Barn Fire Safety Best Practices
Barn fires are tragedies. Animals, especially horses are lost as well as the property itself. Most fire chiefs admit that barn fires are the worst they face. Because of the type of materials used in their construction and the nature of their use, once they start they are difficult to extinguish, there is just too much combustible material. Barn fires can be prevented by regular maintenance and inspection, but if and when they do occur, damage can be limited by an emergency evacuation plan, training and on-hand equipment for firefighting.
Barn Maintenance and Inspection
- Regular walkthroughs and inspection of any electrical and power generating equipment will reduce the potential for fire. Failure of electrical systems, DIY wiring, and faulty hookups are a leading cause of fires. Animals love to chew, and exposed wires of any kind are a target of their attention. Rodents that make their homes in warm barns where grain is kept will gnaw on wires as well and do it out of sight. Ask your fire marshal or fire department to do an inspection of the property for fire prevention issues and plan to implement any recommendations. Review your insurance documents for any changes or premium benefits gained from improvements for fire safety. No smoking in the barn should be allowed and signs posted.
- Installing an alarm system that detects a fire is the first step in preventing any fire from getting out of control. Video monitoring systems that can be accessed by smartphone apps are now low cost and easily installed. Sensors that are suited to a barn environment provide early detection and alert managers and owners to a fire that is starting are the best choice.
- No petroleum fueled vehicles should be parked near the barn. If any flame producing tools such as welding torches are used for projects, they are not to be left unattended and to be stored away from the barn. Heat generating appliances such as space heaters and even coffee pots should be shut off when not needed and monitored when in use.
- Burn piles should be far enough from the barn and other structures to prevent any spread of fire. Burns should be done only on days when the weather is safe enough to burn (low-no wind). Any burns/embers should be fully extinguished by days’ end in case a wind comes up and spreads cinders or embers. Extinguishers and hoses should be available to catch any upsurge.
- Report any electric power line issues to the Power Company, sparks or downed lines are fire dangers.
A clearly written and easy to understand emergency plan should be part of everyone’s basic working instructions. It should also be attached to boarding agreements, service agreements with vendors and part of resident managers and family communications. A copy should also be sent to your local fire department along with a map/layout of the barn and property to mark water sources and other information to assist them.
- When a fire is detected the first step is to evacuate the animals into a safe holding area. Stalls and pens should be easily opened and animals channeled into an arena or pasture. One tragic fire in California resulted in serious loss of horses because the owners let boarders padlock their horse’s stalls. Gates to roads should be closed to contain any that escape. Animals such as boarding horses should have up to date photos for identification purposes.
- Fire extinguishers should be strategically located in the barn and all staff and boarders should be trained in their use. If possible, the fire extinguisher should be used to put the fire out before it spreads. All staff, boarders and residents on the property should receive basic instruction in how to evacuate the animals and use the extinguisher.
- A farm/ranch strength hose should always be available to keep the fire from spreading. Bolt cutters should be available in case of any hardware failures or to open gates that have been locked. Halters and leads should also be available to move horses.
Barn fires are a fact of life. The nature of animal barns includes an environment of potential combustibles. But with proper maintenance, regular inspections, an emergency plan as well as on-hand firefighting tools and up to date extinguishers will prevent fires or limit their damage when part of a barn management plan.