Codes and standards
NFPA Impact: May 2016
Over the winter, there were more large-profile barn fires in the news than I can recall in recent memory. At one point it was difficult to keep track of them all.
By Shayne Mintz
Between Jan. 4 and Feb. 25 at least 2,700 animals were killed in seven Ontario fires – and the problem was not limited to Ontario. On Jan. 28, 20 horses narrowly escaped death in a massive barn fire in Delta, B.C., and last summer more than 100 head of cattle were killed in a fire at a dairy farm near Truro, N.S.
Fires such as these are often in rural areas and have devastating effects not only on the owners of the barns, but also entire communities and local economies. People, animals and property are all in danger when a fire breaks out on a farm. Unfortunately, incidents such as these are not uncommon. Millions of dollars are lost each year to barn fires, both with and without the loss of livestock. The presence of machinery, equipment and farm implements and supplies stored in these barns further accentuates the losses.
In 2012, the NFPA published a report on structure fires in barns and identified that in the United States more than 800 barn fires occurred between 2006 and 2010, resulting in more than $28 million in property damage. NFPA 150: Standard on Fire and Life Safety in Animal Housing Facilities recognizes that installing automatic sprinklers is one of many ways to help protect animal-housing facilities. Sprinklers are not, however, a blanket solution because of unique hazards associated with different facilities and the specific needs of certain animals and, therefore, are not required in all animal housing or barn facilities.
Members of the technical committee for NFPA 150 fully recognize that sprinklers may not be appropriate in every farm setting from both an economic and practical perspective. While fire prevention is the best way to deal with fires, installing sprinklers is still an attractive protection option.
Fire-alarm systems are another method of protection that should be evaluated by farm and barn owners. Heat detectors are a good choice for barns since the dirt and dust can cause false alarms in typical smoke alarms.
All that being said, the best way to protect a barn or farm from the devastation a fire can cause is through a combination of fire prevention and fire-protection practices. There are many sources for fire prevention, public education and awareness materials. Perth East Fire Department in Ontario created a notable public education campaign last summer called Building a Farm Fire Safe Community, which included a high-quality video (Find More at Stake than the Barn on YouTube) that drove home the importance of fire-safe practices in barns. The NFPA also produces a free customizable barn fire safety checklist, which can help public educators develop local programs. This and many more fire-safety tip sheets can be found on the NFPA’s website.
As with most public-education and awareness programs, a barn fire-safety campaign raises awareness, in this case about fire hazards on farms and how farmers can take proactive measures to reduce risks. The messages are very simple: keep heat lamps and space heaters a safe distance from anything that can burn, and make sure they can’t fall over. Electrical wiring should be free from damage. Avoid the use of extension cords in barns. Keep light bulbs and other ignition sources clean or cover them to protect them from breakage and moisture. Farmers should maintain good housekeeping practices such as keeping dust and cobwebs from collecting in rafters and flat spaces and making sure that oily rags are stored in proper containers and disposed of as soon as possible. Feed, hay, straw and flammable liquids should be kept away from the main barn.
All barns should be smoke-free zones and, if necessary, smokers’ areas should be established well away from any combustibles. Proper receptacles should be readily available to extinguish smokers’ materials. Make sure that everyone in the barn is aware that personal safety is the highest priority should a fire break out, and that all exits should be clearly marked and obstruction free. Finally, make sure all farm workers are aware of the location of fire extinguishers and are trained in how to use them. Help farmers create a hazard checklist to help with farm fire safety, and ensure that safety checks take place regularly.
Spring is here and farmers are in full production mode, so there is no better time to introduce and reinforce the farm fire-safety message and develop it into a four-season initiative.
Shayne Mintz is the Canadian Regional Director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Contact Shayne at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ShayneMintz