevertheless, NFPA 10 states that the building owner or manager must also inspect all extinguishers once a month:

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10 Fire extinguishers and Class D extinguishing agents shall be inspected at least once per calendar month.

A monthly inspection by onsite personnel should examine each extinguisher and ensure that it is visible and accessible. The unit should be free of rust and damage, and the gauge must-read in the “green” (operational) level.

Additionally, fire extinguishers must be mounted—they cannot be sitting on the floor. Mounting requirements in NFPA 10 specify that the top of an extinguisher weighing 40 pounds or less may be installed as high as five feet above the floor. For heavier extinguishers, that maximum height drops to 3 1/2 feet. The base of each extinguisher must be at least 4 inches above the floor.

And, as with every other fire safety component, all documentation of the monthly and annual inspections should be maintained and readily available onsite.

Learn more about fire extinguisher types, placement, and mounting requirements.

Picture of Fire Extinguisher Gauge

A properly charged fire extinguisher.

Preparation is key to a fire-safe business

A self-inspection goes a long way toward ensuring the safety of patrons and employees. By assessing these items, building owners will stay aware of various fire hazards and life safety issues—and problems can be solved before they result in non-working equipment during an emergency. It’s also smart to do the basics before any local fire marshal inspection. You may avoid fees and possible fines.

QRFS's Fire Inspection Checklist provides building owners and facility managers a guide to many of the key items that must be assessed and made available before an official inspection.

And if a piece of equipment is damaged or missing, we can provide many of the parts, signs, tools, and other items that may be necessary to achieve compliance.

If you have questions or need help finding something, call us at +1 (888) 361-6662 or email [email protected].

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