Fire danger is something that homeowners’ associations (HOAs) across North America all face. A fire can spread quickly, doubling in size or raging out of control in 30 seconds or less. And while some factors, like dry landscaping and unattended flames, can increase the risk of fires, education about fire safety is the best method of prevention. Understanding fire safety best practices can enhance community living and help residents have fun more comfortably.
Here are six fire prevention tips HOA leaders should know to promote safety in their neighborhoods or condo buildings.
1. Educate residents about fire safety.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent fires in your community is to share the basics of fire safety with association members. Let residents know how little changes can make a big difference in protecting the community against fires. Home fire safety tips can include:
- Installing a functioning smoke alarm on every level of your home.
- Testing smoke alarms monthly to ensure they’re in working order.
- Establishing a fire escape plan with your family.
- Keeping a fire extinguisher in your home and knowing how to use it.
- Using extension cords and electrical equipment only as directed.
Share this information in your HOA newsletter and website, send email reminders, and talk to fellow board members about offering a fire safety class or providing resources to educate residents on these crucial steps. You can find free fire prevention materials online from your local government website or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
2. Get to know your local fire department.
As an HOA board member, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself to the local fire department and get to know the fire marshal and leadership team. Expanding your network of first responders allows you to:
- Connect with influential community members
- Know who to contact for inspections
- Ensure your community buildings are up to code
If you establish a relationship with your local fire department, they may also be willing to help with fire safety education and share fire prevention tips.
3. Service fire and carbon monoxide alarms.
Smoke detectors, fire alarms, and carbon monoxide detectors in homes and shared community spaces should be serviced regularly to maintain effectiveness. While your governing documents may include a service schedule, monthly or quarterly checks of the community’s alarms with an approved contractor can confirm that all systems work correctly. Most local governments require periodic inspections of all fire safety devices, which your local fire department may be able to conduct.
Between those inspections, it’s helpful to send reminders to residents to check the smoke alarms in their homes each month. Follow all manufacturer instructions on testing at-home smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
4. Maintain community landscaping.
To prevent fires, keep all community landscaping clean and maintained. Dry vegetation is easily combustible. Some common-sense best practices include making sure trees, shrubs, plants, and flowers are neatly trimmed and well-watered. Other fire-safe tips to consider for your community landscaping include:
- Plant trees and shrubs away from buildings. Keep vegetation approximately 5 to 10 feet from structures to keep a fire from spreading.
- Add fire-wise plants. Fire-wise plants contain more moisture and fewer volatile oils and flammable chemicals, providing less fuel for a fire.
- Maintain a regular irrigation schedule. In accordance with governing documents and local water restrictions, irrigate lawns and gardens to keep them healthy and thriving.
- Replace wooden structures with nonflammable materials. Architectural standards vary by community, but stone and concrete are good non-flammable options for wood.
5. Conduct annual fire drills.
The HOA board should conduct annual fire drills so residents stay prepared and understand the fire safety protocol. By conducting fire drills, you are:
- Reminding residents what the fire alarm sounds like.
- Helping new residents learn where to go and what to do during a fire.
- Letting residents know the physical requirement to get out of the building.
If somebody lives on a higher floor or has limited mobility, a fire drill will help them recognize the physical effort it takes to exit the structure and what they may need to make that process easier in an emergency. You may consider talking to your community’s insurance provider for fire drill processes specific to your community.
6. Regulate the use of fire hazards.
Regulating fire hazards or dangerous materials that could increase the risk of a fire can go a long way in preventing one. For example, the HOA board could ban grills on balconies or within a certain distance of homes and other structures. You can also regulate portable fireplaces or other mobile fire devices in homes or community areas to reduce the chance of materials catching fire.
If your HOA governing documents don’t already have fire hazard restrictions in place, your board might consider amending the rules. Review the governing documents with your HOA lawyer for guidance on making changes.
Wildfire Safety Tips for Your Community
While all HOAs can benefit from fire safety best practices, some communities are located in areas that face extreme wildfire danger. These are areas where people may be forced to leave their homes because of a wildfire—an uncontrolled fire that occurs in forests, woodlands, grasslands, or anywhere with dry, combustible vegetation to fuel the flames. Read our article, “How to Prepare Your Community for a Wildfire,” for tips on keeping residents safe and prepared.