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Fire Safety Plans Have a Strategy Before You Need It

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—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

“We’ve done a good amount of research over the years and in our experience, fire safety plans in Massachusetts are the result of local ordinances—not state requirements,” says Scott Wolf, a managing partner at Brigs, a real estate management firm located in Boston.  “The extensiveness of the report varies by municipality. Regardless of requirements, we believe a safety plan is necessary to insure the lives of the residents.  Fire safety is your biggest concern; it’s life safety, and that’s the biggest thing you’re looking at.”

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 throughout 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 both fire and non-fire emergencies, like hurricanes, or a steam or gas leak. Basically it’s ‘what to do’ instructions, like: take your keys and close the door, don’t use elevators, and so forth.” Bullock adds that different states and municipalities have different requirements for drafting and posting an FEPG, but “as a fire safety professional, I certainly recommend having one. Multifamily buildings...should have them regardless. It is critical for residents to know what to do in case of a fire.”

Who Creates the Plan?

Interestingly, Bullock says that even though a given city may require an FEPG to be done for each building, it may not specify who has to do it. Technically, a board or manager could draw up their own, but according to Bullock, “The plan should be written by a fire safety professional. I have completed over 3,000 of these guides, and frankly, I’ve found that when done by someone other than a fire safety professional, 85% of the plans are incomplete or incorrect. For example, supers often do FEPGs incorrectly. That’s not an accusation against supers—it’s just that they don’t necessarily have the same knowledge base as a fire safety professional. Anyone can do it, but it’s clearly better to work with a professional.”

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