What is a Fire Watch?

March 17, 2023

what is a firewatch

Fire protection and prevention systems are designed to alert you when there is a fire. But wouldn’t it be better if there was a way to warn you about fire hazards and potentially save you from a lot of damage? Well, there is. The most reliable way to stay ahead of a fire is to hire a fire watch guard. 

What is a fire watch? 

A fire watch is a person or persons who acts as a “human smoke detector”. This personnel is trained to strictly watch over a property and notify the occupants at the slightest sign of smoke or fire. Their primary responsibility is to patrol, observe, stay alert, and respond to indicators of fire. 

Let’s take a detailed look at what a fire watch involves, who needs it, and where you can get them. 

In this article: 

  • Who is a Fire Watch 
  • What Does a Fire Watch Do 
  • Types of Fire Watch
  • How to Become a Fire Watch
  • Who Needs a Fire Watch
  • How to Choose a Fire Watch

Who is a Fire Watch?

A person or group that is stationed at locations susceptible to fire due to any reason* and is qualified to detect and prevent fire is called a fire watch. Fire watch personnel are required to continuously watch the area and have the authority to cease work if there’s a threat or until they take essential measures to restore safety. 

Fire watch security services include guarding against fires at work sites that conduct potentially hazardous tasks such as soldering, thawing, welding, brazing, cutting, and grinding. 

Not just that, fire watch guards are trained to provide real-time protection from fire and fire hazards at construction sites, warehouses, offices, residential buildings, parking lots, and events.  

A fire watch cannot engage in any other activity on the site, their sole duty is to prevent a fire. The personnel should check the work area, look for obstacles, pay attention to exit routes, and clear anything that could obstruct a safe evacuation. 

If they notice any spark, heat, slag, or smoke, they will inform the people on the property and alert emergency fire personnel. Fire watch persons also have access to fire-extinguishing equipment in case of minor, manageable mishaps and are trained to use them. 

A lot is riding on these fire watch guards, which is why fire watch services should always be acquired from a reputable provider. 

*Use of electrical, heating, lighting, and cooking equipment. Presence of combustible material, heavy machinery, dysfunctional alarm and sprinkler systems, hot work, etc. 

What Does a Fire Watch Do – Duties and Responsibilities

The personnel assigned as fire watch are thoroughly trained and tested so they can identify fire hazards and indicators, and inform the authorities timely. The duties and responsibilities of a fire watch security guard include:

  • Conduct a constant patrol of the area every 30 minutes
  • Look into stairwells, and open doors, and note that every exit route is accessible and free from obstacles
  • See if emergency systems and fire alarms are working properly
  • Look for signs of fire, smoke, and indicators of a hazard
  • Know the floor plan of the building, emergency shutdown procedures, hazardous areas, and emergency evacuation plans
  • Check for any sources of ignition or smoking violations
  • Always keep at least one means of radio-frequency communication with the Fire Department
  • Inspect sprinkler systems for leakage, sprinkler head obstruction, decreased pressure, or closed valves
  • Check the safety of garbage, trash, and excess combustible material disposal
  • Maintain a logbook of activity 

In case the fire watch guard notices the first sign of smoke or fire, they must:

  • Communicate with building occupants and conduct a safe evacuation
  • Contact and coordinate with the Fire Department and building management when they detect a fire and again when it’s been attended to
  • Attain any required permits and get a licensed contractor to repair a broken fire or alarm system

Types of Fire Watch

There are three major types of fire watch common in the industry. 

Permanent Fire Watch 

As the name suggests, a permanent fire watch guard is positioned at a site that requires supervision for undefined or relatively longer periods. 

This typically includes construction sites with hot work under process. Hot work is an umbrella term covering flame-producing work such as using a torch, welding, or spark-inducing machinery. 

Active welding sites and hot work zones need a fire watch until fire suppression systems have been installed and activated.

Temporary Fire Watch

A temporary fire watch is required when fire suppression systems are under maintenance or out of order for more than four hours in a twenty-four-hour period. The building or facility facing issues with alarm and sprinkler systems is obligated to notify the local authorities and establish a temporary fire watch.

The building facility is required to familiarize the fire watch guard with site-specific emergency plans, maps, and exit routes, and provide them access to clear modes of communication. All other duties of the fire watch remain the same. 

The duration of this temporary fire watch is determined on a case-by-case basis. The temporary fire watcher is required to patrol no more than one-hour intervals in most cases. For example, the facilities may hire a temporary fire watch during the demolition of a building that involves certain potentially hazardous exercises. 

Special Event Fire Watch

Any event that caters to large gatherings of people should have certified and trained fire watch personnel on-site to keep a close eye out for potential fire hazards. These special events include concerts, festivals, trade shows, sporting events, etc.

Special event fire watchers ensure public safety in places of congregation. They’re specifically trained to have an excellent grip on evacuation plans, alarm systems, communication with fire departments, and panic control, and have a keen observation.

How to Become a Fire Watch? – Qualifications and Training Requirements

The prerequisites to becoming a fire watch aren’t too strict or demanding, but committing to this job comes with great responsibility. 

If you plan to become a fire watch, know that a single moment of distraction can cost lives. Just like that, a timely warning can save many. Here’s a list of all the certifications and training you need to become a fire watch: 

Educational Requirements

Here’s what you need to become a certified fire watch:

  • A high school diploma or GED certificate. 
  • A fire watch training course that covers OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards. (Every fire watch personnel should be mandated by OSHA to practice)
  • You should be above the age of 18.

Physical and Mental Requirements

A few must-haves for a fire watch security guard include:

  • Physical stamina, strength, and mobility 
  • Detail-oriented and sharp observation skills
  • Ability to work long hours
  • Clear and effective communication skills
  • Ability to stay focused and alert under pressure and stressful situations

Training Requirements

Candidates must take a training course from a reputable organization that has experts and resources for thorough preparation. The course primarily teaches how to recognize signs of fire, point out and deal with fire hazards, prevent fires, and take action in case of a serious outbreak. 

The training should also teach the correct classification of the type and nature of fire and their respective treatments, hot work, and planning work operations to prevent fires. A fire watch trainee also learns how different alarm systems and evacuation plans work and people skills to deal with emergencies. 

A few fire watcher training are also tailored and specialized for a certain industry or worksite. But generally, fire safety training focuses on pre-shift inspections, safety regulations, best practices, and real-life studies. 

Certifications and Licensing

Fire watch personnel should be qualified to watch patrols, maintain watch logs, and know the national fire code to deal with all fire-related threats. 

Once a prospect completes their training for fire watch, they get a completion certificate and license to practice as a fire watch guard. The license indicates that they have the necessary knowledge and are fully equipped to tackle fire-related issues. 

NOTE: A history of emergency response training or experience can significantly increase your chances of employment.

Who Needs a Fire Watch

Anytime your property is at the slightest risk of fire, you need to make sure there’s a fire watch security guard on the lookout. However, if you’re unsure if your business or work site requires a fire watch, here’s a list that summarizes who needs it:

Construction and Demolition Sites 

There are several dire hazards amidst a construction zone due to materials, equipment, and hot work. Construction sites are required by law to have fire watch guards in many jurisdictions. Failure to do this until the construction is complete could result in fines and penalties. 

This is because fires can spiral out of control pretty quickly on construction or demolition sites since there’s no alarm system connected. Both construction and demolition sites have power tools, combustible materials, and the water supply is shut off, making them high-risk spaces. 

Parking Spaces

Parking lots and structures such as shopping malls, apartment blocks, or multi-tenant buildings that have parking spaces need a fire watch to prevent fire outbreaks. Vehicles can catch and spread fires rapidly, so these areas are high-risk and need extra protection. 

Sites with Interrupted Water Supply

Natural disasters, frozen or burst pipes, or construction can disrupt your water supply. If your business or residence has a sprinkler system that’s out of function or having issues, you need to get fire watch guards to ensure the safety of the residents. 

It’s better to not take a chance if the water supply is interrupted due to any of these reasons. You need to hire a fire watch until the water supply is restored. 

Sites with Malfunctioning Alarm Systems

If your property is going through an unexpected malfunction in its sprinkler system or fire alarm, or these systems are inactive for maintenance or repair, you need fire watch guards to warden the area. 

Similarly, your local fire marshal may require you to hire fire watch guards on your new property that doesn’t have a fire alarm system installed yet. The same goes for buildings where the systems are under repair or replacement process. 

Educational Institutes

Schools, colleges, and universities need to have a fire watch to mitigate any chances of a fire. Even if all the alarm and sprinkler systems are working perfectly fine, educational institutions need to be safeguarded by a fire watch’s sharp eye. 

Property Owners

Building owners of any sort, be it commercial, residential, or industrial, need fire watch guards to safeguard their properties and assets. A fire watch is trailed and skilled to keep a close look for signs of a fire and save you tons of money.  

Dense Crowds

Events like concerts, festivals, trade shows, sports, restaurants, movie sets, large engagements, school campuses, etc. have large gatherings of people. Such congregations should always have a fire watch guard on duty to keep a close eye on fire hazards.   

Other Instances When a Fire Watch is Needed

A few other times when investing in a fire watch is recommended:

  • When a new construction site classified as Type III (ordinary building with wooden roof), Type IV (buildings made with thick timber), or Type V (buildings with combustible frame and roof) building reaches 40 feet in height
  • When a new construction classified as Type III, Type IV, or Type V building includes an aggregate area exceeding 50,000 square feet
  • During hot work such as Slag, weld splatter, or sparks that might pass through an opening and cause a fire
  • A power outage that affects the fire suppression system is pre-planned for a period that exceeds four hours. The fire marshal often requires notification for conditions like these. *Check with your local authorities for local requirements.
  • Buildings that have a history of fire code violations are required to get fire watch services. 
  • During non-working hours from the time that a construction reaches a height above 40 feet or an area of 50,000 square feet until the fire alarm or fire suppression system has been certified

How and Where to Get a Fire Watch

Fires can cause great damage. Regardless of the type of property you have, the risk of fire is always there. There are several companies offering fire watch services, but picking the right one is the key. 

When choosing a company to handle the fire watch for you, a reputable and trustworthy company like Professional Security Guard Inc. tops the list. Here are a few key points to consider while choosing a fire protection services company:

  • Reputation: Word of mouth and a company’s social standing are true measures of the quality of its services. Always check the track record of the company with their previous clients from reviews and ratings. A good fire watch company will offer tailored fire watch solutions to match your specific needs. 
  • License and Certifications: Make sure that the licenses are in order. A professionally certified and trained guard knows when to conduct patrols, maintains proper watch logs, and knows the national fire code to effectively prevent fires. 
  • Check Their Specialty: Ensure that the company you’re considering has enough experience in the field or industry they specialize in. The extent of their expertise in a specific area should match your needs. 
  • Explore Plans and Systems Offered: Analyze the company’s tools, plans, and protocols and choose what matches your requirements.

What is a Fire Watch? Final Word

A fire watcher is a necessity anywhere there is a risk of fire involved. Fire watch security guards have immense responsibility guarding and watching over a property for signs of fire. It won’t be an overstatement to say that this personnel is an important tool for safe work conditions and peace of mind for many property owners. 

If you wish to hire a fire watch guard, our professional and certified experts at Professional Security Guard are just a few taps away. 

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