Fire Prevention/Inspect & Maintain

October 25, 2021

This blog post is dedicated to the topic of Fire Prevention – a leading cause of injury and death, as well as property losses, across the U.S. and around the globe. There are many moving parts to be aware of when it comes to preventing fires, both at work and at home. From flammable liquid storage and handling, electrical safety, and wooden pallet piles, to sprinkler system maintenance, and fire extinguisher upkeep there are a number of things to stay on top of. Recently, a discussion during a Marsh McLennan Agency Loss Control team call sparked the idea for the focus of this post – inspection and maintenance of the fire detection and suppression systems we rely on to keep us safe.

A Marsh McLennan Agency - Minnesota colleague, Senior Safety Consultant David Rumsey, was in the process of his annual changing of the batteries in the smoke detectors in his home. After changing one of the batteries, he gave the test button a press – and, nothing happened. After using a can of “test smoke” to determine it had indeed failed, he tested the remaining detectors in his home – eventually discovering that he would need to replace a total of five units which all failed to alert! 

Now he has reclaimed his peace of mind. In the end it turns out that the detectors were 11 years old. Dave learned what most of us, even many in the safety profession, don’t often know: Smoke detectors have a shelf life. The NFPA and other advisory agencies recommend replacing smoke detectors after 10 years to ensure you have the most reliable detection in place. Even if the test button sounds the alarm, this does not mean the photoelectric detector inside will operate correctly in the event of a fire. Dave’s can of test smoke was the true validation that his family was not being protected to the fullest extent.

Fire extinguishers become another point of concern when proper inspections and maintenance are overlooked. We can tend to take them for granted as well, but an extinguisher exposed to the elements, or corrosive chemicals, can eventually develop rust and deterioration to the steel shell. There are many reports found online detailing how an employee was injured when a compromised extinguisher ruptured when they tried to activate it to fight a fire. These should be inspected monthly, and those that display potential damage or deterioration of the shell should be removed for service. Dry chemical extinguishers should be hydrostatically tested every 12 years. Work with a reputable fire extinguisher service company for these services.

Needless to say, fire sprinkler systems and their associated components (fire pumps, water supplies, etc.) need more than just a visual glance to ensure they are going to operate when needed. These are complicated, highly-engineered systems and require regular detailed inspection, maintenance, and routine physical testing to ensure they are in good shape. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 25 details the requirements for these operations. Work with a licensed fire protection service company to ensure your properties and employees will have a reliable sprinkler system when disaster strikes.

The main takeaway from this lesson is to stay vigilant with inspections, testing, and maintenance of all those systems we rely on to detect and put out fires: Smoke detectors, fire sprinkler systems, and portable fire extinguishers. Are they on your regularly scheduled Preventative Maintenance routine at work? How about at home? Vigilance is key and we must be on top of our game with these systems on an ongoing basis.

Some useful online fire safety resources are available below.

If you have any questions, please reach out to your MMA team.