Apartments, absence of fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers, fire alarms and all fire prevention devices are designed to prevent and minimize fires. Most residents, however, are unaware of them and often do not have them.

About one out of every two homes are not required to have any fire safety inspections or fire extinguishers. The fire department has no authority to implement safety regulations in these buildings.

According to the California Fire Code, all buildings should have working fire alarms, but fire extinguishers are only required for businesses, office buildings, markets, schools, retail stores, medical offices, public buildings, apartments and other similar buildings.

The distance between fire extinguishers and individuals have also been a concern. According to CFC, “the travel distance for occupants [door] to an extinguisher is to not exceed 75 feet.”
The CFC also requires building inspections.

The city of Fresno published on their website that the Fresno Fire Department Prevention and Investigation Division inspects over 18,000 commercial and/or multi-family occupancies and receive inspection either annually or biannually. All new construction in the city is also inspected.

Because of budget cuts to the Fresno Fire Department, now they only do one inspection per year. Apartment owners also have to hire a private fire safety contractor to inspect all fire extinguishers, emergency exits and other safety devices at least once per year.

Shaw Court apartments across the street from Fresno State had an inspection three weeks ago, which they did not pass. Shaw Court’s maintenance manager, Angel Soto, said that four of the 20 fire extinguishers in their apartment complex did not work and had to be replaced.

Soto said that the Fresno Fire Department gave Shaw Court two weeks to replace the four fire extinguishers. The apartment complied with these regulations, because according to Soto, “[the fire department] can do whatever they want.”

Soto said that if the apartment complex did not comply with these regulations, they could get a fine or be shut down.

Shandy Solis, Fresno County Senior Fire Prevention Inspector, said that because of budget cuts the department has decided to do only one inspection per year and if an apartment complex does not pass, it is up to the owner to fix the problems.

The Fire Department no longer has the authority to shut down an apartment complex for not following fire safety laws. Solis said that if a fire was to happen in these locations, the owner of the apartment complex would be responsible for all costs related to the fire.

According to the California Code of Regulations, “At least one fire extinguisher shall be provided on each floor. In multi-story buildings, at least one fire extinguisher shall be located adjacent to the stairway at each floor level.”

Because the fire extinguishers are so far apart, however, they are sometimes hard to find. Amanda Marks a communications disorder student from Fresno State said she has not seen, nor does she know, where the fire extinguishers are located in her apartment complex.

“We have a lot of fire detectors. There are actually sprinklers in our apartment but there are no fire extinguishers,” said Marks.

Solis said that all apartment buildings, even if they have sprinklers, must have fire extinguishers.

The California State Marshal, 2007 California Fire Code Section 907.4.1 “requires manual fire alarm boxes to be located within five feet from the entrance to each exit.”

According to Solis, if a tenant suspects that an apartment complex is not fallowing proper fire safety laws, the tenants has to talk to the building manager, if there is no response they should contact the Fire Department.

The Fire Department will send a note to the owner, but they will not inspect the building until the facility is due for their annual review. This is due to budget cuts, according to Solis. At the moment they don’t have enough personnel to do follow-up inspections.

The kitchen, however, seems to be where most fires begin.

In 2004 the U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center found that most home fires occur in the kitchen.

In 2002 the U.S.F.A found that there had been 156,000 kitchen fires in the U.S., which killed 331 people and caused 4,914 injuries and $876 million in property damage.

According to this report, smoke alarms were present and operational in 45 percent of these kitchen fires.

The California Fire Code has more than 300 codes and standards whose main focus is to prevent fires and injuries.

The National Fire Protection Association found that there were 369,500 reported fires in 2009, causing 2,565 deaths, 12,650 injuries and $7.6 billion in property damage.

Data from the NFPA show, however, that deaths and injuries caused by fires are decreasing every year.

In 2008 NFPA responded to 386,500 home fire cases. This was 24,000 more cases than in 2009.

These 386,500 fire incidents resulted in 2,755 deaths and 13,160 injuries.

To prevent such incidents, the Fresno Fire Department does not only inspect fire alarms and fire extinguishers, they also check if all exits are clear and ready to use in case of an emergency. They inspect all electrical usage and maintenance, all propane appliances and mechanical devices, storage of combustible material and the visibility of street address numbers.

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