Fire Code Violations – Cited By A Fire Inspector – Should I Fight It? Q & A

Q. I own a coffee shop and the fire inspector came through our business about a month ago and found a number of fire risk violations. I was not cited but they gave me only thirty-days to correct it or face being cited.

The inspector came up with a bunch of violations including not having my address posted clearly in front of my business, blocked exits in the kitchen, insufficient exit sign illumination, lack of sufficient panel box clearance and use of extension cords. My business is small but very busy. I could not make the changes they required in time and my business was sited. Should I fight it?

A. I would not fight it but I would make the changes as soon as possible or face harsher penalties and more fines. Sometimes, fire departments come under pressure from their superiors for not being sufficiently proactive in taking preventive measures to ensure the community is adequately protected from the risk of fire. So sometimes they can become a bit aggressive in their issuance of citations. Lets take a look at the violations and what they mean:

Insufficient Illumination Of Exit Signs

Under most local ordinances, your exit signs must be self-illuminated. A standard light, even one that is directly pointed at the exit sign is no longer sufficient under most fire codes. All exit signs must be self illuminated and placed in positions where they are easily detected and brightly illuminated.

Obstruction Near Panel Box

Electrical panel boxes of any type must have sufficient working space so these units can be quickly and easily accessed in cases of emergency. Placing boxes, tables and food carts, or for that matter, any form of obstruction in access areas to electrical sources is a common fire hazard that can be easily remedied without much effort on your part.

Use Of Extension Cords

This is a very common fire code violation especially for small businesses and restaurants. Extension cords may be great for your apartment or residence, but they are perceived as a fire risk under most local fire codes, especially if they run along the ceilings, baseboard or walls where they can be easily damaged resulting in possible electrical shorts. In most cities, it is permissible to use extension cords but only on a temporary basis.

Your Business Address Not Clearly Posted

Your business address must be clearly marked and visible from the street fronting the property. Most city ordinances now require a reflective background on addresses so that fire trucks responding to an emergency can easily locate the address in the late evening hours. This makes a lot of sense even though it might cost you a few dollars to have your street address repainted.

Blocked Back Exit Doors

Even though the violation stemmed from your back kitchen area, the law requires that you not have any obstructions to a safe and quick passage out of the structure in case of an emergency – even if the location is a busy kitchen located at the back of your coffee shop.

This is a very common type of violation especially in busy businesses where food preparation is usually performed in a rushed manner. Things such as boxes, food carts and trays are often left near exit doors and trying to move them in an emergency can be potentially dangerous in the event of a smoke-filled fire.


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