Safe Evacuation of a Building: A Case Study
Jeff Flanagan is an accountant with a major firm in Manchester. He is also one of the fire evacuation officers at his company’s main office. Here he describes the basic principles of safe evacuation of the building.
Praise“I should make clear that I’ve never had to deal with an actual fire situation at our office. But I have been part of several fire simulations. During these I’ve helped to evacuate the building quickly and safely.
“These tests have been so successful they’ve drawn praise from the local fire service. Management has also asked me to speak to staff at our other offices about Fire Safety and safe evacuation.
Legislation“It’s important to know that the law governs the process of building evacuation. The Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (amended 1999) state that there must be provision for the safe evacuation of people if an emergency occurs in a building.
“Other relevant law includes The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. These say we must treat disabled people no less favourably than anyone else. In other words, evacuation procedures must allow for disabled people on the premises.
“As a side note, we must also be prepared for the special needs of any visitors to the building in the event of an emergency.
Procedures“In our building we have a notice on every floor giving details of the evacuation procedures and where to gather outside. Essentially, these procedures say that everyone must exit calmly via the stairs – and not the lifts – when they hear a continuous siren. They must not return to their office if they’re elsewhere in the building but must proceed outside without delay.
“Once people are outside, the procedures say that no one must return to the building until told to do so by an authorised officer such as myself.
“Evacuation tests over the past few years have proven we can empty most people from the building within three minutes. This remains our target time.
My Responsibilities“Apart from giving permission to people to return to the office, I ensure everyone has left the floor I work on. This happens to be the top floor. So when the siren goes I make sure I’m the last to leave the floor. I also check that the toilets on our floor are empty.
Disability“However, we do have a disabled person, Angela, working on the top floor. She’s unable to walk down the stairs but I cannot let her use the lift during an evacuation. When Angela joined the company, the management and I spoke to her about fire evacuation procedures. As a result, we arranged to buy an evacu-chair.
“This chair is mounted on caterpillar tracks. When the siren sounds, I help Angela from her wheelchair into the evacu-chair and fasten a seat belt around her. I then guide the chair down the stairs by holding the handles at the back and using an electric control. The caterpillar tracks adapt to the stairs and help me take Angela to the bottom floor safely and securely.
“There are other people in the building who have limited mobility but who can manage the stairs. The other fire evacuation officers and I use a buddy system to ensure we don’t leave such people behind. Appointed colleagues stay with each person who has limited mobility. They remain by their sides throughout the evacuation and our return to the office.
“All in all, the system seems to work well and we regularly take advice from the local fire service to see if we can do better. There is currently some talk among management about installing a special evacuation lift for our disabled staff. The cost may prove prohibitive, however, and the design of the building may not be suitable.”