Skip to main content

John Ramirez, regional manager – engineering services, explains the factors involved with required fire life safety practices in a high-rise.

Read Transcript

[00:00:26.010] – Matthew Holbrook

Welcome to the Uncommon Area, I am Matthew Holbrook, and today’s topic is fire life safety issues. Joining me today to talk about this is John Ramirez, and John, I appreciate you taking the time to do that this morning.


[00:00:43.700] – Matthew Holbrook

This particular topic is super relevant in that it’s possible that if compliance isn’t met, people could actually go to jail over this theoretically, so this is an important topic and we want to make sure that we help associations, help managers, help board members think through what are the things they need to do to be in compliance with fire life safety issues, and also just having the consideration that this is actually what is good and healthy and right and safe for the residents of our buildings and communities.


[00:01:22.710] – Matthew Holbrook

When we talk about fire life safety, I guess just to start with, from your perspective, what are we specifically talking about? What are the types of things that should come to mind?


[00:01:32.430] – Matthew Holbrook

When you talk about fire life safety, it’s the safety equipment that alerts the residents in any property of a fire alarm or smoke in their building. It’s a required testing that needs to be done per the fire code, so what residents need to remember is that this equipment is for their safety. At the end of the day, it’s for their safety, it’s to alert them of an emergency in their building, and taking it serious should be priority to all of them.


[00:02:03.330] – Matthew Holbrook

The issue that we’re talking about is that there’s regular testing that needs to take place in buildings for fire life safety. What are the types of testing that needs to be considered?


[00:02:15.270] – John Ramirez

There are about seven different tests that needs to be completed. One is the fire panel, so they’ll go through the fire panel and make sure that all the alerts go to the fire panel, and they’re specifically detailed on where the alarms are coming from.


[00:02:27.890] – John Ramirez

The second test is the strobes, pull stations and speakers also get tested. Stairwell doors also get tested to make sure they’re shutting and closing completely. Stairwell fans also get tested. Elevators get tested to make sure they come down during the fire alarm. Emergency generators also get tested to make sure they come on when the fire alarm does happen. And lastly, a fire pump. The fire pump also gets tested to make sure it can shoot the water pressure up to the rooftop.


[00:02:57.820] – Matthew Holbrook

Are all of these things tested at the same time?


[00:03:00.810] – John Ramirez

They’re tested on different days. Some of these tests take longer than others, so fire pumps and fans and stairwells get done one day. Emergency generators get a whole day because you got to turn off the power to the entire building, so it’s an inconvenience to residents and some commercial units down below. That test is about 4-5 hours to get completed. Depending on the size of the property, it could take anywhere from three days to about two weeks to get done.


[00:03:25.200] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay. But it can be done all in the same time period, usually by one company that’s doing the testing.


[00:03:30.610] – John Ramirez

That’s correct.


[00:03:30.610] – Matthew Holbrook

It’s not like you’re scheduling multiple different things to happen.


[00:03:33.840] – John Ramirez

Correct. And you got to talk to your vendors that you bring out. Certain vendors don’t have the special license to do the elevator testing or the fire pump testing, so they will bring out a third-party out to come test that equipment. But there are a few that can bring it all together and complete that test.


[00:03:50.700] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay, and the testing needs to be done for all of these? Are they all annual requirements?


[00:03:55.870] – John Ramirez

Yes, everything’s annual, so everything needs to be done annual, and the fire inspectors love to come to your property and inspect. They’ll love to see the paperwork to make sure it was done. If it’s not completed, they can actually hold back your fire permit to the property, which then puts you in non-compliance.


[00:04:11.950] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay. And so what we’re not talking about just doing the testing. The testing is going to bring to light if there are any deficiencies or anything that needs to be addressed. Is there any different types of classification that they would give as to what those deficiencies are? I don’t know if I’m even asking this right, but are some things like “Fix this when you can,” and other things are like, “You better fix this right now or else,” or how does that play out?


[00:04:41.810] – John Ramirez

When the test is completed, they have up to two days to give you the full report. That’s an obligation that the fire code puts on these vendors to get back to us so we know what needs to be repaired. Any repairs that are made from any of those different subjects require a 30-day fix. Whether it’s an emergency or not, it’s 30 days, and it could be as small as we’re just replacing a pool station. They want it done in 30 days.


[00:05:07.030] – John Ramirez

Fire inspectors are getting really strict nowadays, especially in the bigger buildings. They’re coming out every six months just to be sure that those testing repairs are being completed within the 30 days. And if they’re not, then they’re going to want to know why. They want some kind of report from you or the board of members to explain why these pieces of equipment haven’t been completed.


[00:05:27.350] – Matthew Holbrook

So for managers, the main takeaway is get these scheduled on an annual basis. When you get the report back two days later, then anything that needs to be addressed out of that report needs to be prioritized to be addressed within the next 30 days.


[00:05:45.530] – Matthew Holbrook

For board members in particular, if any of those items come out that there’s proposals required or there are higher dollar amounts that require board approval, then the board needs to do whatever is required of them to be able to make those decisions and keep that ball moving and to get that addressed as quickly as possible.


[00:06:04.760] – John Ramirez

Correct. And if the board has at least a good game plan, like we’re getting proposals where you got to get a vote from the rest of the residents in the building, then they understand that. They’re pretty good about that, but we just have to give them a game plan on what’s happening.


[00:06:18.780] – Matthew Holbrook

So we need to be specific about here’s how we’re moving towards getting compliance-


[00:06:23.420] – John Ramirez

That’s correct.


[00:06:23.870] – Matthew Holbrook

-and addressing that. And obviously, what everybody’s ultimately concerned about is the safety of the residents.


[00:06:29.840] – John Ramirez

The residents, right.


[00:06:30.660] – Matthew Holbrook

When a manager or a board member is going out to get proposals from the vendors to do this testing and then let’s say they approve a proposal, what’s the lead time to actually go from approving a proposal to how long? Is this something they can schedule pretty quickly, usually, or is it need to be scheduled months in advance?


[00:06:52.630] – Matthew Holbrook

From day one, so if you go out there to go to bid till approval, it’s about 2-3 weeks. It’s the lead time between those two, from getting proposals to the approval. Once you get the approval, the vendor could probably schedule out within a week or two.


[00:07:08.150] – Matthew Holbrook

Okay. So they can move pretty quickly.


[00:07:09.700] – John Ramirez

They can move pretty quickly, yes.


[00:07:10.490] – Matthew Holbrook

All right.


[00:07:11.090] – John Ramirez

But you want to be able to give as much time and notice to the residents when this happens because it’s a huge inconvenience. They’re going to hear alarms, sirens, power outages, doors open and close, so it’s good for the boards to always give—at least their buildings—at least a 30-day notice, if not longer, that this test is going to be coming up.


[00:07:33.040] – Matthew Holbrook

And then I would expect that managers are going to have this on their annual calendars and it’s going to be recurring every year to remind them this is something that they need to get done. In the event that somehow that is missed, that there’s an oversight, that it just gets forgotten for some reason, which I would hope for our managers, that never happens. I think we have a lot of processes in place to protect against that. You’re monitoring that, their annual calendars are monitoring that and so forth. But in the event that somehow all of that breaks down and it’s missed, what happens? Is there a gentle reminder from the fire department, or what’s the next step?


[00:08:15.700] – John Ramirez

Well, general reminders are never… Fire department, they don’t do nothing gentle. Everything for them is severe, which it should be. It’s the life of our residents. But if a fire alarm testing is forgotten for whatever reason, the fire inspector comes to the property, they’ll come and talk to the manager, and they will give you a 30-day compliance letter. That’s how it starts first.


[00:08:39.370] – John Ramirez

Now after 30 days, if no movement has happened between the management or the board members, then they’ll start sending out not just flyers, but they’ll start sending out fines. Fines will start to follow. These fines could be anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 a month before it gets tested.


[00:08:57.510] – John Ramirez

Now if it escalates even more, now they can also start to the management or the board of managers could see jail time. They can start sending out court letters saying they’re demanding you in court, and because you’re not following the obligations of the fire code, you could be seeing jail time.


[00:09:16.280] – Matthew Holbrook

So bottom line, this is super serious, super important. We want to keep people safe, we want to keep people out of jail, we want to prevent fines, and so we do want to prioritize getting this testing done every year and getting it done timely and then following up on the repairs, the remedies that come out of those reports.


[00:09:33.810] – John Ramirez

That’s correct.


[00:09:34.540] – Matthew Holbrook

Anything else that I’m missing that I should have asked about?


[00:09:36.980] – John Ramirez

Yeah, one of the biggest keys to doing a fire testing is, it’s called a fire procedure manual. This is something that the fire code is starting to look for at the different properties, and basically, it’s a big book of telling the front desk staff, the staff on site, and the fire department that happened to go to your building on what to do. The book has instructions for the front desk on how to take care of a fire alarm when it happens in your building, how to evacuate a property, what to do during an earthquake, what happens during a blackout, and unfortunately, what happens during an active shooter at a property. It gives them examples of what to do, how to evacuate the property, if they need to evacuate the building and who to call.


[00:10:22.940] – Matthew Holbrook

How do these books get developed?


[00:10:24.600] – John Ramirez

We have vendors that come out and they come and walk the property and they create the books. They create the books and they determine, okay, where to exit the property, where the safe havens at for your different properties and what to do and what to say to the different buildings.


[00:10:38.710] – Matthew Holbrook

And then with these books is there something that should be calendared as far as reviewing those regularly or doing training with the staff and the team members to make sure that they’re not just a book sitting in a drawer but that it’s actually helpful.


[00:10:52.550] – John Ramirez

Right. So when the vendor comes out you’re supposed to do it once a year. Staff changes out once a year, so you always want to have a training with the staff and teach them what needs to be done and how to evacuate the property. You also do it with the residents. So we do two trainings with the residents per year. They do a morning class and a night class and it shows them where to evacuate their unit, where the stairwells go, and where the safe havens are for their property.


[00:11:16.270] – John Ramirez

In addition to doing a complete fire drill for their property, they will actually set all the alarms off in the building. They’ll have them come all down the stairs, kind of like what you used to do back in school. They do this for the property. This is required once a year. It should be done once a year. With all the new residents and all the new turnover, you want them to be really educated on what to do.


[00:11:35.460] – John Ramirez

Right. And just to clarify, the staff doesn’t have to turn over every year. In fact, we hope that it doesn’t. But in the event that there is any turnover, then the training would be addressed every year with that process.


[00:11:49.810] – John Ramirez

Yeah, and it’s more for the residents. The residents come in and out. There’s renters that come in, so you want them to be educated on what to do.


[00:11:58.330] – John Ramirez

And then it’s the contact list as well. You always want to make sure the contact is updated. You have the current general manager, current building engineer. You have the current fire department number, police department number. That way when the fire department does happen to go, they can follow that book and call the correct number.


[00:12:15.850] – John Ramirez

And putting together that book, do you know, ballpark, what vendors generally charge? What’s the range?


[00:12:21.430] – John Ramirez

Again, depending on the size of the property, but it’s anywhere between $3,500 to $5,500.


[00:12:26.150] – Matthew Holbrook



[00:12:26.790] – John Ramirez

And it could be done, it takes about two months to get it completed. But it’s the basic bible of that building. It should be at every property.


[00:12:34.800] – Matthew Holbrook

And then so that’s what you are going to do to get the book built the first time. And then are you paying that generally every year to update that, or is it something less?


[00:12:44.020] – John Ramirez

If the building doesn’t go through any remodels then it’s less, and it’s for them to just to come out to update the list, the contact list, and they can drop down from like $1,000 to 1,500 bucks. You want them to still come out here yearly to test it, so that’s something that should be on the maintenance calendar at all times. I know when I go out and do my annual inspections, it’s something that I look for at the different properties and to make sure the contact list is up to date.


[00:13:07.660] – Matthew Holbrook

Right. Anything else that we should be talking about on the subject?


[00:13:11.070] – John Ramirez

And lastly, one of the biggest one is the fire pump. So the fire pumps for the building engineers, at least we’re required to run them. We have electric ones and we have diesel ones. And then the code states that every month we have to run our fire pumps, especially the electric-


[00:13:28.060] – Matthew Holbrook

Every month?


[00:13:28.660] – John Ramirez

Every month for at least 10 minutes. And that’s the electric fire pump. I want to say 90% of our properties have electric fire pumps, but we do have a few that have diesels, and that’s basically just a big motor that runs and that pumps water up to the building. Those are required to run weekly for 30 minutes.


[00:13:46.810] – Matthew Holbrook

And there’s some type of documentation that when we run those, so that’s monitored and we’re keeping some log of that?


[00:13:53.240] – John Ramirez

Correct. So we have a run log that the guys are obligated to fill out anytime they run the fire pump, sign and date. They’re also required to get certified, so not just anyone can go turn on the fire pump. “Oh, hey, I did the test.” They actually had to be certified in doing so. They could get this at the local CalFire station. It’s like 80-100 bucks to do it. They go take the test, and then after that, it’s 100 bucks a year just to renew it. But it’s something that these fire departments are starting to look for when they come out to the properties.


[00:14:21.870] – John Ramirez

And also the insurance companies, when they’re walking the building, doing their annual three-year checkups to make sure that everything looks good, they’re asking for these logs and the certificates just to make sure that there’s no liability for the properties.


[00:14:32.800] – Matthew Holbrook

Yeah, that’s great. Well, anything else?


[00:14:36.680] – John Ramirez

That’s all I got for firelight safety.


[00:14:38.550] – Matthew Holbrook

No, that’s great, and that’s super helpful. So I really appreciate that, John, and I hope that was helpful to you. Be sure to check out other episodes where we cover other topics.