Fire Alarms

Fire alarms are designed to notify residents of a fire in time to safely evacuate a building. Building managers should consider providing residents with information to assist them in planning their evacuation. Keep fire alarm systems in proper operating condition at all times. This can be accomplished by utilizing the following guidelines:

  • Complete annual confidence testing and maintenance by qualified personnel is mandatory for all fire alarm systems.
  • The results are to be sent to the Fire Prevention Bureau of the Bellingham Fire Dept. at 1800 Broadway where they will be kept on file.
  • This includes, but is not limited to, testing all devices, cleaning all smoke detectors, checking battery levels, etc.
  • Documentation may be requested by insurance underwriters seeking verification that reasonable efforts are being made to maintain the system in good working order.

Note: A trouble condition, indicated on the alarm panel by a yellow light, can be caused by numerous conditions. This situation requires contacting qualified service personnel to troubleshoot and correct the problem.

False alarms, besides being annoying, can cause residents to become “desensitized” to the alarm and possibly to disregard it. Proper maintenance can help avoid this situation. Occasionally, manual pull stations are maliciously pulled. If this occurs frequently, contact the Bellingham Fire Prevention Bureau for assistance.

Smoke Alarm Advice

Smoke alarms are the only tool that gives people a chance to wake up in a fire situation. Having enough time to get out is usually adequate when smoke alarms are placed in correct locations throughout the building. A fire must be discovered at a very early stage to insure escape for everyone from the building.

When you realize that non-related people share walls and floors with each other, you will also acknowledge that tenants generally have no control over their neighbors habits. One person may be a very messy individual, with poor smoking and housekeeping habits. This person is much more likely to have a fire than a person who is neat and takes an active role in keeping their apartment fire safe.

With this in mind, you can see that the messy individual is putting their neighbors lives at risk, with their careless lifestyle. Since landlords have little control over the tenants habits, working smoke alarms and proper exits become the only common denominator for fire safety, between the tenants. Landlords and property managers are the people that can make a difference for the conscientious tenant.

To do your part, the fire department wants to see smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside every sleeping room, and common areas like living rooms, common halls, every level of the apartment and laundry rooms. This is what is required in every newly built or remodeled (improvements over $1,000) residential occupancy.

Existing apartments, according to the Uniform Fire Code, are required to have smoke alarms outside all sleeping rooms, on each floor level of the apartment, and common halls of the building. Spacing in halls is 15 feet from the ends and every 30 feet after that.

The only problem with this is, if a person sleeps with their door closed (as fire departments recommend) and a fire starts in that sleeping room without a smoke alarm, the person sleeping in that room will be overcome with smoke before the smoke alarm outside the room activates.

Young children who are curious about fire, usually use their bedroom to experiment with matches and lighters. Loose combustibles next to space heaters, candles, cigarettes, and baseboard heaters are other reasons why fires start in bedrooms.

Please add another smoke alarm to every sleeping room, and if the landlord chooses not to provide beyond the minimum required by code, the tenant is encouraged to purchase additional smoke alarms that become their personal property. If the landlord does not provide the required number of smoke alarms, ask the landlord or property manager to do so. If the change isn’t made, contact your local fire department for help.

Remember, smoke alarms are required to be working when the tenant moves in. After that it becomes the tenants responsibility to maintain them with fresh batteries when needed while they live there. Beyond that it is highly recommended for the landlord or property manager to change the battery whenever a tenant moves out. Offering the tenants a fresh battery annually, also has shown to keep the number of dead smoke alarms at a much lower percentage.

The tenant must not remove the battery for any reason. If the battery starts to chirp every few minutes, do not remove the old battery until you have a new battery in your hand. Many smoke alarms are forgotten about if the chirping battery is removed before a new one is in hand. Don’t wait, as the low battery warning will only last a few days before it goes dead completely. Change all batteries at least once a year.

The ideal situation for an apartment building is to have wired-in smoke alarms with battery backup. The common areas of the building should be interconnected and the individual rooms would not be interconnected. This way, if a fire was to start in the basement, all common area hall smoke alarms would activate.

A battery operated smoke alarm that works well in a small apartment features a hush button to silence nuisance alarms. Don’t confuse this button with the test button, as the hush model has both.

You may have never experienced a fire first hand. This means only that it hasn’t happened yet. By making your home as fire safe as possible and having a fire escape plan for the building, you are helping to lessen the likelihood of a fire and insuring that all people in the building get out safely if there is a fire.

Landlords are required to provide working smoke alarms in every rental unit when the tenant moves in. They are required to be mounted on the ceiling or wall at a point centrally located in the corridor or area giving access to each separate sleeping area. Where sleeping rooms are on an upper level, the detector shall be placed at the center of the ceiling directly above the stairway. Detectors shall be installed in basements of dwelling units having stairways which open from the basement into the dwelling. Detectors shall sound an alarm audible in all sleeping areas of the dwelling unit in which they are located. It needs to be loud enough to wake the person when they are asleep with their door closed. Additional detectors may be necessary to accomplish this. Batteries need to be changed at least once a year and it is recommended that batteries are changed when the tenant moves out. A maintenance plan that involves the owner and tenant is what is needed.