As the friend of a man who lost his entire barn, and all souls contained within, seven adult horses and one baby (http://www.zanesvilletimesrecorder.com/article/20110426/NEWS01/104260303/8-horses-killed-McConnelsville-barn-fire), in an unforgivable act of hate and ignorance, I feel talking about fire prevention is a relevant topic for all horse and barn owners. It’s a frightening reality that the one place we gather in, and often treat with a religious respect, is made of, and contains, nearly all highly-flammable materials. While my friend’s story is sadder still, due to it’s circumstances, and most-likely not an unhappy ending that could have been prevented, there is still plenty you can do to protect your property and loved ones. Education and prevention is key. I turned to another friend, Rob Kovacs, a horse owner, Gahanna Fire Fighter and Paramedic for his experience and guidance…
One of the first points he addressed, was the National Fire Prevention Association’s standard 150, which is a great resource for fire prevention in your livestock barns. http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/document-information-pages?mode=code&code=150. He also mentioned, that because no codes are adhered to, or even exist, not many folks seem to consider the expense of a sprinkler type suppression system. If your barn already has a watering system, most of the components are already in place. Dry hydrants (pvc piping, ran from above ground level to below grade level and out to farm ponds) are an excellent resource, and often yields a discount on property owners insurance rates.
Rob discussed a handful of common problems that seem innocent enough, until you’re making a 911 call in the middle of the night. Storing wet hay. Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh bales in the summer? It’s lovely, until it isn’t. Wet hay gets hot, and since we commonly store our hay in lofts at the top of our barns, where heat is already lurking, it can be a deadly combination. That hot, wet hay can combust, and fire can spread quickly. Add to that, if the burning hay is all above you, you then add the risk of the barn collapsing before you have the chance to get every soul out.
Another common foul, the use of household extension cords, where commercial should be. Pair that with sub-par, or unprotected electrical wiring, and lack of some form of a conduit, and you have a fire waiting to happen. Do a walk-around of your barn, and consider access/egress concerns. In the event of an emergency, could help make it in?
Take a look inside your stalls. Is the lighting inside a protective cage, and all cobwebs swept away? Not only is an open light fixture a fire hazard, but it’s a physical danger to your horse if they rear or pop their heads up, unexpectedly. Picking chards of broken light bulb out of your horse’s head isn’t fun for either of you!
Finally, consider your barn from the fire and rescue team’s perspective. Do you have water access, and any other firefighting resources on hand and easily accessible? Think about how far your barn may be from those resources, some of us live in pretty rural areas, or far back off the road. All of those elements provide additional challenges, and could rob you of precious minutes of time.
All of this probably seems fairly common-sense… right now… when your barn ISN’T on fire, but have you given it much thought before now? Why not schedule regular safety reviews, make it a habit. The more you do now, when you’re thinking clearly and calm, will be less you have to do later, in a panic (ideally). The sad truth is, sometimes no matter how well you prepare, it’s still not enough, but isn’t it worth doing anyway, on the outside chance, that that one hour you spent prepping your barn for emergencies, was the hour that saved your barn, and horses inside?
I don’t know if it’s something they promote, but I would suspect, if you asked any fire official or similar professional for help, they probably wouldn’t turn you down. Their time spent helping you with prevention, could end up helping them later on too.