Break out the banners, but skip the candles – October 4 through October 10 is Fire Prevention Week, an annual event sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). According to the NFPA website, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention Day in 1920 to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that killed 250 people, left 100,000 people homeless, and burned through 17,400 buildings and 2,000 acres. The blaze changed the public's perception of fire safety, and ever since, Fire Prevention Week has been observed nationally for four days every October.
The aim of the week is simple: to keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention. It may seem obvious – of course fires are dangerous; we all know that – but when you live in the middle of a crowded city without a tree in sight, it can be easy to think that fires are only a pressing concern for those on the outskirts of town and near wooded areas. But you'd be wrong.
So long as you have electricity, there's a risk of fire. The NFPA reports that…
- 369,500 home structure fires in 2013 caused 2,755 deaths and $7.0 billion in property damage.
- 48 percent of home fires involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment.
- 29 home fires are caused by candles each day.
If you work in an office, your neighbor's faulty equipment or actions could become your problem (see: "Fire Damage at Chicago's Second City Illustrates the Benefits of Insurance"). And if you run a home-based business, your concern should be double: a fire could destroy your house and your business in one fell swoop.
So now that we have your attention, let's look at some ways you can both celebrate Fire Prevention Week and shore up your home business's fire safety measures.
1. Test smoke detectors.
The NFPA recommends having a smoke detector in each room of your home and a carbon monoxide detector on each floor. Test your alarms to make sure they are in working order.
2. Make an escape plan and perfect it.
Almost 75 percent of Americans have a fire escape plan, but more than 50 percent have never practiced it, according to an NFPA survey. Buck the trend and practice yours this week. If you haven't developed one yet, check out the NFPA's safety guides for a customizable plan.
3. Check your Commercial Property Insurance.
Make sure your Property Insurance policy is up to date. If you don't have one, remember that a standard homeowner's insurance policy usually doesn't cover your business assets (you can learn more about the limitations of homeowner's insurance in this infographic). If you don't want to pay out of pocket for those items in the event of a fire, look into getting a Business Owner's Policy, which bundles Commercial General Liability and Property Insurance together at a reduced rate.
4. Back up data and important records.
Make copies of all your important documents (e.g., contact lists, insurance policies, customer data, titles and deeds, etc.) and keep one set in another physical location. Be sure back up your digital records on an external hard drive, too. If you do experience a house fire, you'll have digital and physical copies at the ready, which can help reduce the business interruption.
5. Review your plan for collecting benefits for property damage.
Fires are devastating enough without the insult of paying for all the damage out of pocket. Talk to your insurance agent to learn about what steps you need to take to make sure you can quickly collect your insurance benefits in case you suffer fire damage. They may recommend that you carefully inventory and document your belongings to make the claims process smoother. Read "Time for an Insurance Inventory for Your Business?" for more information.