Fire Safety and Prevention

A Midwest bed and breakfast that went up in flames in early July of this year, took the lives of an innkeeper, her children and guests and brought great grief to loved ones and friends. Likewise, it brought requests from innkeepers for information on safety and prevention. Here's a contribution researched and written by Elizabeth Alexander of Alexander House in Princess Anne, Maryland. 
Inn Fires

Redi Exit Ladder

Last month in Raleigh, North Carolina, firefighters say lightning sparked a blaze that burned a bed and  breakfast around 2 a.m. on June 20th. Two guests were staying at the inn and made it out safely. The third floor was destroyed, and the first and second floors suffered water damage. In  February of last year, the  Magnolia Inn located in Chester, S. C.  caught fire. "I heard the fire alarm, and when I ran upstairs I saw the emergency lights on," said owner Mike Eland. There were guests sleeping in two of the upstairs rooms and Eland ran to get them out.  "One guest was already up and packing his belongings. Our other guest was still asleep, so I was knocking on her door to get her out," he said. When firefighters arrived, flames were already rising from the roof . Within 20 minutes, the entire roof was ablaze. Once the fire was eliminated, the roof was gone and the second floor had significant fire damage. The first floor suffered water damage from fire hoses.
Owner Mike Eland said he's glad he installed fire alarms, and put all the safety features in place to protect his guests. He never thought he'd have to rely on them one day, "You got to have fire alarms. They're worth the cost," he said. The fire marshal said a house of that age has very old wiring. He suspected an electrical problem could have started the fire.

In October of last year, The efforts of a dozen volunteer firefighting units  were unable to save The Villa Serendip at Woodworth House, a bed and breakfast located  in the Finger Lakes area of New York.
“When we got here – and that was just a couple minutes after the call – the fire had already broken the roof,” Cohocton Fire Chief Bill Waggoner said. He called for the extra firefighting units because of the size and age of the three-story Victorian house. More than three hours later, the house was a windowless, blackened shell, totally destroyed. A toaster in the kitchen turned out to be the culprit.  A kitchen fire extinguisher may have contained it, had one been handy.

In 2005, A Hartford Connecticut B&B was destroyed by a fire caused by an explosion in the adjacent garage, probably from solvents that ignited and then caused a fuel tank in the parked car to explode.

Insurers Give Advice

Some insurance companies that specialize in B&Bs and inns require that the inn enforces no smoking on the premises, including on porches or near the building. One company mentioned in a letter to innkeepers that an inn had a fire from a smoker tossing a cigarette from the porch into the mulch below.  Others insurance companies require smoke alarms (some hard wired), emergency lighting that comes on after the electric goes off, fire escape instructions posted in each room,  egress windows upstairs and  illuminated  exit signs. 
Fire Marshals

When fire marshals inspect, things they look for include common areas and exit hallways clear of stored items or obstructions; laundry room, machines and filters kept clean; address and unit numbers clearly visible; exit signs well-maintained; staircase and railing condition, ease of escape from upper floors, often requiring more than one way out; electrical wiring age and condition; overuse of extension cords, hydrants, fire sprinkler systems and utility valves kept clear of vegetation. Fire extinguishers must be serviced and tagged annually by a certified contractor. Fire extinguishers and Smoke detectors  should be working and checked regularly. Fire sprinkler systems, if required, should be serviced every five years and fire alarm systems must be serviced annually. Hazardous material storage may also be looked at, such as garages or workshops with flammable materials or rags, which can self ignite.
Do You Have Escape Roll Out Ladders, Alarms, Fire Extinguishers and More?

Laws vary from state to state and municipality. Many smaller inns with less than five rooms, for example, often are exempt from the more stringent requirements of larger B&Bs.  All innkeepers have the burden of checking with state fire marshal and local government, to establish what is required. Regardless of requirements however, basic safety to guests and preservation of the home would indicate that smoke alarms, strategically placed fire extinguishers and marked exits should be a minimum requirement for any bed and breakfast.  In addition, escape stairs or roll-out ladders are an option that could save lives if guests or residents need to escape through an upstairs window to  avoid smoke or flames. (From $32.)
New Product Based on Thomas Jefferson Design

A recent innovation for the bed and breakfast is the REDI-EXIT Fire Escape Ladder,  an affordable, permanently mounted escape system that appears similar to a downspout in its closed position, blending nicely on historic homes. Easier and much quicker to use than roll out ladders, this product is manufactured in the US and was designed by American engineer Forest Whitesel, who based the design on something similar that Thomas Jefferson had designed and used at Monticello.
All exits should be clearly marked, ideally with illuminated signs that can run when the electricity shuts off, such as self-luminous tritium powered exit signs. Hallway lights should be kept on overnight, and emergency backup lights should be in rooms and hallways for safe escape. Hardware stores sell these type of lights for around $10 apiece, which look like large night lights and  plug into outlets. They charge while in the outlet, and come on automatically if the electricity shuts off.  Also, keep all solvents and solvent-soaked rags stored in a metal storage container. Decide on what you’re willing to allow guests to have in guest rooms, and make your inn fully non-smoking.
One innkeeper we spoke with makes guests sign an agreement as part of their registration that prohibits smoking in the house or on the porch, and no irons, heating pads, curling irons or other electrical items with heating elements, nor candles are allowed in the rooms. Additional charges and eviction are mentioned for violators. The owner cites fires in hotels and other establishments as her reasons for this, along with previous incidents in her own establishment where guests left clothing irons and curling irons on after leaving, placed atop wood furniture.  She is not required by local or state law because of the small size of her inn, but chooses to have smoke detectors in every single room (not just guest rooms), fire extinguishers throughout, lights that go on when the electric goes off, as well as self-luminous tritium powered exit signs, an upstairs hallway Swing Egress window that opens like a door for easy escape, and a roll out ladder.  When guests check in, she goes over fire escape route when showing them to their room. Don’t wait for a tragedy to happen; be a proactive responsible innkeeper and invest in fire prevention and safety.