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Outdoor Seating Safety Tips for Businesses

Michiganders are known for standing up to cold weather. But, let's face it, sometimes Michigan winters can be pretty harsh. So, as restaurant and bar owners come up with new ways to safely accommodate patrons during the age of COVID-19, the Walker Fire Department wants to make sure fire prevention is still a priority.

Chief Fire Inspector Phil McCormack asks business owners who want to add a canopy, tent, or other temporary structure to its social zone, to please contact the Walker Fire Department at (616) 791-6840 for information about the process. These items must carry proper flame/smoke ratings for this use. The structures should also be provided with an adequate means to resist wind, rain or other similar loads.

As more communities provide patrons with outdoor seating, the Walker Fire Prevention Bureau echoes the Grand Rapids Fire Prevention Division when it comes to safety guidelines. 

· Electric heaters are acceptable in temporary structures but need to meet the required clearances to combustible material. Refer to manufacturers’ guidelines on clearance requirements. Typically, three feet from the front of the heater to any combustible material is the norm. Electrical permits are required if circuits/receptacles are added. Electrical extension cords are permissible provided there is only one appliance being powered by a single cord. Extension cords must be rated for proper use and not run through walls or under doors to supply the device. The WFD recommends infrared-type heaters for use with the public.

· Portable outdoor gas-fired heating appliances are prohibited in the following locations: Inside any occupancy where it is connected to a fuel gas container, as well as  inside tents, canopies and membrane structures unless all four sides are open.

· Portable outdoor gas-fired heaters must also be located at least five feet from buildings. They shall not be located beneath or closer than five feet to combustible overhangs, awnings, sunshades or similar combustible attachments to buildings.

· When it comes to Garden Igloo structures, business operators must provide the necessary documentation to the Fire Prevention Bureau proving the correct flame/smoke rating requirements before approval and use.

· All portable heating devices must be listed by a recognized testing authority – such as Underwriters Laboratory – for use.

· Access to fire hydrants and fire department connections for sprinkler systems shall not be obstructed.

· All exits must have clear access to a public way and shall not be obstructed.

· Any questions regarding the use of tents or temporary shelters should be directed to the Walker Fire Department Fire Prevention Bureau at 616-791-6840.

Please click here for more resources on converting outdoor spaces into temporary seating spaces.