fire inspections during covid

Fire Inspections during COVD

Originally posted on April 15, 2020 at

Image of storefront window with sign saying "ghost town"

Hi, my name is Jim Burns. Yes, that's my real name. As a fire inspector and investigator, I get comments about my last name every week. More about me in the weeks to come. For now, here is the first blog post. As an aside, I intend to share my experiences as a fire inspector, fire investigator, plans examiner, and code consultant. As a self-professed information junky, I would like to not only share my experiences, but also my research and resources.

It’s April 2020. The world is in lockdown.

It’s April 2020. The world is in lockdown. Businesses are closed. Many people are working from home, and some take care of their children at the same time. Everyone is adapting. You may be taking on new responsibilities or figuring out how inspections continue in this time of uncertainty. Two things come to mind for me. First, the current situation highlights the importance of understanding the fundamentals of the fire and life safety objectives of the fire and building codes.

The importance of understanding the objectives of the fire and life safety requirements of the code can not be understated. 

Understanding what the objectives of the codes are attempting to achieve will assist in applying and enforcing the code requirements. The building and fire codes were not written under the context of a pandemic. New facilities may be opened, such as temporary health care sites, temporary shelters or quarantine sites, and essential businesses may be altering their means of egress, etc. Even more so during these times, it takes judicious application, careful thought, and working with stakeholders to ensure adequate measures are in place. 

Businesses are closed, and buildings are vacant

Businesses are closed, buildings are vacant, or down to maintenance staff only. Many building owners and businesses are not thinking of the importance of maintaining their fire protection and life safety systems. They may see it as money wasted if the building is vacant. They aren’t thinking of firefighter safety or the safety of the neighboring buildings. As any fire investigator will tell you, we often hear, “I never thought it would happen to me.” Fires happen. We know this. Maintaining fire protection and life safety systems is critical. 

As any fire investigator will tell you, we often hear, “I never thought it would happen to me.” Fires happen. We know this. Maintaining fire protection and life safety systems is critical. 

However, there may be situations where it makes sense to relax the ITM requirements, such as closed restaurants. Allowing a restaurant owner to go beyond the ITM cycles of NFPA 96 will not affect the overall safety of the building. However, if the seating area is closed, but they are still preparing takeout, then yes, the systems need to be maintained in conformance with NFPA 96. We must work with stakeholders and ensure critical systems are maintained in working order. 

How can inspections continue with social/physical distancing?

NFPA is working on completing a remote video inspection standard, NFPA 915. This standard is not yet available. However, NFPA does have several resources available. A few links are included below for remote video inspections (RVI), including links directly related to permanent and temporary healthcare occupancies. These resources can guide you through staying safe while conducting fire inspections.  

One final thought, combining technical knowledge and skill coupled with the ability to deal with people can be a challenge. Conducting fire inspections is never an easy task. Speaking for myself, I sometimes forget how emotions and state of mind can affect my fire inspections. Right now, stakeholders' mental health and emotional state are in flux. You never know what is happening in the stakeholder’s life or how they're handling the current pressures. You also have baggage that you need to deal with. These add to an already challenging task. You need to ensure that you are maintaining your mental health and state of mind. 

Please share your stories of how you or your fire department are handling fire inspections during these times.