We’re often asked by people what they should look for when selecting a new fire protection service provider. You have different choices for your vendor relationships, but there is greater responsibility attached to a fire safety provider’s work versus that of a printer, plumber, or other service provider. (You don’t often hear of people dying or losing everything due to a bad print job or clogged drains).
When choosing vendors, businesses generally make choices based on cost, personal relationships, and reputation. But when choosing a fire safety professional, legal compliance, occupant safety, and business damage also hang in the balance. That makes qualities like experience, certification, responsiveness, accuracy, and professionalism much more relevant. It’s a decision you should make carefully.
If you’re vetting fire safety services, this is what we’d tell our own friends and family to look for:
You want a provider that takes the time to ask about your specific needs and concerns, and how they can best serve you. This includes scheduling inspections at times that are least inconvenient for you. When they come to do inspections, they should ask questions about changes that may impact your fire suppression plan (for example, a new door or a new wall which may alter the effectiveness of the fire sprinkler system).
Fire safety is never a one-size fit all. Is your business exactly the same as the other businesses on your street? Is your equipment exactly the same as every other business in your neighborhood? Is your building constructed from the same materials, by the same builder, and with the same specs as every other building in Toronto? No, of course not. So why should you have the same fire safety plan that everyone else does? Your safety concerns are unique to you, and your fire suppression plan should be too.
Knowledge of clean agent suppression systems for expensive equipment.
Manufacturing machinery and IT equipment, for example, are highly susceptible to irreparable damage caused by water in sprinkler systems. Sprinkler systems are great for minimizing fire damage, but may not be the best solution where sensitive equipment is concerned. The flame-suppressing chemicals in clean agent suppression systems will not hurt your machinery, and are therefore a smart choice for some.
Knowledge of cost-effective and money-saving strategies.
Vendor choices for business and property owners often come down to the bottom line. After all, one of the main reasons businesses seek fire suppression specialists is to avoid potential fines from non-compliance with fire safety code, and to minimize loss in event of a fire. So you should expect your fire suppression professional to be aware of opportunities to reduce your overall costs by helping you take advantage of potential insurance rate breaks, applicable tax breaks, or other offsets that may be available.
For example, this Multi-Housing News article written by a risk assessment manager for an insurance company addresses "Insurance Best Practices for Apartment Owners," many of which relate to fire safety, and some of which may lead to insurance-related credits.
Reporting that works for you.
Going back to good communication, regular reporting keeps you informed of status updates to your fire suppression system. You will need to keep copies of these reports for insurance purposes, as well as for fire safety inspections. Your fire safety professional should know who in your organization is the appropriate party to be responsible for receipt of these reports, and the preferred format for the reports (paper, electronic, or both). Your provider should also be able to retain backup copies of your reports.
This applies two ways: One, your fire suppression professional should be certified and undergo regular training to stay certified and keep up with the latest in fire suppression technology. Two, your provider should be sure that your staff is trained on how to use and maintain your fire safety equipment – not just in the event of an emergency, but also before an emergency occurs. We recently covered some of these potential issues on our blogs about fire sprinkler maintenance and fire extinguisher maintenance.
Awareness of changes to code.
Fire codes constantly evolve. Currently there are proposed changes to Ontario fire code on carbon monoxide and smoke alarms. Other changes regarding sprinkler safety may also apply to your buildings. Your fire safety professional should advise you of applicable developments and help you stay in compliance when the code changes.
How will you reach your fire suppression expert when you need them? Are they on call 24/7? Do they have dedicated vehicles and fire safety professionals ready to assist you?
If you have something to add, please share in the comments section; we'd love to hear it.
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