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 takes the form of a fire or some other immediate crisis, such as a severe storm or even a public health emergency. Some states and municipalities require multifamily buildings and associations to draft emergency contingency plans as a matter of law, and some don’t—but in any event, a clear, concise, and well-thought-out plan is a must-have for the safety of your community.
What Is a Fire Safety Plan?
We’ve all seen public service announcements stressing the need to have an evacuation plan in case of fire, whether at home, school, or work. The industry term for an official fire safety plan is a Fire Emergency Preparedness Guide (FEPG). Depending where you live, FEPG requirements for multifamily buildings can originate with the state or local government, or neither—in which case it’s incumbent on boards and managers to draft, maintain, and update as needed their own FEPG. Whether a building is a co-op, condo, or rental is irrelevant when it comes to the need for a fire emergency plan. Indeed, FEPGs aren’t just for big residential buildings; commercial and industrial buildings should have them as well, as should single-family homes.
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 tristate area. According to him, an FEPG is more than just a hallway map with ‘EXIT’ marked on it in bright red; a proper guide does map out hallways, stairs, and points of egress, but it also gives you information about what fire protection systems are installed in your building, and gives directions for action in both fire and non-fire emergencies.
“These plans contain perhaps three pages on fires themselves,” Bullock says. “The other 30 pages or so deal with information on fire safety. There are informational sections that deal with your building systems, exit, stairs, etc. and how and what to do in the event of a fire emergency. Basically it contains ‘what to do’ instructions, like: take your keys and close the door, don’t use elevators, and so forth. It also contains sections on non-fire emergencies, like a hurricane or a steam or gas leak.”
According to Dan DeTrolio, assistant VP of Hartz Mountain Industries in Secaucus, New Jersey, and a member of the Fire Safety Commission, in addition to drafting and distributing a copy of the community’s FEPG to all residents, HOA boards and management should encourage shareholders and unit owners to install fire extinguishers in their kitchens, garages, and any other areas of their homes where fires may start. Homeowners should look for extinguishers with an “ABC” rating, which means it is good for any type of fire—electrical, chemical, or otherwise. A multi-purpose dry chemical Class ABC fire extinguisher is considered the best choice for general home use, and having more than one in any home is recommended.