Fires can put hotel guests and employees at risk and result in significant structural damage and business interruption. A comprehensive fire prevention program, complete with employee training, regular maintenance of fire protection equipment, and emergency response plans, can help ensure that hotels are better prepared to handle a fire should one occur.
“Fire protection, in being a life safety service and system, becomes that much more important when you’re in a place where people sleep and stay at,” says Tommy Thompson, vice president of Cintas Fire Protection. “And the fact that they might not be familiar with the hotel or layout complicates things in an emergency.”
Fire protection encompasses business disruption; compliance with authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and insurance companies; and internal compliance, as most large properties have internal safety audits. With a life safety service such as fire protection, it’s in place for one reason—to protect the loss of life, Thompson says. He adds that the combination of these aspects puts hotels on the radar as far as inspection, whether by outside agencies or fire marshals, and the loss of life issue is certainly elevated when so many people are in one place.
By having a streamlined approach to fire protection, hotels can improve operational efficiency. Thompson says the fire industry is very fragmented, in that it can be difficult to find one company that can take care of all fire services. “Certainly dealing with five or six vendors that fall under one service—fire protection—doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Thompson says.
In January, Cintas Corporation announced an agreement with procurement services company Avendra as the preferred supplier of full-service fire protection and life safety services. “We’ve been able to partner with them and many other companies to provide a streamlined solution and give them a comprehensive price on all of their fire extinguishers, fire alarms, fire sprinkler services that are needed and consolidate that so they have one point of contact and one point of guidance on what’s needed,” Thompson says.
A fire alarm can go off in many different situations, Thompson says. If a hotel experiences a false alarm in the middle of the night, and the staff has to call multiple companies to figure out what tripped it, it can delay finding the appropriate solution. “It’s when your guests have the potential to be disrupted the most—those seconds are really going to count,” he says.
Training is a huge part of fire protection, Thompson says, including educating staff members on the use of fire equipment in their building, and training maintenance men and engineers at the facility so they understand the system and can troubleshoot minor problems.
A hotel can have the best service and the best fire extinguishers, but having a staff that doesn’t know how to use them is a problem. Cintas offers live training with a simulated fire (BullEX training), which gives employees and key personnel an opportunity to use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire and see how it feels and works. “You’re not having your best day if you have to use a fire extinguisher,” Thompson says. “You can only imagine that if you’ve never used one and you’re not having your best day, it’s a panic environment.”
There are also initiatives properties can take on their own. This includes creating an emergency action plan, ensuring proper housekeeping, identifying potential hazards, and even forming an internal fire emergency response team that can help guide people to safety.
Hazards that routinely come up are the blocking of fire extinguishers, missing or misplaced extinguishers, and painting over sprinkler heads, Thompson says. A sprinkler head is designed to go off at a certain temperature in a certain amount of time. If there are two or three coasts of paint on it, Thompson says it’s a code issue that in event of a fire would affect the operation and its people.
In terms of compliance, he also typically sees hotels struggle with emergency exit lights. “People don’t tend to see these as important as alarms, extinguishers or sprinklers because it’s just a light,” he says. But those lights not only illuminate where people need to exit in the event of a fire, they also kick on in the case of a power outage.
Suppliers of full-service fire protection can ensure that management is aware of these types of issues, and conduct routine inspections to make sure all equipment is in working order, properly labeled, compliant, easily accessible, etc. These are the things fire marshals, insurance providers, and safety auditors look for and will notice, and hotels can face heavy fines if they are not in compliance.
Automation and administration of fire services has also become increasingly important. “Historically this industry has been a handwritten document type of industry,” Thompson says. Typically, when a technician inspected a hotel’s alarms or sprinklers, he would fill out handwritten inspection reports that would be attached to a sprinkler riser, tucked into a bag, or stuck onto the front of an alarm panel. In the event that a property has any type of fire issues, including compliance or code issues, Thompson says it’s important to have those records and for them to be legible. Suppliers who use automation technology can capture all the important measurements and process and retain inspection reports electronically for easy access when hotels need them.
A streamlined approach to fire protection and life safety services can help hoteliers achieve increased efficiencies at their properties and focus on providing positive guest experiences.