Local firefighters offer tips on fire safety

PARKERSBURG – In the wake of the deadly fire in a Brazilian nightclub that left more than 230 people dead, local firefighters are offering advice to area residents.

Chief Inspector Capt. Tim Flinn with the Parkersburg Fire Department said exits are the most critical of building code requirements. When a large number of people are gathered, it’s important to inform and be aware of the escape routes, he said.

“While the probability of a fire in assembly occupancy might be low, the potential for loss of life once a fire occurs is extremely high,” Flinn said.

Flinn said buildings are unique and codes vary based on what the building is designed to be used for. Exit doors are strategically located in large buildings based on the square footage of the building, he said.

The layout of rooms is a major consideration in placing exit doors, Flinn said, as furniture may be one avoidable hazard.

“All exit doors must open easily,” he said. “Complying with all of these items is necessary to allow the maximum capacity of occupants.”

Flinn said inspectors should consider the square footage of a building when calculating occupant loads but most important there have to be adequate exits to accommodate the occupants in emergency situations.

“When an event like a tragic fire such as the one recently in Brazil, people blame the inspectors or the administrations of the local jurisdiction where the tragedy occurs,” Flinn said. “The codes are not the problem.”

Flinn said the problems lie in the lack of public education. He said the lack of code enforcement can be due to a small number of inspectors compared to the number of buildings and demand of codes adopted.

With events like the Mid-Ohio Valley Toughman Contest today and Saturday in the Parkersburg High School fieldhouse, firefighters said they believe public knowledge is the key to preventing a tragedy.

“Any exit door use over 100 people must be equipped with panic hardware and use one motion to open and swing the egress movement,” Flinn said.

According to the state code, “not more than 90 minutes prior to a scheduled commencement of any noncontinuous activity, event, performance, show, meeting, junction or other occasions for which people will gather in a place of assembly, the owner or his or her designee pursuant to written authority, instructions, or procedures shall inspect every required exit, way of approach to an exit, and way of departure from an exit.”

Flinn said most of the complaints he pursues come when new restaurants open in town. He said the public will complain of overcrowding and some people will assume the only way out is the way they came in.

There are emergency exits and other ways to exit buildings, Flinn said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths from fires and burns are the third leading cause of fatalities at home. On average in the U.S. in 2010, someone died in a fire every 169 minutes and someone was injured every 30 minutes.

Most victims, according to statistics, die from smoke or toxic gases and not from burns.

“It’s about knowing your surroundings and where the exits are located,” Flinn said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)