It's good to know that fires are increasingly unlikely in American hotels, but according to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are still nearly 4,000 fires in hotels and motels across the United States. American hoteliers must comply with all state and federal fire safety requirements, but some parts of a hotel or motel, including laundry rooms, present a bigger risk than others. Learn more about fire safety and detection in laundry rooms, and find out what you should do to protect your guests and your premises.
Causes of laundry room fires
The most common source of a hotel or motel fire is one of the guest rooms, but the laundry area is the second leading area of fire source for American hoteliers. Laundry rooms present a significant fire hazard for several reasons. The average laundry room has several large electrical appliances. The fire load (the amount of material that can easily burn) is also higher than most other parts of the hotel, thanks to all those piles of dirty or clean textiles.
Fires often start in laundry rooms due to electrical problems. In 2015, emergency services evacuated a hotel in Northampton that started in two industrial washers. Investigators believe an electrical issue caused the fire. Similarly, malfunctioning laundry equipment caused a fire in a large hotel in Salt Lake City just a few weeks earlier.
Ironically, a lack of cleanliness in the laundry room can also pose a fire hazard. Discarded cardboard and paper packaging increases the potential fire load, while dirty, dusty air ducts can block the exhaust from washing machines.
As per any other part of the hotel, it's always better to focus your efforts on fire prevention. With sensible precautions and good management of these areas, you and your team can significantly cut the risk of a fire in the laundry room.
Make sure somebody cleans the laundry room every day. Remove any accumulation of dust, fluff and dirt that could block any air vents. Get rid of all unwanted packaging materials, empty the trash cans, and make sure any recycling containers have secure lids. Ask your cleaners to routinely clean all appliances in the laundry room, but only allow them to use approved cleaning materials. Make sure employees store these cleaning materials in a dedicated cupboard away from the machines, too.
Employees working in the laundry must learn how to safely clean and store textiles. For example, they should separate oil and grease-stained textiles from other items that are less flammable. Make sure all staff members know how to safely use the machines, including how to shut down the equipment in an emergency.
You should also train employees to safely load the machines, as overloading can impede airflow, increasing the risk of spontaneous combustion. What's more, hot, clean laundry still presents a fire risk while cooling, so you should only ever use non-combustible laundry baskets. Large piles of hot laundry can also catch fire, so train your employees to separate each load into smaller stacks. Arrange regular maintenance checks on all the appliances in your laundry room, too, and make sure staff members report any faults immediately.
Unfortunately, it's not possible to prevent every fire, so a robust fire detection system is also essential. Fire detectors will alert employees working in the laundry room and early detection can help you promptly evacuate the hotel. Additionally, fire sprinklers can help to put out the fire while you wait for the firefighters to arrive. In laundry rooms, most fires start with a smoldering phase, which gives your employees time to take action that could halt the spread of the fire.
Deceptive phenomena can cause problems in laundry rooms, and the steam and heat produced daily can interfere with some fire detectors. Choose a detection system that has high immunity to these phenomena, and place detectors as far away from the source of interference as possible. For example, keep fire detectors away from HVAC vents, where airflow can unnecessarily set off sensitive equipment.
ABC multi-purpose fire extinguishers are also suitable for use in laundry rooms. These devices can extinguish wood and paper fires, combustion of flammable liquids and electrical fires. Install these extinguishers throughout the laundry area, and make sure employees know how to use them safely.
Many fires in hotels and motels start in laundry rooms, but with the right preventive measures and detection systems, you can make sure your guests and employees stay safe. Conduct a fire safety assessment in your laundry room, and deal immediately with any areas of potential improvement you identify.