Guest Blog: Fighting Fire with Planning, Preparation and Communication: What Multifamily Managers Need to Know

Managers of multifamily properties face critical ...

By Brian Taylor, Executive Director, Talega Maintenance Corporation, Managed by FirstService Residential

Managers of multifamily properties face critical challenges every day. They perform multiple tasks simultaneously, proactively assessing and enacting strategies to improve property features and systems, developing and implementing marketing plans and reacting to the troubles that surface on any given day. Inevitably, managers are likely to spend at least some time putting out fires, regardless of the amount of time spent planning and organizing.

Of course, we are talking about the figurative kind of fire here, but managers need to be ready to combat the real ones as well. Oct. 5 – 11 is National Fire Prevention Week, and it presents an excellent opportunity for managers, their staff and board members, to review and assess their fire prevention strategies.

Sponsored by the non-profit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), as it has since its establishment in 1925, Fire Prevention Week commemorates the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and encourages fire awareness and prevention across North America. This year, the theme of the week is “Working Smoke Alarms Save Lives–Test Yours Every Month!” Individual homeowners are encouraged to take the Smoke Alarm Pledge–agreeing to make sure that they test their smoke alarms every single month.

There are important steps that multifamily properties and their managers should be taking this week–and every week–to prevent fires. To begin, properties should have in place a clear fire safety policy–one that applies to common areas, including outdoor areas, and individual units in a condo or apartment building, or individual homes within a community. This policy should be shared with all residents, and its elements communicated frequently throughout the property. It should address the annual cleaning and inspection of furnaces and fireplaces, the placement and testing of fire extinguishers throughout the property (including within units or homes), the use and location of outdoor grills, and the placement–and monthly testing–of smoke detectors.

Additionally, the policy should cover the placement and storage of flammable items such as paint, paint thinner, gas and propane. In general, storage of these items should be prohibited or limited. Also included should be special instruction and guidance for residents who are smokers, to ensure that cigarette-started fires are prevented. The NFPA has an abundant amount of resources available to help, including multiple tip sheets.

Fire prevention and safety should also extend beyond the livable structural spaces to landscaping. Managers and boards need to implement a clear policy for all outdoor areas, taking in to consideration the kind of landscape they install, how they maintain it, and how they care for roofs and gutters. The reason for the outdoor element of fire safety is clear: according to the National Interagency Fire Center, 2014 has seen more than 40,000 wildfires throughout the United States that have scorched over three million acres of land. Too many of these fires claimed homes as they jumped across barriers onto shrubs to trees.

To address outdoor concerns, especially for those located in areas prone to wildfires, managers should ensure that any gutters on the property are cleaned regularly, since the build-up of debris can fuel a live fire. Dry leaves and twigs on the roof can also drive fires, and so keeping rooftops clean is essential. Planting fire resistant foliage–and staying away from plants that are highly susceptible to fires–is another step that managers and boards should take. Fire resistant plants typically retain moisture in dry areas and are the best option when adding or replacing landscape items. In addition, plants should be spaced correctly to help slow the spread of fire outside, and they should be regularly pruned.

According to the NFPA, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1.2 million fires last year. Tragically, many of these fires resulted in loss of life and property; it is estimated that $11.5 billion in direct property loss occurred as a result of fire over the course of the year. Great management practices are all about maximizing opportunities and anticipating threats, using proactive strategies to get results. Let’s be sure to include fire safety and prevention in the equation.

Brian Taylor is the executive director for the Talega Maintenance Corporation, a private community in Southern California managed by FirstService Residential, and has worked extensively with the county and state fire authorities on fire prevention.