According to FEMA, nearly 108,000 multi-family residential building fires are reported to U.S. fire departments each year and cause an estimated 410 deaths, 4,125 injuries, and $1.3 billion in property loss (this doesn’t include indirect damage such as business interruption). What’s more, multi-family residential building fires account for 29% of all residential building fires. Multi-family residential buildings include structures such as apartments, townhouses, and condominiums.

October is “Fire Prevention Month” and as part of our effort to assist commercial property owners and landlords in stemming fire losses, we’re providing some helpful information on the common causes of fires in apartments, condominiums, townhouses, and other multi-family units. Most multifamily fires result from unattended food on kitchen stoves, electrical fires from heaters, and smoking in bed.

Kitchen Fires

Cooking is the leading cause of multi-family residential building fires (73%), with most occurring in the early evening hours, peaking during the dinner hours from 5 to 8 pm, and in the majority of cases confined to the room of origin. Most of these fires began from food left unattended on the stove. The most common materials ignited are grease, oils, and flammable items such as plastic bags and paper products left on or near the stove.

Preventing these small fires from starting and preventing them from becoming even larger is a key component of fire and life and safety. One prevention solution is installing Stove Top Fire Suppression devices in each kitchen in the building. These devices respond automatically to stove-top fires. The extinguisher, comprised of a canister containing fire-suppressing powder, fastens by magnets to a range hood or by fasteners if the space above the stove has no hood. The devices are also adaptable to ranges that are combined with an overhead microwave. Some insurers, in fact, offer property managers and owners a discount on their apartment building insurance premiums for installing suppression devices.

Heating Equipment

Cooking is not the only source of fires. Heaters are the second leading cause of fires in residential buildings. As would be expected, most heating-related fires occur during the winter months when heaters get turned on and the use of portable heaters and fireplaces increases. Fires caused by furniture, bedding, and other materials placed too close to baseboard heaters and portable heaters are the most common types of heating-related residential fires.

Smoking in Bed

Smoking materials, including cigarettes, pipes and cigars, have been the leading cause of home fire deaths for decades. More than one third (37%) of the deaths from home smoking were caused by fires that started in the bedroom. Another third (35%) resulted from fires that began in a living room, family room, or den, according to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA). Tenants should be encouraged to go outside to smoke, if possible. What’s more, increasing multifamily residential properties are looking toward how to implement smoke-free housing. For example, some communities are working with individual market-rate and affordable housing providers to adopt smoke-free policies for the buildings they own and/or manage; while other communities are focusing on affordable housing by working with Public Housing Authorities to adopt a policy for the buildings they own and/or manage.

Here are some safety measures that property owners and landlords should include in their emergency guide for tenants.

These are just some measures that need to be addressed as part of an effective safety and risk management program for multi-family units. Moreover, proper Property insurance coverage with adequate limits must be secured to protect against the unfortunate event of a fire. Distinguished Programs provides a specific program for habitational risks, including Property and Equipment Breakdown, General Liability, Auto and Physical damage, Umbrella and Crime insurance. Contact us for more information about our programs.