Fire Exit Drills
General Guidelines and Policy:
The purpose of fire exit drills is to ensure the efficient and safe use of the exit facilities available in the case of an emergency. Proper drills ensure orderly exit under control and prevent the panic that has been responsible for much of the loss of life in the major fire disasters of history. Order and control are the primary purposes of the drill. Speed in emptying buildings, while desirable, is not in itself an object, and should be made secondary to the maintenance of proper order and discipline.
Fire exit drills shall be designed and conducted according to the occupancies specified below and in cooperation with the authority having jurisdiction. Responsibility for the planning and conduct of drills shall be assigned by campus risk management and safety to competent persons qualified to exercise leadership. A written record of all drills conducted should be maintained including a critique of the event. This record should be maintained by the campus safety or security coordinator.
- General Guidelines
Drills shall include suitable procedures to make sure that all persons in the building, or all persons subject to the drill, actually participate. If a fire exit drill is considered merely as a routine exercise from which some persons may be excused, there is a grave danger that in an actual fire, the drill will fail in its intended purpose.
All drills should be pre-planned and preannounced. Surprise drills tend to limit productive learning, breed apprehension, and cause passivity to future alarms. Any alarm not preceded by plan or announcement shall be treated as an actual fire condition. Fire exit drills shall be held with sufficient frequency to familiarize all occupants with the drill procedure and to have the conduct of the drill a matter of established routine.
Drills should be carefully planned to simulate actual fire conditions. Not only should they be held at varying times, but different means of exit should be used based upon an assumption that if some given stairway is unavailable by reason of fire or smoke, all the occupants must be led out by some other route. Fire exit drills should be designed to familiarize the occupants with all available means of exits, particularly emergency exits that are not habitually used during the normal occupancy of the building.
- Fire Exit Signs
Adequate posting of fire exit signs is a responsibility which each campus must address. A highly visible graphic design should be conspicuously posted with the following information:
- Evacuation routes
- Identification of "you are here" location
- Location of the pull stations
- Location of portable extinguisher
- The term "fire exit drill" is used to avoid confusion between drills held for the purpose of rapid evacuation of buildings and drills of fire fighting practice that, from a technical viewpoint are correctly designated as "fire drill", although this term is by common usage applied to egress drills in schools, etc.
Fire Exit Drills in Specific Campus Occupancies:
The usefulness of a fire exit drill and the extent to which it can be carried depends upon the character of the occupancy. Drills are most effective in occupancies such as classrooms, where the occupant load of the building is under discipline and subject to habitual control. In buildings where the occupant load is of a changing character and not under discipline such as Student Unions, no regularly organized fire exit drill is possible.
In such cases, the fire exit drills must be limited to the regular employees, who can be thoroughly schooled in the proper procedure and can be trained to properly direct other occupants of the building in case of fire. In occupancies such as hospitals, regular employees can be rehearsed in the proper procedure in case of fire. Such training always is advisable in all occupancies whether or not regular fire exit drills can be held.
The following sections address some of the special fire exit drill details which should be observed for specific occupancy classes.
- Educational Occupancies -- Classrooms, Lecture Halls, Laboratories, Administrative Buildings, Workshops
All educational buildings on campus must hold one fire exit drill per year, preferably during the first four weeks of the semester. Faculty and staff shall work in cooperation with safety personnel in scheduling drills before the semester begins to allow for curriculum planning.
Evacuation instructions are to be conspicuously posted in each classroom, hallway, and stairwell to provide the necessary evacuation information and ensure orderly egress from the building. Signs should also specify that elevators must not be used to exit and should delineate alternative routes.
Classroom faculty and staff should be familiar with the easiest exit to be used in the fire drill and the alternative exits available. Faculty and staff should close (not lock) doors and windows and take responsibility for checking facilities for complete evacuation. All personal belongings within reach should be taken from classrooms by students.
Handicapped students should inform faculty or staff at the start of the semester of any special requirements with respect to locations and procedures that will best facilitate those students' egress from the building in an emergency. In general, wheelchair users should go to the stairwell which is furthest from the fire and wait for help. Fire departments should be notified that stairwells be checked first. Other handicapped persons should be assisted by students faculty or staff.
- Residential Occupancies -- Dormitories, Lodges, Etc.
Residential facilities demonstrate the greatest need for adequate and effective fire exit awareness due to the potential loss of life in what often are high rise structures. Fire exit drills in dormitories must be performed once per year at a minimum. Because of the nature of the occupancy, it is usually the case that additional drills are performed due to false alarms.
A major concern in dormitory fire drills is the resistance of residents to evacuate the building in the event of a drill. This problem may be alleviated by contacting the city attorney to determine what type of citation may be applied (i.e., disorderly conduct). Citations may then be issued during the fire drill by the fire department or other official to achieve cooperation. Resident assistants and other employees must take responsibility for the complete and orderly evacuation of the building. Education and awareness are key components to an effective fire evacuation program. Directional signs in hallways and in each dorm room will help student to become more fully aware of their options.
Special consideration must be given to handicapped students with regard to fire safety in dormitories. To be most effective, handicapped students should be required to evacuate the building during a fire exit drill regardless of their location in the building. Preplanning is key for the handicapped person because his/her own familiarity with the buildings, exits, and the safest methods of egress is vital. First responders should preplan by having designated individuals assigned to evacuate handicapped persons requiring assistance. The handicapped person should also seek out buddies to assist in the evacuation and should explain all instructions beforehand. No-one should be left behind during a fire exit drill or fire condition.
To facilitate evacuation, handicapped persons should be assigned to rooms on ground or egress level whenever possible. Rooms should be identified on the outside of the building with a distinctly coded sign to advise the fire department without distinguishing the student. If evacuation of a handicapped person is not possible, he/she should return to the room, close the door or proceed to the nearest stairwell if possible and wait for the fire department rescue. For this reason, each dorm should have a list of all handicapped students and their room location on file with the fire department.
On each floor of the facility, the resident staff should proceed down the hall knocking loudly on each door as he/she passes. Staff should not unlock each door as this is time-consuming and may result in danger to the staff person.
- Assembly Occupancies -- Theaters, Auditoriums, Lecture Halls, Arenas, Student Unions
Because actual fire drills are not practical for places of noncontinuous assembly where the students or public body changes with each program, employees or attendants of such places should be schooled in the duties they are to perform in case of fire in order to be of greatest service in effecting orderly exit of assemblages.
An adequate number of competent attendants must be on duty when assembly occupancy is used. Attendants should be instructed in the proper use of portable fire extinguishers and other manual fire suppression equipment if provided.
An audible announcement may be made prior to the start of each program to notify occupants of the location of the exits to be used in the case of emergency. Signs with directions for speedy and orderly egress should be posted at aisle ends and at all entrances and exits.
- Health Care Occupancies
The administration of every health care facility shall be responsible for the development of a written plan for the protection of all persons in the event of a fire. A qualified person shall be appointed as the fire exit drill coordinator (safety director, security director, disaster committee member, etc.) and will conduct fire drills at least once per quarter on all three shifts including weekends.
Fire exit drills are to be pre-planned and pre-announced over the P.A. System, (e.g., "Attention please - a fire drill will be conducted at this time. All personnel return to your departments.") Patients should be advised by unit staff. Advanced planning will test the efficiency, knowledge, and response of personnel without disturbing patients.
Fire drills should be instructional in nature and include the following:
- Describing the hypothetical situation
- Sounding the alarm
- Removing personnel and patients from danger
- Confining the fire (close doors)
- Turn on all lights
- Extinguishing techniques (blankets, extinguisher, hose)
- Ventilating according to need (engineered smoke system)
Staff members should be assigned to evaluate the response to the drill in other areas of the hospital; for example:
- Person assigned to meet and escort fire department to fire area
- Sprinkler control valve person to locate appropriate valves and standby for instruction
- Fire pump observer to station
- Auxiliary generator observer to station
A written record of any drill conducted should be maintained by the fire drill coordinator including a critique of the event and recommendations to correct any deficiencies noted.
- Day-Care Occupancies
In order to meet the requirements for certification, an approved fire evacuation plan shall be executed not less than once per month in campus day-care centers pending severe weather. Fire safety should be included in the curriculum of the day-care center taught by knowledgeable staff to ensure preparedness by children and staff.
Large uncomplicated signs should be strategically place and explained to children prior to a fire exit drill to help educate them in orderly egress. A fire exit drill coordinator shall be assigned to coordinate the fire drill efforts and to maintain written records of the drills and critiques thereof.
Staff shall be instructed to check each room for children and shall have responsibility for a specific group of children during a fire drill. Upon exiting a room, doors and windows should be closed but not locked. Roll call will be taken immediately after exiting building to ensure that all children have evacuated and are present. Area fire authorities should be consulted to confirm that fire exit drills are being executed in the safest and most efficient manner for a specific building.
- Administrative Occupancies
Due to the stable nature of administrative buildings, fire exit drills should be held annually following the guidelines set forth in the section on educational occupancies above. Special consideration must be given to handicapped employees and non-employee guests in the building. Awareness by the occupying staff of the needs of these people will help to facilitate easy egress.
- Educational Occupancies -- Classrooms, Lecture Halls, Laboratories, Administrative Buildings, Workshops
UW System Administration, Office of Safety and Loss Prevention
Risk Management Manual