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When fire strikes … California rental operation takes decisive actions

by Ashleigh Petersen

FireIt was late one hot July evening when Lacey Wright, co-owner, Celebrations! Party Rentals and Tents, Roseville, Calif., received a call from a janitorial crew member about a fire at the operation. She rushed there to find firefighters battling a blaze that impacted a 10-ft.-by-20-ft. section of her company’s warehouse.

“We lost 400 chairs, a barbecue and a portable bar. We also had mostly water damage to a wall that we share with another tenant. The damage was very minimal in the scheme of things,” Wright says.

While she has not received confirmation from the fire investigator about the cause, “common sense and an internal investigation tells us that it most likely resulted from combustion of a soiled rag that wasn’t disposed of properly,” she says.

This is the second such fire at the operation in two years. While the company always has been proactive on fire safety training, it also has had an influx of new employees since coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions lifted. Wright, who co-owns the family event rental operation with her husband, Michael, knew decisive action had to be taken.

Immediately, they:

  • Retrained all staff on fire safety, how to handle flammable solvents and how to properly dispose of oily rags. “We have strengthened this training for our new hires and made it a monthly refresher for all departments,” Wright says.
  • Added signage in all areas where cleaning solvents are used.
  • Increased the number of fire cabinets for storing solvents.
  • Added more soiled rags fire buckets.
  • Changed the system “to where only one specific color of rag is used with solvents and instructed employees that these rags must go into the fire bins,” she says.

This incident prompted additional takeaways:

  • Ensure the business owner is listed as the first contact with the local fire department or property management if renting the building. “My employee initially contacted me. Had he not been on site, it would have been another 15 minutes before I could be there,” she says.
  • Know that even if the fire department has been provided site maps for chemical storage, firefighters who arrive on the scene might not know that. “They had this information in their database but didn’t know it when they arrived. Luckily, I was there to share that and show how to open our skylights to get rid of the smoke more quickly,” Wright says.