According to a report by the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to approximately 1,348,500 fires last year. More than 20,000 civilians were killed and about $12.5 billion of property was lost. You may think that you’ve already done your due diligence where fire safety is concerned; but if that begins and ends, like many organizations, with installing smoke alarms and conducting an annual fire drill, there are gaps in your preparedness that you should address.
What are the alternatives?
You may already have your rehearsed evacuation route and set assembly point, but what happens if the fire is blocking your escape route or the assembly point is not safe? Make sure you have alternate routes and a secondary assembly point and that everyone in your company has practiced using them.
Who is in charge?
Ensure there is always someone in the office to lead employees during a crisis event and that everyone knows who that person is. If you have a large company, you should have several fire wardens per floor. Preparis recommends creating Crisis Teams, with a designated Crisis Leader and Crisis Managers, who are trained in preparing and responding to all types of emergencies, not just fires. These Crisis Managers will help you account for all employees and visitors.
Consider those with special needs
Don’t forget employees or visitors with special needs when you formulate your evacuation plan. Does your alarm system have strobes as well as an audible alarm to alert the hearing-impaired? Do all your evacuation routes involve stairs? If stairs are an unavoidable part of your evacuation routes, you may want to consider creating “safe rooms” where individuals who are not able to negotiate stairs can shelter until emergency responders can help them.
Practice makes perfect
Even the simplest tasks can become difficult in a stressful crisis situation (additionally, in a fire, a lack of oxygen to the brain can lead to impaired reasoning). Your Crisis Team members should practice using a fire extinguisher and you should conduct regular fire drills. Don’t let the date and time of the planned drill become known – try to make it as close to a real emergency situation as possible.
For more information about preparing and protecting your organization against a building fire, see this OSHA fact sheet.