Keep Your Multifamily Property Safe: Fire Safety Tips for Residents and Staff

Fire safety is a collective effort between property management, maintenance staff, and residents. Share these key multifamily fire safety tips with staff and residents to help prevent dangerous and destructive fires.

Stay in the kitchen while cooking

About half of all reported home fires in the U.S. are caused by cooking, according to the latest National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report on residential cooking fires. Here are some additional findings from the report:

  • Cooking fires caused an estimated $1.2 billion in damage between 2014-2018.
  • Cooking fires are twice as likely to occur in apartments than in one- and two-family homes.
  • Most cooking fires are minor but occur in apartments where sprinkler systems are installed.
  • Unattended cooking is by far the leading factor in cooking fires.

“Residents should always watch what they’re cooking,” said HAI Group Senior Risk Control Consultant Nicklaus Mayo, also a career firefighter.

Whether frying, grilling or broiling, residents should stay in the kitchen until they’re finished. If they need to leave, the best advice to give residents is to turn off the stove.

Housing organizations should consider installing canister devices—such as these from Auto-Out Cooktop Fire Protection— designed to extinguish unattended cooking fires before they spread from the stovetop, Mayo said. If you’re an HAI Group member, Auto-Out canisters are available at a special discounted price.

Kelli Esposito, a certified apartment supplier at Auto-Out, said the canisters attach with a magnet to the underside of a vent hood.

“The canisters are flame activated as opposed to human intervention, which is important because most grease fires start when someone has walked away from the cooktop,” Esposito said.

The primary fire-suppression agent in Auto-Out canisters is baking soda, which releases carbon dioxide, removing the oxygen flames feed on.

“The worst thing you can do is pour water on a grease fire,” Esposito said. “Since oil and water do not mix, pouring water can cause the oil to splash and spread the fire even worse.”

Eligible HAI Group members that install automatic stovetop fire suppression devices can submit for project reimbursement through our Loss Prevention Fund.

Inspect fire protection equipment

Every time someone from your property management or maintenance team steps into a unit—whether for an annual inspection or to fix a leaky faucet—they should check that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work, Mayo said. Staff should also check fire suppression sprinklers to ensure they haven’t been tampered with.

“That’s a mandatory part of staff stepping into a unit,” he said. “Besides formal inspections once a year, you’re not in there the other 364 days, so as many touchpoints as you get, you have to make sure that these fire protection components are working.”

During unit visits, staff should always check the date smoke and fire detectors were installed to ensure they aren't expired. If the detectors aren't hard-wired, staff should test and change batteries as necessary. 

Urge residents to notify property management immediately if they believe any of their smoke, heat, or carbon monoxide detectors are malfunctioning. Staff should carefully document each inspection and any actions taken, Mayo said.

Keep flammable materials away from space heaters and candles

If your housing organization allows space heaters in units, consider creating a safety policy all residents must acknowledge as part of their lease agreement. Here are some critical safety tips to pass along to residents:

  • Keep space heaters at least three feet away from anything that can burn.
  • Keep kids and pets away from space heaters.
  • Always turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.

Mayo said that candles are a leading cause of fire during the winter months, especially around the holidays. Residents should be advised to keep candles at least a foot away from anything that can burn. Residents should also blow candles out when leaving the room or going to sleep. Matches and lighters should be stored up high or in a cabinet with a child lock.

Share fire escape plans

Make sure primary and secondary fire escape plans are easily accessible to residents and posted throughout the property according to local and state fire codes. Residents should also know where the closest fire extinguisher and fire alarm pull station are located.

Review fire escape plans during annual unit inspections. Urge residents to talk about fire safety and emergency exit strategy with their children, grandchildren, and visitors.

Install and inspect self-closing doors

During a fire emergency, residents should prioritize a quick and safe exit—shutting their unit doors might not come to mind. Self-closing doors can provide peace of mind and help prevent fires from spreading beyond a unit or passageway.

These doors are often required in new construction. If you manage older properties where these doors aren’t required by code, consider investing in them anyways. Staff should check that self-closing doors are working correctly during annual unit inspections and maintenance visits.

Bottom Line: Do’s and don’ts for fire safety

Before you go, check out our resident "do's and don'ts" for fire safety in multifamily properties. If you have any questions or need help, contact our Risk Control and Consulting Team. 

  • DO remain in the kitchen while cooking.
  • DO keep a 3-foot radius around the stove clear of any combustible materials.
  • DO follow all smoke-free guidelines and recommendations.
  • DO know where the closest fire extinguisher and fire alarm pull station is located.
  • DO notify property management immediately if you believe any of your smoke, heat, or carbon monoxide detectors are malfunctioning.
  • DO have a conversation about fire safety and emergency exit strategy with your children, grandchildren, and visitors.
  • DON’T tamper with or alter fire protection equipment (e.g., smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, sprinkler heads, etc.).
  • DON’T cook in the kitchen when tired, drowsy, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • DON’T remove covers from standpipe system risers or fire department connections.
  • DON’T hang anything on a sprinkler pipe, sprinkler head, or water supply line.
  • DON’T overload an electrical circuit with additional appliances.
  • DON’T use an extension cord as a permanent means of electricity for an appliance or fixture.
  • DON’T allow a fire extinguisher to be discharged unless there is a fire emergency.

Includes copyrighted material from a company under the HAI Group family, with its permission. This post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice, and shall not be relied on as such. We strongly recommend consulting with legal counsel or an appropriate subject matter expert.

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