This article outlines the key steps required in building a fire and life safety program. These steps are applicable to any organization, no matter what stage they are at in the program building process.

Due to past fire incidents and current NFPA regulations, most organizations and universities have some level of fire safety in place. However, many of these institutions have little to no program set up for the maintenance and oversight of their fire safety equipment, procedures, and personnel.

For employees put in charge of building a program, it can feel like a daunting task knowing where to begin and what to include in a fire and life safety program. Even those who have experience building a fire safety program may feel overwhelmed at taking on this task at a new company.

This article seeks to outline key steps in building a fire and life safety program that can be applicable to any organization, no matter what stage they are at in the program-building process. Regardless of the starting point (building from the ground up or somewhere else along the way), these straightforward checkpoints and tips can serve as a guide towards a more organized and efficient company that is safeguarded by an effective fire and life safety program.

Steps for Building a Fire and Life Safety Program

Below are 5 steps that can be followed to develop and implement a strong fire and life safety program. While these steps have been oversimplified for ease of explanation, each step can be broken down into multiple smaller steps during its application.

In order to keep this general and applicable, we refrain from getting too specific about the exact pattern to follow. Instead, the generality of these 5 steps allows for them to be adjusted to fit any organization’s current standing and future goals. 

Our hope is that each step is specific enough to provide guidance and serve as a kickoff point, while also remaining broad enough to be useful for individuals from all industries and professions. 

NOTE: Sometimes, depending on the situation and circumstances, it can be valuable to bring in a consultant, particularly for organizations that have very little experience with or knowledge about fire safety. Do what you can yourself, but don’t be shy about bringing in a trained professional to survey the project and give an informed opinion. These steps are designed to make building a fire and life safety program achievable, but outsider support may be what’s most time or cost-effective.

STEP 1: Assess the Current Situation

Before doing anything else, conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. A risk assessment is a form of evaluation that examines your work environment and the things within it that could potentially cause harm to people or property. Risk assessments can be thought of as similar to a doctor’s checkup. Their purpose is to ensure that things are functioning properly, that precautions are being taken, and that there’s a resolution plan for anything that isn’t currently operating as it should. 

Risk assessments are useful in evaluating: 

  • Who/what might be harmed 
  • Current measures in place to reduce/remove risk 
  • Further actions that are needed in order to control the risks 
  • Who is responsible for carrying out the actions 
  • When the action needs to be completed by 

Many organizations already have a risk assessment template. In fact, there may be one available to you that is already tailored to your organization. However, if that is not the case, there are plenty of free templates online. 

Choose a risk assessment template to use and then begin the actual evaluation. In order to conduct a thorough risk assessment, take inventory of machinery, systems and equipment, identify potential hazards, evaluate fire risks, and consider special circumstances. 

At this stage of the fire and life safety program, simply note the risk factor associated with each system or piece of equipment. Wait to conduct in-depth inspections until later in the procedures.

  • Identify potential fire hazards: Assess all areas of the premises, including buildings, facilities, and outdoor spaces, to identify potential fire hazards such as electrical equipment, heating systems, cooking facilities, chemical storage areas, and combustible materials. 
  • Evaluate fire risks: Determine the likelihood and potential consequences of fire incidents based on the identified hazards, occupancy levels, building layout, and environmental factors.
  • Consider special circumstances: Take into account any special considerations such as the presence of vulnerable populations, historical buildings, or unique hazards specific to your organization or university.

While conducting the risk assessment, make a record of the items above. These notes will assist in the next step, determining your priorities.

STEP 2: Determine Your Priorities

After completing a risk assessment, it is now time to take that information and define the objectives of your fire and life safety program.

Potential objectives include reducing the risk of fire incidents, minimizing property damage, ensuring the safety of occupants, and complying with legal and regulatory requirements. Once the objectives of your efforts are outlined, goals can be set that match those objectives. This way, goals can be used as targets to track the progress and effectiveness of your fire and life safety program.

We recommend using the SMART method to develop goals that are thoughtful and manageable. Set goals that are

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Here is an example of a fire and life safety program goal that is SMART:

“I will complete a thorough NFPA-level inspection and test on the “insert building name” fire sprinkler system by the end of next week.”

Other goals might also revolve around reducing the number of fire incidents, improving evacuation times, enhancing fire safety training outcomes, etc. While it is important to commit to goals, it is also important to adjust them as needed. In the next step we will look at factors such as budget and personnel that may impact goals. If the case arises where it makes sense to adjust goals to better fit the situation, change them!

STEP 3: Make A Plan

With the information from the risk assessment about areas that are needing attention and some main objectives/goals in place, now you can move forward with creating an in-depth plan for what your fire and life safety program will look like and how to implement it.

The details of your program will largely depend on your industry, personnel, budget, and other factors. However, these 4 sections give an overview of key aspects of a fire and life safety program to consider.

Allocate Sufficient Resources

First, understand what you have to work with. For smaller organizations, you might have to work your way up to a larger team or greater funding. No matter how you are starting off, it is important to plan the allocation of resources methodically and intentionally.

  • Budget allocation: Allocate sufficient financial resources to support the implementation and maintenance of your fire and life safety program, including training programs, equipment purchases, inspections, and maintenance.
  • Personnel and training: Assign dedicated personnel or teams responsible for overseeing fire and life safety initiatives and ensure they receive adequate training and support to fulfill their roles effectively.
  • Equipment and technology: Invest in state-of-the-art fire detection and suppression systems, emergency communication tools, personal protective equipment, and other resources to enhance your organization’s fire safety capabilities.

Develop Written Policies and Procedures

Even if the fire and life safety program only consists of one person, you, it is still important to have written procedures. In the event that your program grows, is passed on to another individual or is to be reviewed by a superior, it is necessary to have a written system.

  • Write comprehensive policies: Develop written policies and procedures covering all aspects of fire prevention, emergency response, evacuation, and recovery. Ensure that these documents are comprehensive, clear, concise, and accessible to all personnel.
  • Address regulatory requirements: Align your policies and procedures with applicable fire safety regulations, building codes, and industry standards to ensure compliance and minimize legal liabilities.
  • Include emergency contacts: Provide contact information for emergency services, key personnel, and external stakeholders in your written policies and procedures for quick reference during emergencies.

Establish a Chain of Command

An essential aspect of successful fire and life safety programs is good communication. Establishing a clear chain of command ensures that workers know who to update when responsibilities are completed, issues arise, or they have questions. The better your communication, the smoother the process!

  • Define roles and responsibilities: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of key personnel, including fire wardens, emergency response teams, facility managers, and safety officers, within your organization’s chain of command.
  • Designate authority levels: Establish clear lines of authority and decision-making processes to facilitate effective communication, coordination, and response during fire emergencies.
  • Provide training and support: Ensure that personnel assigned roles and responsibilities within the fire and life safety program receive comprehensive training, ongoing support, and opportunities for skill development to fulfill their duties effectively.

Implement Training and Education Programs

Whether you are a team of one or a team of many, it is important for those involved in the fire and life safety program to be trained on equipment, how to perform inspections, and current NFPA regulations. Though this can be a timely investment, it will help personnel feel confident and capable, while also saving time. (Do it right the first time and you don’t have to do it again!)

  • Develop tailored training programs: Design and implement comprehensive training and education programs tailored to the specific needs and roles of different stakeholders within your organization or university, including employees, students, faculty, visitors, and contractors.
  • Conduct regular drills and exercises: Schedule and conduct regular fire drills, evacuation drills, tabletop exercises, and simulations to familiarize personnel with emergency procedures, test response capabilities, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Provide ongoing education: Offer ongoing fire safety education and awareness campaigns through workshops, seminars, online resources, and informational materials to reinforce good practices and promote a culture of safety within your organization or university community.

KEY STEP: Use these ideas to come up with a list of action items. Some of these action items will be goals and others will be steps towards achieving your goals. Remember, any action items should support the priorities and objectives you established in step 2.

Planning out each of these 4 elements will encourage organization within your fire and life safety program. By planning for how to use your resources and giving employees tools for success (i.e. training, specified protocol, and a chain of command), the transition into a more complete fire and life safety program will be much more smooth!

STEP 4: Put the Plan Into Action

Now that you and your staff are on the same page about resources, procedures, and the next steps, you can dive into setting that plan into motion. 

In setting up your plan, you may have decided on action items such as 

  • Purchasing updated equipment 
  • Repairing/replacing equipment and systems that are out of order 
  • Hiring new employees and training them
  • Investing in a training program or fire safety software to streamline the process 

And so many other possibilities! 

Now is the time to go and do! Use the same risk assessment from before and make any necessary changes to reduce risks. This may require doing inspections first and then deciding which areas to focus on first.

Recommendation from a Professional:

One of our safety professionals, Terry, advises that organizations start with 2 main priorities:

1. Test systems that haven’t been tested since they were put in.
2. Test systems that were put in and don’t work.

Terry has decades of experience in fire and life safety programs and has even performed extensive volunteer work at colleges and universities helping them develop fire safety strategies. In an interview we asked Terry what to prioritize and he shared this:

“Whether it was a fire alarm system, or a sprinkler system, or a system that had not been tested since the day it was put in, those were my red flags. Fire extinguishers take human interface, but fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems are the guardsmen standing there 24/7 taking care of you. So that was always where I put my emphasis. You have to start by testing these systems.”

As you perform inspections and repairs, here are a few things to focus on:

  • Assess system requirements: Evaluate the fire detection and suppression system requirements based on the size, layout, occupancy, and specific hazards of your premises. Consider factors such as building codes, regulatory requirements, and industry best practices.
  • Select appropriate systems: Choose suitable fire detection and suppression systems, including smoke alarms, heat detectors, sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and emergency lighting, based on the identified risks and performance criteria.
  • Ensure proper installation and maintenance: Ensure that fire detection and suppression systems are installed, inspected, tested, and maintained by qualified professionals according to manufacturer specifications, regulatory standards, and industry guidelines.

While putting your plan into action, there is something you must remember: DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT! Documentation of inspections and maintenance can be a tedious process; however, it is incredibly necessary to the vitality of your fire and life safety program. Without proper documentation of the most recent maintenance work, it can be impossible for others on your team or individuals in the future to know what work needs to be done. In order to simplify and speed up the documentation process, we recommend using fire safety software. Modern technology can aid you in building a fire and life safety program that will last and be supported by others. 

STEP 5: Reevaluate and Adjust Accordingly

Just as the fire equipment and systems being serviced need maintenance and repairs, so do our fire and life safety programs! 

We live in an ever changing world. Part of building a resilient, successful fire and life safety program is being willing to regularly review and update the program. This doesn’t mean that there need to be constant changes. Instead, it means that you and your team should be continuously looking for ways to improve and create a safer work environment. But how? Here are some suggestions for how to evolve your program over time and perform at a higher level: 

  • Conduct periodic assessments: Schedule regular reviews, audits, and assessments of your organization’s fire and life safety program to evaluate its effectiveness, identify areas for improvement, and address emerging risks or changing circumstances. Updating your program annually is a good rule of thumb. 
  • Incorporate lessons learned: Learn from past incidents, near misses, and feedback from stakeholders to identify opportunities for improvement and implement corrective actions to prevent recurrence.
  • Stay informed and adapt: Stay abreast of advancements in fire safety technology, changes in regulations, and emerging best practices in fire prevention and emergency management to ensure that your organization’s fire and life safety program remains current, relevant, and effective.

By making adjustments, even small ones, to your fire and life safety program, you are demonstrating that safety is a priority now and in the future.

Key Tips for Building a Fire and Life Safety Program

  • Be Determined – Growth from setting up a program is a good kind of hurt. After all, building a fire and life safety program is no simple task. It will require trial and error and comes with a learning curve. However, it is also a valuable opportunity to develop skills. Stick with it, learn what you can, and do your best.  
  • Just Get Started – Procrastination is the enemy of progress. The longer you put off starting this process, the longer you are putting yourself and others in unnecessary danger. Thankfully, there’s good news. You are already reading this article, so you’ve taken a step in the right direction!  
  • Start With the most Precious Places – When you get to step 3 and are planning out where to start, consider the places that have the greatest risk of harming people. For example, a college would likely start by assessing the fire safety in their college dorms, next focus on buildings with hazardous materials, and then move to more general areas. 
  • Promote Fire Prevention Awareness – Promote fire prevention awareness among all stakeholders through educational campaigns, workshops, and informational materials. Encourage proactive measures such as proper storage of flammable materials, safe use of electrical equipment, and smoking cessation programs.The better informed you and your staff are about fire safety, the easier it will be to find practices that work for your organization. 
  • Establish Partnerships and Collaboration –  As mentioned earlier, it can be beneficial to call on the expertise of others. Do this by collaborating with local fire departments, emergency responders, and regulatory agencies to enhance your fire and life safety program. Seek their expertise and support in conducting fire safety inspections, training exercises, and community outreach initiatives.


By following these detailed steps and committing to a proactive approach, organizations and universities can build and maintain a comprehensive fire and life safety program that effectively mitigates risks, protects lives, and ensures the safety and well-being of all individuals within their premises. Remember, fire safety is a continuous process that requires ongoing commitment, vigilance, and collaboration from all stakeholders.

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