Viewpoint: ‘Tis the season for fire protection 

By Tom Parrish
Guest Columnist

Tom Parrish

‘Tis the season for fire exits blocked by holiday merchandise, fire extinguishers hidden by holiday decorations, overused power strips, extension cords and … candles. Anxiety is on high alert for the fire protection industry as businesses and offices unload more holiday décor and merchandise than their property is designed to handle creating potential fire safety landmines. Fire inspectors across the nation see common mistakes every year after fires happen and life or property is lost. As we head into the holiday season, it’s time to open the fire exit doors among other easy tasks to protect life, property and your business.  

Clear a path to the fire exit door

As truckloads of holiday merchandise or decorations arrive and are crammed everywhere on your property, if your business is short on space always be vigilant that you have a kept a clear path to the fire exit doors. Employees and clients should be able to exit the property without interference from storage. Additionally, we’ve all seen on TV as shoppers flood stores or holiday event, your business is responsible for staying compliant with the occupancy limit at all times.

Test that your fire doors open                                                                                 

Once the clear path to the fire exit doors is established, fire exit doors must be tested that they actually open. Have they been painted shut? Do they have locks that are old and won’t open, chain locked on the inside or outside? Is there spray foam around doors preventing a winter draft that now is preventing anyone from escaping? Snow or ice piled up outside your fire door preventing the door from opening is serious problem during the winter months. Your fire exits must always be kept in a safe condition, throughout the holiday season and in all weather conditions.

Are your fire extinguishers visible?

When setting up displays, if you can’t see or get to the fire extinguisher you can’t be fire safe. Fire extinguishers hiding under a cute red stocking or blocked from view by a holiday tree and can’t be found when an emergency happens is not code compliant. Fire inspectors hear all the time, “It was only temporary.” Incorporate fire safety by finding a better spot for those decorations.

Ensure extension cords are compliant

Once common fire violation is to link extension cord to extension cord to reach power. This is never code compliant. A single power strip or a wall outlet is needed to be code compliant. Additionally, as holiday decorating launches as earlier as October for many businesses and the use of plug strips for trees, lights and or other decorations over an extensive period can lead to overloading and melting. It is vital for fire safety to routinely inspect power strips to ensure they are not experiencing damage, most of which is visible. Plug strips should never be plugged into each other. They must be plugged directly into a wall outlet or a permanent power connection If electrical power is needed in the center of a room for a display, an electrician should install additional outlets for use. 

Be wary of candles, combustibles

Candles should only be used in a physical holder so they can’t be accidentally knocked over. Be responsible with the location you set up a lit candle, away from curtains, trees and other items that can go up in flames. The location of combustibles in the building should also be considered. Power equipment with gas tanks should not be where there are candles being used. 

Facilities should be routinely conducting reviewing with their employees of the fire extinguishers. Fire inspectors should be coming through annually. The items are much easier to fix in advance to protect lives and property and keep you from being shut down during the holiday season. It is paramount that your property is current on fire code requirements. Fire safety consultants can be used to ensure your business is protecting itself during the holiday and all year long.


Tom Parrish is the vice president of Telgian Corporation, and has more than 25 years of experience in fire protection and emergency response.

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