3 Misconceptions About Healthcare Fire Safety

Healthcare facility managers who can avoid misconceptions can protect the safety and health of patients, staff and visitors

By Greg Gumberts, Contributing Writer
March 20, 2023

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can house innumerable fire hazards, including heat-producing equipment, flammable chemicals and electrical wiring, which makes comprehensive fire prevention strategies crucial to protect the safety of patients, staff and guests. Keeping up with fire safety maintenance and procedures can help prevent fires from starting and ensure the facility is prepared to respond appropriately if they do. 

Not everyone at a healthcare facility understands the minutiae of maintaining and repairing fire safety systems. Healthcare facility managers who can protect the safety and health of patients, staff and visitors. 

Misconception 1: Fire safety is all the same 

Smoke detectors, fire dampers, sprinklers, fire drills are all parts of fire safety. Yet the biggest misconception about these systems is that they are all under one umbrella of the fire team. Fire drills are part of the dedicated safety team, whereas fire dampers, fire doors and fire walls all fall under building maintenance. Even systems that work together as part of fire safety like fire alarms and sprinklers do not always mix. 

For example, fire safety is similar to vehicle maintenance in that they both require routine inspections and tests to remain operational and effective. Vehicle owners are accustomed to getting regular maintenance, such as oil changes and tire rotations. If a car’s transmission goes out, though, it is less likely that the same mechanics who perform oil changes every day have specialized training in transmission repair. 

Similarly, fire safety teams in healthcare facilities regularly run system tests and inspect equipment to ensure preparedness in the case of a fire. But if the sprinkler system and the water behind it need a major repair or upgrade, the same team member who specializes in the electrical wiring of fire alarms might not be the right person for the job. 

Avoiding fires and staying prepared for emergencies is a team effort. Some problems require different types of solutions, which is why it is important to have maintenance managers, technicians, fire prevention professionals and healthcare organization leaders all playing their roles in fire safety measures. 

Misconception 2: Outsourcing fire safety technicians is the only option 

The healthcare industry’s expectations for fire safety differ from those of other industries. While healthcare experts are well-versed in their facility codes and standards, contracted technicians who work in schools, factories and other facilities are not as familiar with specific life safety codes. Creating an internal fire safety team as part of the healthcare organization ensures technicians working in facilities fully understand the specific needs and common hazards of the healthcare environment. 

Insourcing fire prevention technicians can reduce costs and limit reliance on outside contractors to help ensure a dedicated focus on the environment of care. Successful fire safety teams combine technical skill sets with healthcare industry knowledge to best meet the needs of each healthcare facility. 

Relying on an internal team and supplementing it with contractors when needed is an effective solution. Based on the type of healthcare facility, fire prevention professionals can identify ways to actively enhance fire safety strategies. 

Misconception 3: Speed breeds efficiency 

Unrealistic expectations and short deadlines often lead workers to sacrifice quality. Without adequate time and other resources, workers might unintentionally cut corners or be unable to complete full reports, which leaves room for error. Establishing a regular schedule for maintenance also ensures technicians have enough time to properly inspect, test and repair systems and equipment. System tests and inspections to ensure reliability should occur at regular intervals based on The Joint Commission’s guidance and can be combined to reduce disruptions. 

Creating relationships with workers and supporting them encourages them to take ownership of their work and act more effectively. Internal fire teams can cross-train to gain expertise in multiple aspects of fire safety to allow multiple team members to step into various roles. 

By setting the stage for insourcing technicians, facilities can create expectations that lead to better service and enhanced safety. Fire protection plans encompass various moving elements from scheduled maintenance to staff training. 

Likewise, an organization-wide culture of compliance is essential to effectively prevent fires. Encouraging all associates to take the time to comply with fire safety procedures during their daily work creates a workforce that is prepared to prevent hazards and respond appropriately to emergencies. 

Greg Gumberts is the director of fire systems for Medxcel. Gumberts has more than a decade of exprience in the hospital and healthcare industry. He is a co-author of “Developing Code-Compliant Integrated Fire Protection and Life Safety Inspection, Testing and Maintenance Programs,” published by ASHE in 2021. 

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