Reducing the Risk of Fire on Your Farm - Reducing the Impact of Fire

Table of Contents

  1. Fire Department Access
  2. Water Supply for Fire Fighting
  3. Evacuation

Best management practices for fire safety are recommended to go beyond the requirements of applicable Codes and regulations. The measures in this section are not necessarily required by applicable Codes but are recommended for consideration because they are effective. They are precautions that can minimize the damage from fire or describe actions to take in the event of a fire.

Detection and Suppression Systems

Fire alarm systems

Automatic fire detection connected to a fire alarm system provides very effective, early notification of fire. If notification is not received almost immediately, a fire can be out of control before personnel have time to take action or evacuate the building. A combination of flashing lights in visible locations and alarms that can be heard both inside and outside of the building are most effective. Consider the corrosive environment inside most livestock buildings in the design and installation. Ongoing testing and maintenance is essential to ensure the system continues to operate properly.

Fire extinguishers

Knowing how to correctly use a fire extinguisher can stop a small fire from growing into a large one. It is a best practice to install fire extinguishers in every building. Select the extinguisher based on the hazards that are present, and any special environmental conditions in the building. General purpose fire extinguishers are a good choice for overall protection. Use recognized standards and advice from industry experts to select and place fire extinguishers for maximum benefit. Remember to locate fire extinguishers to be highly visible and easily reached. Passageways and aisles that lead to exits are good locations (Figure 4.1). Do not block exit paths with fire extinguishers or place where they are subject to mechanical damage from moving objects. Inspect extinguishers monthly for good working condition and service annually by qualified personnel.

Train all employees in the use of fire extinguishers. Ensure training covers extinguisher locations, different classes of fires, and when and how to use extinguishers. Most importantly, train employees to never place their lives at risk to fight a fire.

Photo of a fire extinguisher properly mounted on the wall of a barn, next an exit.

Figure 4.1. A fire extinguisher located next to an exit.

Sprinkler systems

Designed and installed correctly, sprinkler systems distribute water on the source of the fire. Although many farm buildings have challenging conditions such as cold winter temperatures, dust, corrosive environments, aggressive cleaning routines and limited water supply, these problems are overcome with a unique design and appropriate maintenance protocols. For example, a dry-pipe system using corrosion resistant components can have a serviceable life in cold and corrosive locations. With a dry-pipe system, water is not present in the pipes until a fire, when a valve opens to charge the system with water. There are other types of systems and unique operating features to consider. Operators are advised to consult with experts to determine if a sprinkler system is the right choice for their particular operation.

Fire Department Access

In the event of a fire, fire personnel must be able to access the site with their equipment in order to contain and/or extinguish the fire as quickly as possible (Figure 4.2).

Aerial photo of a large swine operation that was completely destroyed by fire in less than one hour.  All that remains standing are feed bins and a drive shed in the background.  Photo shows the lack of an access road completely around the building site which hampered the firefighter's ability to fight the fire.

Figure 4.2. This swine facility was devastated by a fire. Note the lack of an access road completely around the buildings which hampered the ability to fight the fire. (Photo credit: P. Stolk, Farm Mutual Reinsurance Plan)

A firefighting unit may require access to several sides of a building. Proper access roads around farm buildings provide the fire department with a better opportunity to fight a fire. Table 4.1 lists recommendations for laneway access to farm buildings of varying sizes. Building complex area is the total footprint area of all buildings on the property that are interconnected by hallways/passageways.

Table 4.1. Recommended Access Road Configurations

Overall Building Complex Area Type of Road Access Needed
m2 ft2



One side



Two sides



Three sides

4,800 +


All sides

There are several additional factors to consider when constructing a laneway.

  • Place the laneway a minimum of 15 m (50 ft) away from the building.
  • The minimum width of the laneway is 3.7 m (12 ft) for the entire length of the lane, and greater than this at the entrance and at points where the laneway direction changes. Allow for vehicles with a large turning radius.
  • Construct the laneway wide enough for two vehicles to pass, at least in several places.
  • Set fences back, at least 2.4 m (8 ft), along the side of the laneway to allow for adequate snow removal. Keep all overhead objects, including branches and wires, cleared to a height of 6 m (20 ft) from the surface of the yard or laneway.
  • Clearly identify all four corners of laneway bridges, culverts and Texas gates where the laneway meets the bridge. When a new bridge or culvert is necessary, construct it of corrugated steel and/or concrete. Consult a professional engineer to evaluate an existing bridge or culvert or to design a new crossing.
  • Create a laneway wide enough at the road to allow longer vehicles to turn without extending past the edge of the laneway.

The fire department access laneways need all-season maintenance. Keep the snow cleared during winter months. Do not leave machinery or vehicles parked where they restrict access along the laneway or to an available water supply.

Illustration of the layout of a large swine complex with an access road on all sides of the operation.  The all season roadway has extra passing space allowing for trucks to pass or turn around on corners and in straight aways.

Figure 4.3. A swine complex that exceeds 4,800 m2 (51,600 ft2). Access roads are recommended on all sides of the operation. All-season roadways that can handle equipment and truck traffic are effective use of this space. 

Water Supply for Fire Fighting

Water for firefighting can come from a variety of sources. Farm ponds, concrete tanks, public water supplies/hydrants are common sources. Firefighting units can also transport limited water quantities to the site.

The required volume of water for fighting a fire depends on several factors, including:

  • type of construction (combustible vs. non-combustible)
  • proximity to other buildings
  • fire protection features (i.e. automatic sprinklers)

It is difficult to provide a guide on water capacity, however more water is always a positive asset. The local fire department may be able to provide recommendations on emergency water supply and appropriate connections.

For ponds and concrete tanks, install a standard, remote water connection (dry hydrant) adjacent to the water storage for direct connection by the local fire department. A dry hydrant is useful, but not always required for obtaining water from a pond. Many rural fire departments have floating pumps and screened supply lines for this purpose. If a nearby pond is the source of supply water for fire suppression, discuss the options with the fire department so their capabilities are understood ahead of time. Figure 4.4 shows a simple design for a dry hydrant water connection for a farm pond. Figures 4.5 and 4.6 show two views of a dry hydrant installation.

Illustration showing the side view of a simple dry hydrant and attachment that is used to allow fire departments to draw water from a farm pond in an emergency situation.  The attachment extends out into the pond 1 m below the water surface.

Figure 4.4. A simple dry hydrant attachment point used to allow fire departments to draw water from a farm pond in an emergency situation.

Photo of a capped dry hydrant near the side of a road.

Figure 4.5. Dry hydrant showing all features.

Close up photo of the caped portion of a dry hydrant showing the connection.

Figure 4.6. Dry hydrant standpipe connection.


In the event of a fire, people must be able to exit the building quickly and safely to prevent the loss of human life. The size, number and location of these exits are outlined in the NFBCC.

The NFBCC requires that exits are visible and clearly marked. A best management practice recommends the use of signage and lighting to help people locate these exits during a fire.

Number of fire exits

The NFBCC specifies that every farm building have at least two fire exits, at opposite ends of the building. There is an exception in the NFBCC for buildings of low human occupancy having less than 200 m2 (2,150 ft2) of floor area and used to store bulk crops of low combustibility. These buildings may be served by one fire exit.

Travel distance

The NFBCC requires the travel distance to an exit in a farm building of low human occupancy not exceed 20 m (66 ft) in buildings where more than 100 L of liquid fuel is stored, or 45 m (148 ft) in all other farm buildings or the exits are placed around the perimeter of the building and are not more than 60 m (197 ft) apart, measured along the perimeter.

Figure 4.7 and Figure 4.8 show exit locations in a single and two storey farm building.

Illustration of a one storey barn showing the placement and/or spacing of exit locations in the structure

Figure 4.7. The requirements for fire safety in a single storey farm building.


(A) Maximum floor area per fire compartment is 4,800 m2 (51,600 ft2).

(B) 1 hour fire separation if floor area exceeds 4,800 m2 (51,600 ft2).

(C) Vertical fire stops in walls (Figure 3.5).

(D) Horizontal fire stops between walls and attic.

(E) Attic fire stops (Article of the NFBCC 1995).

(F) Exit doors at opposite ends of area.

(G) Additional exits in sidewall, not over 45 m (147 ft, 8 in.) from any point (also used as emergency ventilation if electric power fails.

(H) The maximum vertical dimension of any concealed space in a wall or partition of combustible construction cannot exceed 3 m (10 ft).

(I) The maximum horizontal dimension of any concealed space in a wall or partition of combustible construction cannot exceed 6 m (20 ft).

Illustration of a two storey barn showing the placement and/or spacing of exit locations in the structure.

Figure 4.8. Fire safety and egress requirements for a two storey farm building with an attached furnace room.


(A) Maximum floor area per fire compartment is 2,400 m2 (25,800 ft2).

(B) 1 hour fire separation if floor area of each fire compartment exceeds 2,400 m2 (25,800 ft2).

(C) Vertical fire stops in walls (Figure 3.5).

(D) Horizontal fire stops between storeys and between walls and attic (Figure 3.5).

(E) Attic fire stops (Article of the NFBCC 1995).

(F) Exit doors at opposite ends of floor area; provide ladders from upper storeys.

(G) Additional exits in sidewall, not over 45 m (147 ft, 8 in.) from any point (also used as emergency ventilation and for loading poultry, if applicable).

(H) Attached furnace room with on exit (under 200 m2 or 2,150 ft2 floor area).

(I) Required fire separation of 30 minutes.

(J) Door through fire separation must have a fire-protection rating of at least 20 minutes.

(K) Outside access door eliminates the need for an expensive door.

(L) The maximum vertical dimension of any concealed space in a wall or partition of combustible construction cannot exceed 3 m (10 ft).

(M)The maximum horizontal dimension of any concealed space in a wall or partition of combustible construction cannot exceed 6 m (20 ft).

Exit type

The NFBCC specifies that fire exits in farm buildings consist of an exterior doorway or an opening window or panel that provides an opening measuring not less than 550 mm x 900 mm (21.5 in. x 35 in.).

2nd floor access ladder

The NFBCC requires a permanently installed exterior ladder for all fire exit openings located more than 2.5 m (8.2 ft) above ground level. Figure 4.9 shows a ladder attached to the outside of a two storey poultry building. Ensure ladders/platforms comply with all safety requirements.

Photo of the outside of a red, two storey broiler barn showing a fire exit ladder to allow people to exit second floor in case of a fire. In this case ladder is  located on the left side of exit doors.

Figure 4.9. An example of a fire exit ladder located beside exit doors on a two storey broiler barn.

Fire exit signage

Post permanent signs beside all fire exits in the building/compartment. Rooms connecting into common hallways should post signs in the hallway in front of the doorway, indicating the direction to an exit. If using electrical signs, ensure these signs have a battery backup system to remain lit in the event of a power outage. Figure 4.10 shows a properly marked exit.

Photo of the inside of a swine farrowing room looking down the centre alley to a clearly marked exit door.

Figure 4.10. An exit at the end of this alleyway is clearly identified.

Alternative exits (removable panels/windows)

Clearly mark these panels and test them periodically to ensure they are operational. The panels must open without the use of tools. Attach handles for ease of manipulating the panels. Inform staff using the facility that these are available as emergency exits.

Mechanical/electrical room exit

These rooms should have a direct exit to the outside. When a direct exit to the outside is not possible, consider a pass-through exit (through another room). In these cases, ensure employees determine the fire location before entering the room, in order to get to the exit.


Make every effort to keep exit paths and exit doors clear of obstructions from equipment, machinery, feed and similar items. A daily walk through the building will ensure exits and exit paths are unobstructed.

Low level lighting

Install a battery backup system in hallways and areas where a power outage could cause the area to become dark, to provide a minimum lighting level to allow safe exit.

Door swing/door locks/pins

Mount self locking doors along the vertical axis and ensure they open outwards, as a best management practice. Keep the area outside of the door clear of snow and debris to ensure the door is operational.

Training guide

Best management practices recommend that a farm operator provide training to all employees on the location of fire exits and extinguishers, and where to go in the event of a fire. Instruct employees on procedures for using the extinguishers and contacting the fire department after leaving the building. Post signage with the fire department's phone number, directions to the property and the 911 address at each telephone on the farm property. The caller is only expected to read supplied paperwork because the stress of the situation may cause them to forget critical information.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 21 November 2012
Last Reviewed: 21 November 2012