Churches, cathedrals, temples and synagogues are sacred to many, so it’s truly catastrophic when a fire destroys or damages a place of worship. Such a disaster particularly hit home when the church my wife grew up in burned down on a recent Christmas Eve. The fire started in the electrical closet and because the church didn’t have protection throughout, the fire went up behind a wall and the 100-year-old building could not be saved.
Unfortunately, place of worship tragedies occur quite often. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated average of 1,780 religious and funeral property structures fires were reported to U.S. fire departments each year between 2007 and 2011. The fires caused an annual average of two civilian deaths, 19 civilian injuries and $111 million in direct property damage.
So, how can places of worship avoid such misfortune in the future? For starters, when dealing with church/temple/synagogue management, fire alarm vendors should make sure the facility’s management agrees to annual inspections and maintenance. If these fire alarm systems are not getting inspected regularly, then the venue’s safety could be in jeopardy. While the volunteer boards and committees at these buildings are constantly changing—sometimes every three months—it’s paramount that annual fire inspections and maintenance remain consistent.
In addition, it’s critical that places of worship do not have false alarms. One of the fastest ways to diminish a fire alarm’s value is to have false alarms; it can slow the emergency response time, and the priests, ministers, rabbis and worshippers may start to ignore the safety notification. This inadequate response time can be devastating because when a 100-year-old church fire gets going, it can really get going. Since it’s hard to truly decrease the number of false alarms, the fire alarm system’s reliability is essential. It should exhibit a high level of dependability and provide comprehensive detection as these old buildings—full of irreplaceable items—can burn very quickly.
What’s more, carbon monoxide (CO) detection is gaining traction in places of worship. While this up-and-coming safety feature has not been mandated for churches in every state, I’m starting to recommend it to everybody. CO detection is gradually getting some penetration into the places of worship vertical, and I expect it to pick up further as the system saves lives from the “silent killer.” Even though CO is not mandated by code, it’s a huge liability for those who don’t implement the technology. With Silent Knight systems, for example, it’s very easy and inexpensive to add CO detection. Also, I expect that emergency communications’ systems will be adopted by churches that are attached to schools.
It’s up to fire alarm vendors to make sure the management of these venues are receiving the right level of fire protection because—let’s face it—the building’s volunteer board or committee doesn’t have the most extensive fire alarm knowledge. Make it a top priority in 2015 that the above-mentioned NFPA statistics come down. For more information on reliable fire alarm systems, visit Silent Knight.
About the Author
William E. Lutz, Jr. is the President of Security On-Line Systems, Inc. He attended Penn State University as a Biophysics major until joining the family business in 1980. He bought the business in 1996 and became the President of Security On-Line Systems, Inc., a cutting-edge provider of high technology security, fire alarm, access control, Internet Protocol megapixel camera, distributed audio/video and related low voltage electronic systems. The company primarily serves privately owned businesses, institutional facilities, industrial complexes and very high end residences. Lutz achieved his NICET Level I in 2000 and his NICET Level IV in 2002. He is a licensed fire alarm contractor in Philadelphia and New Jersey, and he’s a member of NFPA, AFAA, SFPE, ICC and ASIS.