When a crisis hits a multifamily community—or any other organization—the difference between a good outcome and a disastrous one is often a matter of simple preparedness. Residential communities in particular need to have a plan in case of an emergency, whether that emergency takes the form of COVID or hurricane, earthquake, or fire. Some states and municipalities require multifamily buildings and developments to draft emergency contingency plans as a matter of law, and some don’t—but in any event, they are always a must-have for the safety of your community.
What Is a Fire Safety Plan?
Public service announcements have been ubiquitous for years about the need for everyone to know what to do in a fire emergency, but in order to know that, you need to have a pre-prepared plan. The proper name for an official fire safety plan is a Fire Emergency Preparedness Guide (FEPG). It gives you information about what is physically installed in your building or development—fire protection systems, exits, stairs—and describes both fire and non-fire emergencies. FEPG requirements for buildings can originate with the state or local government (or neither—in which case it’s incumbent on boards and managers to make sure their communities draft, maintain, and update as needed their own FEPG). The form of ownership, whether it be co-op, condo, or rental, is irrelevant; indeed, FEGPs aren’t just for residential buildings—commercial and industrial buildings should have them as well. Safety is a matter of precaution and common sense, even to the level of the individual family.
More on FEPGs
James Bullock is a former firefighter and the president of New York Fire Safety, a consulting firm that provides FEPGs to co-ops and condominiums, as well as other types of properties in the tri-state area. “These plans contain perhaps three pages on fires themselves,” he says. “The other 30 pages or so deal with information on fire safety. There are other informational sections that deal with your building systems, exit, stairs, etc. and how and what to do in the event of a fire emergency. These reports have sections about both fire and non-fire emergencies. Basically it’s ‘what to do’ instructions, like: take your keys and close the door, don’t use elevators, and so forth. It now also contains sections on non-fire emergencies, like a hurricane or a steam or gas leak. [Some municipalities] mandate that fire safety notices are to be put on the back of the front door of your apartment, the same way you see them in hotel rooms. These instructions deal with the possibility of fire both inside your apartment and outside it.”
In some municipalities, co-ops and condos are exempt from the notice posting requirement, while other require co-ops and condos to post notifications as well - and while it's vitally important for your board/management team to know what your particular town's requirements are, the real message is that every building or association should have an FEPG, and make sure all residents and staff are familiar with it. “In New York City, an FEPG is required by law,” says Bullock. “It’s a part of the New York City fire code, and extends to residential buildings of three families or more. Outside the city it’s not required, but as a fire safety professional I certainly recommend having one. Multifamily buildings anywhere should have them regardless. It is critical for residents to know what to do in case of a fire.”