Eventing Nation: Summer fire safety tips for your barn

A barn fire is every horse owner’s worst nightmare. Kate Samuels shares some precautionary tips.

From Kate:

Unfortunately, one of the most common news headlines that I read every night in my equestrian news feed is one that reports a tragic barn fire that claimed the lives of several horses, and destroyed the stable. Can you imagine not only losing your beloved horses to a fire, but also every single little bit of horse paraphernalia that you own, including tack, hay, sentimental items and the barn itself? This kind of disaster haunts me on a regular basis, and every time I see a new report of a stable going up in flames, my heart goes out to the owners. No one should ever have to deal with that kind of tragedy.

Let’s face it: barns are one of the most flammable buildings possible. Not only are the usually made largely of wood, but they are also stuffed full of the best tinder available: hay. Plus, we all know (usually from personal experience) that if there is the smallest chance that something seemingly innocuous could become a hazard, you can be guaranteed that your horse will find that object and injure themselves with it. This means you have to examine every item in your barn to determine if it could, in fact, become a hazard. Walk through your barn and study every day objects, and think, “What if…?”

While these are certainly not all of the steps you can take towards fire safety, here are few to get you started thinking about how you can better prepare your barn.

Step one towards good fire safety is simply this: be tidy. A broom can be your best friend when you’re thinking of daily precautions for fire hazards. Even something as small as a piece of glass resting on a dusty window ledge can be hit by some weird sunlight and cause a fire. Dust those windowsills! You should also keep your aisle ways tidy and unobstructed, and sweep up loose hay, straw and wood shavings. Trash should go in a metal trash can with a snug lid. Get rid of cobwebs, which I realize is probably the last thing you want to hear. However, cobwebs are really good pathways for flames to travel along and spread throughout your barn. Flaming cobwebs also fall onto the floor and bedding, starting new fires.

This one might seem obvious…but NO SMOKING. Seriously, it’s just about the dumbest thing you could do (and I’m not even talking about your health here). Don’t smoke near the barn, and certainly don’t allow other people to do it either. My favorite sign to have is “No Smoking….unless you’re on fire”.

Make sure you have your electricity running through a metal conduit! So many barns do not have all their electrical running through metal conduit. This is an absolute must in a wood barn. Rodents chew wires to file their teeth down… and that doesn’t go so well for the fire safety! Ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlets are beneficial for this as well.

Make sure veryone knows how to use the fire extinguisher and where they are located in the barn. This is key, because most people actually never have used a fire extinguisher before, and during the fire is not the time to read the instructions on the side. Make sure you know what you’re doing.

Be very careful with vehicles such as gators, motorbikes, or four-wheelers stored near the barn. Especially us Eventers, we’ve always got our motorbikes stored right there in the barn, and usually a small tank of gas for filling it up nearby. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard stories of somebody dragging their ring with the four wheeler, putting it up in the barn, and walking home, only to discover that the motor was a lot hotter than they thought, and it started a fire in the barn. Seriously, be careful with motorized vehicles, and put that gas can somewhere else.

If you’re building a barn from the bottom up, consider using flame retardant materials. Cinder block with metal roof,  trusses and rafters is more or less fire proof. Most cinderblock barns use wood trusses & rafters with tin sheeting on top. The wood is still very flammable!  MDBarnmaster barns are also basically fire proof, and an excellent investment. You can also use fire retardant paint on other surfaces to help prevent the spread of flames. Make sure that each stall has a door to the outside that you can easily access if the inner aisle becomes engulfed in flames. Keep tabs on all your electrical wiring up to date and neat, don’t have excess wires hanging about!

Even though it is convenient, consider building a seperate barn for hay storage.  Storing hay above your horses is a huge risk. Most horses die of smoke inhalation before flames in a fire, and there is no better way to completely fill a barn with smoke than with some nice flammable hay falling from the ceiling. Even a fire-proof building that has a lot of burning hay inside will kill the horses with smoke.

I hope these tips get you all thinking about ways to improve the fire safety at your own barn. What steps do you take that I forgot to include? Let me know, Eventing Nation

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