On February 23, 1991, a legendary fire occurred in Philadelphia at One Meridian Plaza.1 The fire raged for more than 19 hours, cost the lives of three firefighters and an estimated $100 million in direct property loss. A contributing factor to this disaster was incorrect settings on the pressure reducing valves on the standpipes. The firefighters were unable to get the water pressure they needed for the hose lines to operate effectively. If the pressure reducing valves had been inspected and maintained to verify the proper settings, the loss may not have been as great. Regular inspections and maintenance are vital to the effectiveness of life safety systems.


Marriott International Inc. has long realized the importance of regular inspections and maintenance. The ultimate goal is to protect their guests, associates and facilities. A large investment is made on active and passive fire protection systems during construction and it is logical to protect that investment for the life of the building.

 

Marriott's staff is fully involved in the design and construction of new hotels, and their design standards incorporate requirements to facilitate proper testing. They have learned that if system components are not easily accessible or not configured for convenient testing, the likelihood of testing or inspecting as required is greatly reduced. Marriott also realizes that its responsibility does not end when the first guest enters a hotel.

 

"DON'T EXPECT WHAT YOU DON'T INSPECT"

This phrase was a belief of J. Willard Marriott, the founder of Marriott International. He wanted to be on the ground checking quality and talking to associates. That business philosophy is reflected in the company's commitment to fire protection.

 

In 1991, Marriott began a program using two of its associates to provide annual fire protection inspections and staff training at Courtyard by Marriott hotels around the U.S. Marriott was fortunate to have the ability to launch the inspection program from their corporate fire protection department. The objective was to provide inspections that would meet applicable fire code and fire protection standards and add value by performing a comprehensive check of the hotel and by providing training to facility staff. In addition, providing corporate inspections contributes to consistency, uniform reporting and assurance of inspector competency- objectives that could not be achieved using multiple vendors. Today, the inspection program has expanded to all of Marriott's 17 brands, nearly 1,000 hotels annually with a staff of 20 inspectors.


One key to the success of the Marriott inspection program has been hiring the right people to do the job. Prior to joining Marriott, each inspector has had a successful career in the fire service.

 

The broad experience they gained at all levels of fire department operations, code enforcement and management proves invaluable. They have seen first-hand the systematic failures that lead to disaster and can apply those lessons to Marriott facilities on a daily basis. In addition, all Marriott inspectors are NFPA-certified as a Fire Inspector I and II and each goes through extensive in-house training prior to performing inspections. The inspectors are also supported by a staff of fire protection engineers, mechanical engineers, certified fire protection specialists and administrative associates.

 

Another strength of the program is the corporate environment that promotes cooperation between departments within Marriott International including global safety and security, engineering and facilities management, operations and quality assurance. The departments work together toward the common goal of safety and security. For example, if a fire door is damaged and does not close properly, each of these groups is responsible for identifying it. This provides a redundancy and an added layer of protection. Ultimately, the general manager and the building engineer are responsible for providing maintenance and repairs. Part of their annual performance review is tied to how well this is done.

 

The engineer is responsible for maintaining 30 to 200 pieces of equipment, some of these specific to fire protection and safety and each with different tasks at varying frequencies. Marriott's engineering and facilities management department has a program in place to trigger work orders for the hotel building engineer when maintenance is due. This system has proven effective to ensure maintenance is performed on schedule, for planning of equipment replacement and to ensure regulatory requirements are met. The equipment and maintenance records are checked by above-property engineering and facilities management representatives, as well as by regular quality assurance audits.

 

LESSONS LEARNED

Marriott has experienced some significant losses in recent years. In the World Trade Center attacks of 1993 and 2001 as well as bombings at the JW Marriott and the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta last year, exiting capacity was reduced by up to 50%. Marriott was also affected by hurricane Katrina in 2005 - many hotels suffered extensive damage, and despite operating on emergency generators with minimal resources, some hotels in the Marriott system were used as safe havens until everyone could be evacuated. Each of these cases reinforced Marriott's understanding of the importance of fire protection systems functioning optimally at all times because when crisis strikes one or more systems is likely to be impaired.

 

THE MARRIOTT INSPECTION

The Marriott inspection includes annual testing of the fire alarm system and wet-pipe sprinkler system in addition to a check of weekly, monthly and quarterly inspection and testing records. Testing of the dry, pre-action or anti-freeze sprinkler systems, fire pump, kitchen hood suppression systems, backflow preventors and fire extinguishers are performed by other contractors and their documentation is reviewed by the Marriott inspectors.

 

The inspection performed by Marriott is not limited to the required testing and inspections of the building systems. Through on-site training, the facility staff understands the importance of the systems within the buildings they operate. At the conclusion of the inspection, the associates should be familiar with the following:

  • Where the sprinkler control valves are located and how to isolate a sprinkler zone. In case of sprinkler activation, this will reduce water damage and prevent closure of the main sprinkler supply valve.
  • How building systems will operate when an alarm is activated. For example, will a guest room smoke detector send a signal to the fire alarm control panel?
  • The importance of passive fire protection systems: smoke and heat can travel through openings in drywall, ceiling tiles out of place, fire doors propped open and laundry chute access doors that no longer close and latch.
  • How to store items properly, including flammable liquids and gases and all other items that can be hazardous if not stored properly.
  • What inspections are required and at what frequency. They are also instructed on how to conduct these inspections - for example, running the fire pump on a weekly basis and performing quarterly sprinkler waterflow and tamper testing. Marriott encourages staff to conduct these tests and inspections themselves rather than hire a company to do them; so they develop an in-depth familiarity with the systems and understand them in detail.

The above items would not be covered by contracting an annual fire alarm or sprinkler inspection with a vendor.

 

At the conclusion of the inspection, the Marriott inspector reviews any deficiencies found with the general manager and the building engineer of the hotel. A detailed inspection report is completed by the Marriott inspectors using a database that is interactive with the hotel management team. They are able to access the report as well as update action plans and deficiency correction dates. This feedback is monitored by Marriott to ensure that deficiencies are addressed and needed maintenance is performed.

 

Marriott is able to use the data gathered through the inspections to their advantage. They are able to identify problem areas in the hotels and what particular issues need more emphasis during the inspection or training. Marriott also uses the information to assist in the development of operating policies as well as design standards. For example, inspection results have indicated that fire alarm systems become difficult to maintain and keep in proper operating condition after 15 or 20 years in use. They work with the building owners to anticipate and plan for the cost of replacing and updating a fire alarm system. They also work with fire alarm manufacturers to promote improvements to their product lines.

 

CHALLENGES

Marriott has experienced some challenges in conducting its own inspections. One of those has been with local and state jurisdictions. Many jurisdictions have adopted regulations requiring various licenses or certifications for inspectors. The goal is to guarantee a certain level of competency among inspectors. However, Marriott has found through working with contractors that despite the licenses, the quality of inspector can vary greatly.

 

These regulations make it difficult for companies like Marriott to conduct inspections because it would be nearly impossible for them to hold individual licenses in a multitude of jurisdictions. In those areas, they work with a licensed or certified local company to assist in or conduct the inspection and to provide the necessary tags or certificates. This adds cost to Marriott hotels as well as to all buildings in those jurisdictions. Marriott would like to see jurisdictions focus on enforcing the adopted codes and standards rather than on licenses and permits that require companies to charge more for inspections and increase the administrative burden for the jurisdiction, the inspection companies, and the building owners and operators.

 

Another challenge Marriott faces is UL's Alarm System Certification. Where jurisdictions have adopted a regulation requiring alarm systems to hold a UL certificate, there is a large burden placed on the building owner. This certificate involves much more than simply using a fire alarm panel or equipment that bears the UL mark. The certificate is actually held by a fire alarm company - a company that certifies that the equipment is listed for the application; that the design and installation is in accordance with codes and standards; that trained alarm technicians installed the system; that a service contract is in place and that repair service is done by trained alarm technicians.

 

While the concept of these things is good, in reality the building owner is put in a difficult position. They are not able to negotiate services or prices because if they fail to comply with the demands of the alarm company, the company will cancel the UL certificate, which they are then required to report to the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Although UL believes it is possible to have competition among companies, it is difficult to find a fire alarm company that is willing to pick up a UL certificate from another company, because they then have to accept responsibility for the design and installation of a fire alarm system that they themselves did not design or install regardless of the fact that it was originally reviewed and accepted by the AHJ prior to occupancy of the building. Although the UL Certificate does provide some peace of mind for the AHJ, the cost to the building owner is excessive and unnecessary.

 

MOVING FORWARD

Marriott finds that owners are generally underrepresented in the code-making process. Owners and users of the code, including Marriott, should make an effort to become more involved and have more of a voice.

 

In addition, Marriott feels the AHJ plays a crucial role in ensuring that regular testing and inspections are performed. Marriott would like to see the AHJ in the building, participating in inspections rather than emphasizing local licensure of inspectors. Although this is a challenge for local officials, many do an excellent job and the building owners and occupants benefit from their participation. Marriott also encourages local and state officials to consider more deeply the impact to building owners and operators when drafting and adopting new regulations.

 

Marriott recognizes that it is not only the building owners' responsibility to maintain their buildings and fire protection systems, but it is also in their best interest. Hospitality extends beyond decor, cleanliness and excellent service. The guest must also feel safe and be protected. If all of the pieces are in place, customers will return again and again. The top tiers of management within Marriott International Inc. have a corporate commitment to life safety. This makes the Marriott inspection program possible.

 

Stacy Welch is with Marriott International Inc.

 

Reference:

  1. Routley, G., Jennings, C. & Chubb, M. "High-rise Office Building Fire, One Meridian Plaza, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania," United States Fire Administration (undated).