Photo by Khara Woods on Unsplash
Fires are more prevalent than all natural disasters combined.
In seems like we’re constantly hearing about wildfires in the news today, and that’s because we are. California has had 78 more annual “fire days” now than it had 50 years ago. And, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, California has experienced its most deadly and destructive wildfires in the past two years.
It doesn’t help that wildfires are prevalent pretty much the entire year—summer, fall and winter—when the ground is dry and winds are high. Dropping temperatures don’t mean an end to fires; winter storm season is rife with fires, and they can happen anywhere.
Wildfires get the most press, but did you know that there were over 1.3 million fires in the US in 2017? On top of that, there was a reported $23 billion in loss. Don’t let your art, studio and home be a part of that statistic.
How can you safeguard your studios against fires?
Do your research
You’ll be happy to know that protecting your space doesn’t require heavy lifting. There are great resources out there to help you prepare against fires:
- The National Fire Prevention Association offers concise education on fire causes and risks, and provides safety tips.
- CERF+, a partner of Artwork Archive, is the artist’s guide to emergencies. They have help artists protect their studios and careers with helpful resources like Get Ready grants.
- Red Cross’s Home Fire Campaign seeks to reduce death and injury from home fires by 25% with their digital resources.
Equip yourself with response materials.
Do you have smoke detectors in appropriate places and extinguishers accessible? Do you have a maintenance schedule for your fire safety equipment? Manufacturers say most extinguishers should work for five to 15 years (that’s a big gap!), but you might not know if you got yours 2 years ago or 12.
Handle flammable materials and objects with care.
This goes back to basics learned in art school, but combustible materials are deathly dangerous. Sometimes we are absent minded about where we place these materials; think about their placement. For instance, if you are working with flammable supplies, keep them away from heat sources like baseboard heaters.
Create a safety sheet for materials.
I mean let’s face it, our supplies are not au naturel. Resins and solvents are highly flammable. Identify your hazardous art materials and supplies. Know exactly what is in your studio and how it should be handled, especially if you have assistants in your space.
Under the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), chemical manufacturers are required to develop a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each hazardous chemical they produce and import. Review these Safety Data Sheets for the chemicals you use in order to better understand their proper use, storage and disposal. Have the reference sheets available in your studio.
Image courtesy of Ben Medansky.
Inventory your artwork and studio.
Imagine that your studio catches on fire and you haven’t catalogued your artworks, equipment or supplies. What will you show to insurance to prove the value that went up in smoke?
It’s imperative that you inventory your artwork and studio supplies. Luckily there are online art inventory systems like Artwork Archive that help artists easily keep track of their works. This way you know the contents of your studio so if you have to work with insurance, you can quickly provide a detailed inventory report.
Ceramicist Ben Medansky turned to Artwork Archive after his studio burned down in a fire. With the help of a CERF+ emergency relief grant and Artwork Archive’s online inventory system, he was able to rebuild his studio and business. You can learn more his experience here.
Insurance is your best friend.
Speaking of insurance, it is also critical to be well insured and properly covered. Ya, we know, insurance is not a sexy topic. But, insurance is your inventory’s best friend. It helps you keep your business going when the worst happens.
Consider your equipment.
Most electric fires are caused by faulty electric outlets and old, outdated appliances/equipment. If you are using equipment like a kiln, make sure your electrical setup can handle the wattage of the kiln. CERF+ shares that they’ve heard too many stories of fires starting from a faulty electric panel.
Consider your space.
So many artists have studios in shared spaces. Do you work out of a co-op? If so, do you know your neighbors?
You may have followed all of the proper safety precautions, but adjacent spaces can put you at risk. You and your materials will be at risk from smoke damage. Smoke can destroy textiles and most importantly, make the space unhealthy for you.
If the studio above you has a fire, the sprinklers will go off and douse your studio space. With water damage comes mold. Mold is devastating to a studio. CERF+ has excellent resources on how to mitigate and recover works from mold.