Most staff members in charge of fire safety have other jobs too. Only the biggest buildings have designated safety officers or directors. It usually falls to the Office Manager to handle safety planning. And as we all know, there are pressing daily tasks, vendors to be paid, supplies to be managed. It’s not surprising that planning for something that might never happen is hard to prioritize. Fire is no joke though. It needs to be a priority. Because if that day ever does come, money and supply closets aren’t at stake. Lives are at stake.
Office Fires are Very Common
According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are 3,340 fires in office properties every year. They actually happen quite a lot. That’s almost 10 fires every day somewhere in America. And when a fire does happen, it’s no longer just a drill. Everyone has to get out quickly and safely. You might think that fires are really just limited to industrial facilities where dangerous work takes place, but the most common cause of fire is actually cooking equipment. Burned toast. Forgotten hot plates. Overcooked Lean Cuisine. These little mistakes lead to big problems, but it doesn’t need to lead to loss of life.
Creating an Evacuation Plan
The first step to addressing the risk of fire is creating a plan. In an emergency there isn’t much time to stop and think. The time to think is now. Later you’ll run drills based on your plan, but first you need to make it. Some key things to include in the plan are:
- Leadership: Who is in charge during an emergency. It’s ok if it’s you. In fact, if you’re the one developing the plan, it probably should be you. You’ll be the one who knows what to do more than anyone else and as we’ve mentioned, the less time spent figuring out what to do during an emergency, the more time everyone will have to escape safely.
- Exit Plan: Emergency exits should already be clearly marked, but which one to use? Have a map of where each area of the office should go. Just like on an airplane the nearest exit may be behind people and they’ve never noticed or considered it. By creating a plan and reviewing it with everyone, they can react more quickly and get out faster. Remember that elevators should be avoided because they frequently fail during an office emergency.
- Meet Up Point: Once out of the building, you’ll want to do a headcount to make sure everyone is out. It should be somewhere that is easily accessible, in a central position compared to the exits, and out of the way of the fire department. There will be marked “Fire Lanes” in the driveway, so avoid those areas. You might also try to find somewhere that’s typically upwind of the building; probably to the west. That way you don’t have smoke blowing in your eyes.
- Worst Case Scenario: If for some reason people are trapped and cannot escape, they should gather in a pre-designated space where they can seal off the door and vents to limit smoke. It should be a room with access to water so that they can use wet rags to stuff under the door. Make sure that the fire department checks this space when they arrive to give your staff the best chance of evacuation.
How To React To A Fire
The first few moments in an emergency are crucial. The more you can execute the routine in auto-pilot the better. As soon as you are alerted to a fire, whether you see it or someone else does, be prepared to do the following:
- Pull the nearest Fire Alarm: Your fire alarm will trigger things like sprinklers and, well, an alarm. These two things together will do more to lower the risk of injury and loss of life than anything else. People will be alerted to the danger and initial attempts to limit or eliminate the fire will begin. But don’t stop there.
- Call the Fire Department: Before you do anything else, call your local fire department. Call 911 and be prepared to describe the situation and your location. Your fire alarm is likely connected to a system that will automatically alert the fire department, but you should also call them yourself. You don’t want to risk something happening on the day the automated system failed. When you share your location, make sure to include the nearest major cross streets. It’s a lot easier for the response team to head in the right direction first and get the exact street address on their way rather than try to figure out where your street is before even getting started.
- Contact any Assistants: If you work in a large office, you will likely have assistants who check various floors or work areas to ensure people have left. You can’t do it all by yourself. Have a pre-planned meeting place with your assistants so you can begin the all-clear checks.
- Help the Disabled: Since people in a multi-level building will be taking the stairs, those with mobility issues will need help. There are devices specifically designed to help these folks exit the building with everyone else so that the fire department can focus on containing and eliminating the fire rather than personnel rescue. The Excel Chair made by Evacusafe can be easily stored near stair wells used in an emergency and is easy to use. Simply unfold the chair, transition the person from their wheelchair, electric chair, or crutches, and use the gliding tracks to slide them down the stairs quickly and easily. Whether they are elderly, overweight, pregnant, injured, or deal with other mobility issues, Evacuation Chairs can help get everyone out safely.
Exiting the Building Intentionally
Office employees shouldn’t just run for the doors. With proper training and regular drills, they should know how to leave the building calmly and intentionally, doing their part to help others and mitigate the risk of further damage or injury. Employees should:
- Leave Immediately: I know they worked hard on their presentation and forgot to hit save, but now is not the time. No finishing emails. No saving files to the server. No clearing browser histories. Now is the time to stand up and begin exiting the building.
- Leave Bulky Items: No laptops, no big bags or boxes. If they can safely grab their phone, keys, and coat, they may do so, but only if it will not hinder their progress out of the building or cause an unnecessarily long delay. They are more important than their things.
- Close Doors: Employees should close office doors behind them. Once areas are clear, you or your safety assistants should close doors between work areas and conference rooms. The more you can do the limit air flow, the less fuel the fire will have and the less smoke can move through the building.
While this is not an exhaustive list of ways to prepare for a fire in your office, it is a good start. Work with your local fire department to create a safe, effective evacuation plan.