Barn Fire Safety Best Practices
Because of the materials used in their construction and the nature of their use, once barns start on fire they are difficult to extinguish. As it were, barns often end up being storehouses for a significant amount of combustible material. Not to mention, rodents and other animals can create their own fire hazards right under our noses. But, rest assured, the risk of barn fires is significantly reduced by regular maintenance and inspection, and damage from fires can be minimized by an emergency evacuation plan, training, and on-hand equipment for firefighting.
Regularly Inspect Your Barn and Systems
You’re walking around the barn working every single day, so regular inspections may feel like a waste of time. But, taking the time to really walk through and inspect your operation can make a world of difference in terms of cutting down fire hazards. We would suggest starting your walkthroughs b looking into your electrical and power generating equipment. Failure of electrical systems, D.I.Y. wiring, and faulty hookups are a leading cause of fires, so taking the time to check out your electrical equipment could save you thousands of dollars in damage. Even if your wiring was replaced recently, animals love to chew, and exposed wires of any kind are a target for 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. So, taking a few moments for inspection is essential.
Ask your fire marshal or fire department to do an inspection of the property for fire prevention issues and plan to implement any recommendations. In many instances, you can also review your insurance documents for any changes or premium benefits gained from improvements for fire safety.
Be sure that you also do not allow smoking in your barn, and keep “No Smoking” signs posted throughout your barn and outbuildings.
Install an Alarm System
Installing an alarm system that detects a fire is the first step in preventing any fire from getting out of control. We have said it before and will say it again: time is your biggest enemy when it comes to fire. Time is deceptive. We often think we have enough time to grab items we want to keep, and then also put the fire out. But, remember, fire doubles in size about every 10 seconds. So, getting a fire out early can be the difference between a small inconvenience and major devastation.
Video monitoring systems that can be accessed by smartphone apps are now relatively low cost and easily installed. The best choices are sensors that are suited to a barn environment that provide early detection and can alert managers and owners to a fire that has ignited.
We also advise that petroleum-fueled vehicles be parked away from barns to help minimize fire risk.
Be Cautious with Appliances and Welding Equipment
If any flame-producing tools such as welding torches are used for projects, they are not to be left unattended, and they should be stored away from the barn. We hear many stories about welding fire accidents, so this area of our customers’ lives is often top-of-mind for us. Be very mindful when welding!
Heat generating appliances such as space heaters and even coffee pots should be shut off and unplugged when not needed. When they are being used, be sure that someone is in the room with them at all times.
Create a Plan for Burn Piles
Burn piles should be far enough from the barn and other structures to prevent any spread of fire. Burns should also only be done on days when the weather is safe enough to burn, so keep in mind how windy the forecast is. Low to no wind days are best. In that same vein, any burns/embers should be fully extinguished by days’ end in case a wind comes up and spreads cinders or embers. When doing this, extinguishers and hoses should be available to catch any upsurge. Remember, never turn your back on a fire. Even if it looks like it is out, it could serge back up. Check that smoke turns from dark grey/black to white. To put it simply, white smoke indicates a dead fire.
Create an Emergency Plan
A clearly written and easy-to-understand emergency plan should be part of everyone on your operation’s basic working instructions. It should also be attached to boarding agreements, service agreements with vendors and part of resident management 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 in the event of a fire. Remember, in the city, fire departments can throw in an address and find their way, but in rural locations, landmarks and other markers can be extremely beneficial for shaving off precious time when responding to a fire.
When a fire is detected, if there is time, 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 the loss of many horses because the owners let boarders padlock their horses’ stalls. So keeping stalls and pens readily accessible in the event of a fire is essential. Gates to roads should also be closed to contain any that might try to escape. In that same line of thinking, to prepare in case of a fire, it is wise to keep up-to-date photos of any animals, such as boarding horses, for identification purposes.
Fire extinguishers should be strategically located in the barn, and all staff and boarders should be trained in their use. We recommend placing fire extinguishers below each light switch, so that everyone knows where they are no matter what building or outbuilding they are in.
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.
Need fire safety instructions in Spanish? Request a Spanish STOP-FYRE usage guide.
Bonus Barn Fire Safety Tips
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, you can help prevent fires or limit their damage when part of a barn management plan.