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Top 5 Tips to Enhance Your School’s Fire Safety

No parent ever wants to hear the words “school fire.” Protecting the young and the innocent must be our top priority. To that end, we have created a list of the top five things you and your school can do to become better prepared for a fire situation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start. To make sure you’re completely prepared, work with your local fire department to make sure your building is up to code, your administration, staff, and faculty have been well trained, and that you run regular drills so that your students can exit the building calmly and most importantly, safely.

School Fires Are Not as Rare as You’d Think

We don’t hear about it very often so you might be surprised to hear, but from 2011-2015, fire departments in the US responded to almost 5,000 structure fires in educational properties every year. That’s 100 in every state every year. That’s almost double the number in all of the commercial office buildings nationwide.  The National Fire Protection Association cites that 69%, or about 3,400 happen in nursery, elementary, middle, or high schools, while 13% happen in adult education or college classrooms, and 11% happen in daycares. Just like office building fires, the largest share, 38%, were caused by the misuse of cooking equipment. Buy sadly, very close behind is the number of fires set intentionally and those fires caused three times as many injuries. Evacusafe wants to see the day when there are no fires, but until then, we’ll be working to help make sure no one get’s hurt, especially our children.

Tip 1 – Clear Plans

The first step in any emergency preparedness is to develop a plan. Your school should have a thorough fire safety plan that starts with prevention measures and runs all the way through the aftermath of a disaster. Hopefully you’ll never get past fire drills, but in an emergency situation, nothing maintains calm, collected responses like a plan. Work with your local fire department to create a detailed map with evacuation routes for everyone in the building, safe gathering spaces outside, and communication policy both internally with other staff and externally with parents. Exits should be clearly marked in all classrooms and hallways and those exits should be kept clear of all obstructions. Review your plan regularly and be sure to address it during teacher in-service days. Every employee should know what their role is, whether it’s guiding children out of the building, communicating with emergency services, notifying parents, or coordinating transportation.

Tip 2 – Staff Training

Whether it’s during the summer, during in-service days, or over school breaks, you must provide detailed instruction and training for your teachers, administrators, and other staff members. In an emergency, they are your leaders and need to know exactly what to do. From taking control of the classroom when the alarm sounds and getting them to the exit, to counting heads outside and coordinating with other employees, there’s no room for adults to panic or be unsure of what to do. Encourage your staff members to regularly review the emergency plan so that they are ready to take a leadership role whether it’s the real thing or just a drill. And for those teachers responsible for children with mobility issues, ensure they have access to, and have been properly trained in the use of emergency evacuation equipment like Evacusafe Evacuation or Transport chairs, which can quickly and easily get a child down stairs they can’t navigate on their own.

Tip 3 – Fire Drills

The best way to prepare for a fire is to practice what you’ll do when a fire actually happens. Fire drills are a critical component to fire safety preparedness and should be conducted as frequently as once per month. We know it takes away from instructional time, but no one is going to look back and complain about missing out on 10 minutes of class if the worst should happen. Take the time you need to invest in safety and conduct a fire drill as often as you can. Practice makes perfect, so if you take the time to practice today, you’ll have a better chance of a successful evacuation tomorrow. And during drills, enforce order and calm even though it’s just a drill. Each student can be a force for good, or a force for chaos. Use these opportunities to teach them restraint under pressure because their actions affect those around them.

Tip 4 – Buddy System

We’ve briefly mentioned it in some of our other tips, but having a strong organization system, including a buddy system, is a great way to handle the stress of an emergency situation. Starting small, break up your classroom into pairs so that each child has a buddy. This isn’t about friends and popularity. It should be the child seated closest to them so that they can grab hands and be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Be sure to communicate clearly to them that holding hands in a fire evacuation is about saving their life. Being afraid of cooties is for recess. This is time for safety. Next, make sure your classroom evacuates in a single file line. If your room has an external door facing a courtyard, it might be tempting to use it rather than go into the hallway, but a courtyard is never a good fire exit in all but the direst circumstances. Students should proceed to the designated exit in a single file line, walking, not running, maintaining visual contact with one another and with you. Once outside, they should continue walking to the designated space and wait together, as a class, in their single file line. Again, this is not recess so it is not a time for socializing. Now is a time to quietly wait for instruction so that they can take the next steps quickly and efficiently.

Tip 5 – Fire Prevention

Each school has a different level of risk. High Schools with chemistry laboratories, home economics rooms, and shop classes have a higher risk than elementary schools where students don’t use chemicals, open flames, ovens, and power equipment. But older schools also have a higher risk than new schools. Remember, 11% of fires in educational buildings happen in daycares. No matter your building’s risk, there are steps you can take to reduce its risk for fire. In science labs, make sure students have limited, controlled interaction with chemicals and burners. Make safety the top priority before setting them lose on their experiments. Clean up spills immediately and store everything in a safe location. Cooking equipment, whether it’s being used by students in a classroom, teachers in the lounge, or staff in the cafeteria should be well maintained and used only after proper instruction. Maintenance staff should also conduct regular checks on all building heating, cooling, and electrical systems and have them serviced by qualified, licensed professionals.