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The Ultimate Guide to Firewatch: Fire Watch Requirements and Expectations

Updated: May 19

Proactive fire safety is a fundamental duty for building owners and property managers. A fire watch is a critical safety procedure employed to actively monitor and safeguard areas vulnerable to fire risks, particularly when the standard fire detection or suppression systems are compromised or temporarily out of service. This process involves deploying trained personnel, known as fire watch guards, to patrol and scrutinize designated areas for any indications of fire hazards, smoke, or flames.



What is a Fire Watch?



Fire watch guards serve as a proactive interim fire detection and response mechanism. Their role is paramount during periods when the permanent fire protection systems are non-operational, such as during maintenance, repair, or after system failures. These situations could include, but are not limited to, times when fire alarms, sprinkler systems, or other fire suppression tools are undergoing servicing or have malfunctioned.


Definition of Fire Watch



A fire watch employs trained individuals to actively monitor designated areas of your property, keeping a vigilant eye out for potential fire hazards and the earliest signs of smoke or flames. These personnel act as your temporary fire detection and response system during any gaps in your usual protection.



The Importance of Fire Watch



Maintaining Protection: When fire alarms or sprinkler systems malfunction, a fire watch ensures your building isn't left vulnerable. It fills a critical safety void until regular systems are restored.


Early Response: Fire watch personnel are trained to spot fires quickly, alerting the fire department and possibly even tackling small fires with extinguishers, potentially preventing significant damage and injuries.


Code Compliance: Many local fire codes and insurance policies require fire watches in specific scenarios. Compliance shows your commitment to safety and helps you avoid potential penalties.

When Fire Watch is Necessary


System Malfunctions: Whenever fire alarms, sprinkler systems, or other fire protection equipment is out of service due to maintenance or repairs, a fire watch is often crucial.


Inadequate Protection: During new construction phases, or renovations where full fire protection systems aren't yet in place, a fire watch may be required to mitigate the increased risk.


"Hot Work": Activities like welding, cutting, or brazing introduce significant fire hazards. A fire watch guard must typically be present to monitor for any stray sparks or hot materials that could ignite a fire.


Temporary Hazards: If your building is temporarily housing flammable materials or has other conditions that increase fire risk, a fire watch provides an extra layer of protection.


Regulatory Requirements


Fire watch regulations are outlined by several authorities, including:

OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration): OSHA provides workplace safety regulations, including those related to fire watch during "hot work" activities.


NFPA (National Fire Protection Association): NFPA standards offer detailed guidelines for implementing an effective fire watch program.


Local Fire Codes: Your city, state, or municipality will have specific fire codes that may dictate when a fire watch is mandatory and the procedures involved. For the most recent updates on Seattle Fire Code, please visit our Resource Page


It's vital to understand the regulations that apply to your specific property type and location as non-compliance can result in significant legal and financial consequences.


Roles and Responsibilities of a Fire Watch Guard



Qualifications: Fire watch personnel must possess specific training and certifications, which may vary depending on the circumstances and jurisdictional regulations.


Duties:

Pre-Work: Surveying areas where "hot work" will occur, removing flammable materials, and ensuring that fire extinguishers are accessible and operational.


During Work: Closely observing the "hot work", ready to alert workers of fire hazards and act quickly if ignition occurs.


Post-Work: Monitoring the work area for a designated period even after "hot work" is complete to catch any delayed or smoldering fires.


Record-Keeping: Fire watch guards maintain detailed logs of patrols, hazards identified, incidents, and communication with relevant parties.


Tools and Equipment Used in Fire Watch



Fire Extinguishers: Knowing the different types (Class A, B, C, etc.) and how to properly use them is essential for fire watch personnel.


Monitoring Equipment: Devices like thermal scanners may be used to detect hotspots, and reliable communication tools for immediate reporting are a necessity.


PPE: Personal protective equipment like gloves, eye protection, and sometimes flame-retardant clothing might be required, especially during hot work monitoring.


Conducting an Effective Fire Watch



Patrol Procedures: Fire watch involves systematic patrols of designated areas with a defined frequency based on risk assessment.


Hazard Mitigation: Addressing potential fire hazards proactively is a key responsibility, including clearing flammable materials and reporting unsafe conditions.


Emergency Response: Fire watch personnel must have clear emergency response protocols, know how to contact the fire department, and be prepared to use a fire extinguisher if safe to do so.




Fire watch plays a critical role in safeguarding your building and its occupants when regular fire protection measures are compromised. Remember, it's about more than just having personnel present – proper training, vigilance, and proactive hazard mitigation are essential for success.


Further Resources

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