Minimizing your risk of barn fire
It is every farm and horse owners worst nightmare: a barn fire. I woke up this morning to the reports that a barn at Old Friends Retirement Center was ablaze, and my heart sank. I have never personally had to deal with this absolutely devastating event, but in the past few years, some of my dearest friends and loved ones have. And while I would never wish this endeavor on my worst enemy, there has been some good in this desperation: they have learned of their mistakes, and have modified their barns, their homes, and their plans for how to deal with this event if it were ever to happen again. Here are some of the things that they have learned:
One: Have your barn easily located:
One of my dear friends experienced this horrific event last winter, and they learned that the firetrucks were actually dispatched to the wrong location. They were told that if it is at all possible, call 911 from a landline. Cell phones are not always easily located, and if the caller leaves the scene before finishing his/her call, the location is even less specific.
This also means that your address to your farm should be easily seen from the road, and directions to the barn laid out well. For the larger farms, especially here in Lexington, KY, this means that signs should be on the farms to help a stranger locate the specific barn and get their swiftly.
Two: Check your wiring:
Faulty wiring is one of the most common causes of barn fires in my experience, and this can be prevented. Before moving into a new barn, have a certified electrician check the wiring and confirm that it is good, intact, and safe. This doesn’t mean your maintenance crew, or your boyfriend, but an actual electrician. This should be repeated annually, as wiring will age just like the rest of us.
Three: Fire extinguishers:
It should be common sense to have a fire extinguisher in your barn, but I still see many where they do not exist. And just as importantly, have a fire extinguisher that is both up to date in certification, and ACCESSIBLE. Many people place their fire extinguishers in their tack rooms, which tend to be the most central location in the barn. Instead, have an extinguisher located at the entry ways to the barns – and ideally, ALL entryways.
Four: Lay out of the barn:
This is obviously something that cannot always be fixed, or changed, but in the ideal world – each stall would have dual exit points. Doors that lead inwards to the aisle way and doors that lead out the back. And if these stall doors do exist, make sure that they are operable and not blocked by bushes, snow, or machinery. Make sure the hinges open easily, and that they aren’t painted shut.
In addition to this, parking tractors, trucks, and other equipment that contains gasoline or diesel adds an increased fire risk and should not be done. This includes gas operated leaf blowers, weed whackers, and the such. In the ideal world, there would be a maintenance shed or barn specifically for this equipment.
Five: Less electricity is more:
Those electric water buckets seem so useful in keeping your horses drinking water unfrozen, but adding numerous wires to your barn equals an added risk. The same is said for fans. And if you are willing to accept this risk, then at least minimize it. Fans should be cleaned OFTEN, and water buckets wires inspected easily and often as well. If you do have numerous wires, try to combine them as safely and effectively as possible with a power strip, but don’t overload those as well.
Six: Don’t smoke in, near, or around the barn:
This should be common sense, and yet I still see fellow horsemen and competitors smoking around show barns, so lord knows they think it is acceptable at home as well. Under NO CERTAIN TERMS should smoking be acceptable in your barn. I don’t even think this needs added to, and yet, after seeing stupidity in broad daylight these past few months in regards to this topic, I will.
And if you do see someone smoking in the barns on show grounds, call them out. Being polite, or being awestruck by a big name trainer, does not mean you cannot be safe. I don’t care if its the biggest name on the grounds, or if his clients think it is acceptable, it is NOT.
Seven: Hay storage:
This covers a few things. If you bale your own hay, make sure that it is completely dry before placing it in your barn. And even if you don’t, be cognizant of your hay storage and location. Ideally, hay should be kept separate from horses, but this isn’t always a possibility. So if it isn’t, at least check hay constantly for wetness, and keep it as dry as possible.
Eight: Know the location of equipment that may be necessary in a fire:
Chances are that you will have a slim window to get horses and other animals out of a burning building, so you don’t want to be utilizing that time trying to find their halters and lead ropes, and turning on lights during a fire is even more dangerous. Know exactly where the halters and lead ropes exist, and if they are not currently located in an easily accessible place, change that!
Nine: Speak with the fire department about the best fire prevention strategy for your current facility:
This encompasses many things, such as sprinkler systems and fire alarms. My friend who lost her barn recently was told that the barn could have had a fire alarm that was connected to the interior of her house, which existed hundreds of feet away. I never knew that was even an option. My latest farm had a sprinkler system, but it hadn’t been checked or used in years, and in the winter, was most likely frozen. If you do have a system in place such as these, make sure that they are functional and a help, not a hindrance.
Ten: Have a plan:
Just like the fire drills in elementary school, know what you would do IF you were to ever get that call or wake up and see this disaster. Do you know the easiest and safest way to get the horses out? Do you have an emergency contact such as a neighbor to help? Do you know the exact address of your barn and not just your home? And are your horses trained and handleable enough to manage them in a state of shock?
Barn fires are my worst nightmare. I have only ever had to deal with the aftermath of them, and hope that this remains true. But just as with everything else, knowledge is power, and if knowledge can keep even one more farm owner or horse lover to go through this horrible event, it is worth it.
Please add any other ideas that you might have, or have been told, that would make these risks even lower!