winter fire safety horse farm

Winter Fire Safety Checklist for Horse Farms

Winter fire safety on a horse farm is nothing to take lightly.  Have you made sure your horse barn and stables are as protected as possible this year?

Though owners of horse farms should be wary of barn fires year round, winter fire safety is especially important. According to a 2012 report by the National Fire Prevention Association, the majority of barn fires, a whopping 23%, are caused by heating equipment, especially heat lamps.  All horse lovers know we shouldn’t smoke in a barn and take care to pack hay properly but, it’s hard to make sure all the farm hands understand the importance of not using heating equipment to keep warm on a cold winter morning.  

There are some important steps we can take and things we can do to insure our horse barns are as safe from winter fire as possible, however.  One of them is especially simple.  It’s as easy as going through the inside barn and outside barn Fire Prevention Interactive checklists that were put out by Equine Guelph.  It doesn’t take long to do this first task… only about 20 questions and 5 minutes of your time is needed to bring up areas that you may have overlooked in the winter fire safety checklist you have for your horse farm.


Outside the barn checklist 

Inside the barn checklist


Another great resource for winter fire safety is this Equine Guelph video interview of Bob Webb, retired Chief of Fire Prevention in Toronto, Canada.  For those who prefer to read, there is a complete text of the video below.

Direct copy of video interview:


Gayle Ecker of Equine Guelph interviews Bob Webb (retired Chief of Fire Prevention, Toronto Fire Services, and retired Fire Safety Manager, Woodbine Entertainment Group) on Fire Safety for Horse Owners.

Gayle: What makes a barn so high-risk for fire?

Bob: Basically, the highest risk in a barn is when you have the straw, and the hay in combination along with the electrical equipment and any heating appliances, makes it a very high risk for fire.

Gayle: So what would you say are the top reasons for barn fires?

Bob: I think it breaks down into faulty equipment and not looking after the safety within a barn, and keeping an eye on the cleanliness of a barn and the safety and storage of the straw and hay.

Gayle: Ok, so let’s talk a little bit about what the owner can do to prevent fire and reduce that risk.  So let’s look at electrical first – what should I, as a horse owner, be doing in my barn, regarding electrical.  

Bob: Electrical equipment must be CSA or ULC approved. We definitely want to make sure that the electrical equipment is up to code. Move your electrical panel and electrical equipment inspected by an electrician qualified electrician at least once a year and also wherever your panel is located in the bar make sure that it’s not obstructed with any material, straw or hay or brooms, or things like that so that in the event of an emergency, you can get to it quickly and shut-off any of the breakers and that type of thing.

Gayle: And is the type of lighting that I use in my barn an important consideration, just normal light bulbs or should I be doing something else with light bulbs?

Bob: That’s a good point. The more things have changed in the electrical appliances and equipment that is sold today, LED lighting is very good.  It’s not a very hot bulb.  And also what we always recommended at Woodbine and Mohawk is that you enclose the lightbulb fixture, if it was a single lightbulb, enclose it in a glass globe, so that in the event that the bulb does break, then it’s contained in globe unit, the glass globe unit.

Gayle: Because if it breaks then?

Bob: The hot glass would fall down onto the straw or hay or shavings within a barn and it could ignite and cause a fire.

Gayle: Right, and then one of the biggest things, you’ve already mentioned this, that is the hay, the straw, that is a fuel source. We look at it as hay but it’s actually a fuel source so, what should we be doing with that?

Bob: Ideally, if a farmer or an owner of a racing facility – would be to have the straw, hay, and shaving stored in a far separate part of the building, or in a separate building on its own.  But if you can’t do that and if you only have one barn, what they can do is keep it in one end of the barn, in a separate area away from the horses so that you’re not getting the shavings and the straw and hay in, mixed up with the horses, or close to the electrical equipment.

Gayle: Alright, so there are some things we can do without building a new building.

Bob: Correct correct

Gayle: So now let’s talk about exit doors because they should be an important part of your strategy, aren’t they?

Bob: Correct correct

That’s a key point, exit doors and aisles leading to exit doors and corridors are important because that’s the main exiting for the horses to get out, in the event of an emergency, as well as staffing, so it’s a key point to make sure that they’re not blocked, with straw or hay bales or pails or equipment being left near the door, or blocking the door.  Or even in the case of the sulkies, if you have sulkies stored within your door, don’t block the exit or exit door period. And especially with this kind of weather that we’re having right now, to ensure that the snow is kept clear from the door, so that the door can be opened all the way.

Gayle: Now I have had someone tell me that all barns should have an exit door on every stall.  Are there benefits to that, do you think? We have bad weather up here so how much is that giving us, as a horse owner, if I was to build a new barn and put exit doors on each stall?

Bob: I think as far as an exiting from a barn, it’s a great idea.  The only problem is with trying to ensure that every stall has an exit door both inside the stall and outside the stall, it can be expensive as well as now, when you have the doors on the outside of the barn, especially here in Ontario Canada, you’ve got to make sure that the outside is plowed and make sure the doors will open and allow the horses to get out.  But it is a great idea. Ok. It could be more expensive for retrofitting or renovating a barn to add these doors, whereas new construction it could be added to it.  But then you’re getting into the expense of that as well.

Gayle: Now let’s talk a little bit about the law.  What does the law say has to be there?

Bob: Presently, in Ontario, the Ontario building code and the Ontario fire code are silent to requiring owners of those facilities to have or require fire protection equipment or have fire separation inside their barns.  

Gayle: Equine Guelph education programs, we focus on prevention not suppression because we would like to help horse owners prevent that fire from getting started.  But let’s talk about some of the supression systems and other fire protection methods that we could have in a barn.

Bob: That’s a very good question. Basically what we would tried to recommend when I was at Woodbine, was that if you are on a town water supply, sprinklers are the ideal fire protection for any facility, housing, horses, animals, and having straw and hay within it.  If you can’t have a sprinkler system, there are other fire protection and early warning devices, such as smoke detectors, which can provide an early warning to products of combustion. and also heat detection – what we recommended with heat detection is what is called a rate of rise, so other words, if the temperature starts to rise from a basic 70 and it rises to 100, the rate of rise heat detector will pick that up and set off the alarm. They’re a great thing to have within a barn and it provides early warning.  And we also recommend that you interconnect the smoke detectors, have them hardwired electrically and interconnect them back to the farmer’s house or to a watchman’s facility or to a central facility alarm company or to the local fire department. Also we recommend you have portable fire extinguishers within the barn, and we recommend that you have them located  on the outside of the barn, so that in the event the fire is too hot, you will back out of the barn, know where the extinguisher is because it will be located at the exit door of the barn, and grab the extinguisher if it’s safe to do so and approach the fire slowly and try to contain or put the fire out.

Gayle: It’s clear to all of us that fires are an animal welfare concern but fires also cause huge financial loss for people. And then there’s the emotional toll of losing an animal in a fire, and that can last a lifetime for people. Why are we not paying attention to this, as barn owners?

Bob: I think there’s a certain complacency that the agricultural industry over the years has gotten into that they haven’t taken fire safety and prevention, and protection of their animals, as strongly as they should. And the recent fires, such as Woodbine and Mohawk, and now the Puslinch and non-forest has really brought it to the forefront. And when you lose the animals and the livelihood for, not only the owners but also all of the staff and people that work with these animals… it makes the people stop and think, hey we should pay more attention here, we should be looking at fire protection and fire safety, Prevention in our barns and what can we do to make it safer from fire?

Gayle: Can an education program help me learn to reduce that risk?

Bob: We can always learn.  You’re learning everyday, even if you’re retired, like myself. That the average person that are in the barns these days, and especially at racing facilities, they know animals and they know the horsing industry and the racing industry and bringing the horses up to be able to be trained properly but they don’t know fire safety. And the more fire safety and prevention education that can be provided really helps with the day to day operation and how they look after their animals once they’re back on the farm. And ensure the safety of those animals, and themselves, within they’re in that facility.  And in the long run, the expense to the people that own the facility in the event that there is a major fire.

Our team at SaratogaStalls, and many other horse enthusiasts, are very appreciative to Equine Guelph for all of this valuable insight – the interview and interactive checklists. There’s so much you can miss when prepping your horse farm for winter fire safety.  With the help of these important aids, the video and the checklists, you’ll be doing your best to make sure your beloved horses and property is protected.

Do you have other ideas on winter fire safety on horse farms?  We’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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