Fire safety: How do we protect animals who can’t protect themselves?
Please read then speak your mind!
After our tragic fire on Memorial Day, Pet World landed on the front lines of fire safety for animal housing facilities – somewhere we should have been before the fire. Our hope is to share our experience, our failure, and our insight to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. Fire safety codes are currently being discussed at the city level. Suggested changes will likely be put to a vote this Tuesday so now is the time to make your voice heard. We are presenting your opinions to the city commission so think it through and don’t hold back! It’s time to SOUNDOFF!
City staff will be making the following recommendations to the city commission:
Amend the City Fire Code to reflect the following revisions:
- Retroactively require that all animal housing facilities provide smoke detection with integration into a monitored fire alarm system.
- Require all new facilities or facilities subject to renovation:
A. <3,000 sq. ft. to provide smoke detection and monitored fire alarm
B. >3,000 sq. ft. to provide smoke detection, monitored fire alarm, and automatic fire sprinklers installed to NFPA 13.
- Require all facilities to provide:
Fire extinguishers and extinguisher training for staff;
Provide CO detection where fuel fired appliances are in use;
Develop and provide disaster/emergency management plans and provide drills for staff.
Part 3: Fire Extinguishers, CO Detection, Emergency Plans, and Training.
Part 3 is easy. We can’t imagine anyone opposing any part of Part 3. But if you have insight to share, please do.
Part 1: Monitored Smoke Detection and Fire Alarms
Part 1 is also easy EXCEPT for one little detail. City staff recommendations do not specify which kind of communication will be required with monitoring. This worries us because using only one path is risky and adding additional paths is not cost prohibitive at all. Dual Path units can be installed for $200-300, easily under $500, and less than $20 per month to monitor which is a small price to pay for this modern level of protection.
Three types of communication are possible: Landline, Wi-Fi, and Cellular. As we learned, landlines fail when damaged by fire and may not survive long enough to call for help. Wi-Fi communicators are good but, as with landline communication, if the internet goes down the alarm signal can’t send. Cellular alarm communication is great because cell signals only get better over time with no wires to fail and no risk of power loss. Cellular alarm signals are sent as fast as a text message. Since three communication paths are available, we suggest utilizing at least two of the paths with one of them being cellular. If the city doesn’t include dual path language in their code changes, at the very least we hope the commission will vote to always follow or exceed NFPA 150 guidelines so then, when the language is updated at the national level, it will be automatically updated at the city level, hopefully reducing the risk of outdated safety codes.
City staff recommends requiring Part 1 retroactively. That means all animal housing facilities will be given a reasonable deadline to comply right away. Pet World now has 32 addressable smoke detectors that can tell firefighters the exact location of the fire. We now have 4G cellular monitoring as well as Wi-Fi monitoring but, before the fire, we didn’t even realize these kinds of alarm communicators existed. We are pet experts, not fire experts. Had this requirement been implemented when the technology became available, or even last fall after the fire at a local boarding kennel, Pet World would have complied and the outcome of our fire would have been much less devastating. We hope you will join us to push Part 1 of the code change through immediately.
Now let’s talk about Part 2.
In the pet industry, aquarium stores and open enclosure pet stores like Pet World have always feared sprinkler systems. Horror stories circulated of misfiring sprinklers contaminating fish tanks and drowned hamsters floating in glass pens. So in the early 1990s we basically closed our minds to fire sprinklers. Unfortunately, we never revisited the concept. Obviously, we regret not staying up to date on fire safety because modern fire sprinklers are an integral yet overlooked part of fire safety.
First of all, modern fire sprinklers don’t misfire. Each sprinkler head independently releases water only when its temperature becomes unsafe, indicating fire. Also, sprinkler head placement is strategic. The NFPA 13 has the flexibility to allow for careful placement of each sprinkler head where it would be the most effective with the least risk to nearby areas such as deep fryers, stove tops, live reef exhibits, aquariums, etc. Sprinkler heads are placed where they can help control the fire without unnecessary risk.
Here is what we know:
Smoke killed all the mammals and birds that died at Pet World and most of the reptiles.
Smoke comes from fire.
The more a fire can be controlled the faster it can be extinguished.
Less fire equals less smoke.
Less smoke equals less loss of life.
Prevention is the first step. Early detection and reporting is the second step. Rescue and putting out the fire are the final steps. But what about the time between reporting and responding? Fire sprinkling is the only way to help control the fire while help is on the way.
Sprinklers reduce fires which reduces smoke. Evacuation is much easier down a hall with no smoke and it’s much easier to run through a sprinkler than a fire.
We know fire sprinklers are expensive and understand they will always be helpful but may not always be necessary. For example, when enough people are present to safely evacuate animals in the event of a fire, maybe it’s okay to not have fire sprinklers. If an animal related business only has attended animals during the day and no unattended animals overnight then perhaps sprinklers aren’t critical. But if animals are left unattended overnight, or any time for that matter, then while they helplessly await rescue those animals need the extra protection only fire sprinklers can provide.
Obviously we are completely in support of fire sprinkling so what is our issue with Part 2?
We feel like the one distinction being offered in Part 2 is the wrong distinction.
The proposal specifies requirements by facility size rather than by animal risk. Unattended animals who cannot save themselves are the ones at risk and this proposal doesn’t differentiate between facilities who have unattended animals overnight verses attended animals only during business hours. As proposed, it is implied that fire sprinklers are important enough to mandate in a 3000 square foot facility but not a 2900 square foot facility. As written, animals in a 3000’ facility are worth extra protection from sprinklers but animals in any smaller facility are not.
We see no difference in the value of an animal’s life based simply on the size of its facility. In all other applications, fire safety codes are based on risk assessment but this particular distinction has nothing to do with risk. In fact, smaller facilities are higher risk for loss of life due to smoke than large facilities so exempting smaller facilities makes no sense from the standpoint of fire safety. We believe the sprinkler requirement should be based on attended animal risk verses unattended animal risk. Animal housing facilities should be classified by those who keep animals after hours verses those who don’t, not by size.
Here are some examples to illustrate the fire sprinkler code as written:
A 3000’ groomer who offers doggie day care would be required to have sprinklers even though no animals are ever left unattended after hours or overnight.
A 2900’ kennel who boards 30 dogs unattended overnight would NOT be required to have fire sprinklers.
A 3000’ fish aquarium and pond shop would be required to have fire sprinklers.
A 2900’ pet boutique with dozens of puppies and kittens who stay overnight would NOT be required to have fire sprinklers.
In the Pet World fire, smoke killed boarding animals separated by four rooms and a closed, fire door. Smoke killed animals 100 feet away from the fire in a 10,000 square foot building. Had Pet World been a smaller facility more animals would have died from smoke.
Personally, we believe all facilities with animals should have fire sprinklers as soon as possible. We support Part 2 mandating fire sprinklers in animal housing facilities but believe it should be ALL housing facilities who have unattended animals at any time regardless of quantity, type, or facility size. Groomers, pet sitters, and animal housing facilities who never have unattended animals should have the choice to install fire sprinklers or not. We are open to limiting this mandate to only new construction and major remodels but would prefer to see it implemented retroactively for all facilities with unattended animals within a reasonable time frame.
Why is it important to mandate fire prevention for animals? The same reason we mandate stopping at a red light or car seats for children. Safety. Not just safety for ourselves, but most importantly for others who cannot protect themselves. If drivers would think to stop at every intersection we would not need stop signs. The fact that animal facilities, including the most responsible, respected pet store in the Midwest, operate in code compliance yet do not have adequate fire safety measures in place proves that increased safety code requirements are needed.
Think about this:
What if firefighters would have arrived at Pet World and the fire had already been extinguished by sprinklers? What if they wouldn’t have had to chop through the roof to access the fire and instead could have located it using addressable detectors? What if they could have run straight to the animals instead of fighting blindly through the black smoke? The outcome certainly would have been very different. It could have been different and it should have been different. This is what we must live with every day for the rest of our lives and exactly why we want the city’s help in preventing a tragedy like Pet World’s from ever happening again.
We want to bring your feedback to the city commission before they vote on fire codes at their Sep. 1 meeting. Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on this post at facebook.com/petworldlawrence or on twitter @petworldkansas and THANK YOU FOR SOUNDING OFF!!