Fires affect thousands of companies each year resulting in injury, lost customer trust and building damage. By establishing a fire prevention and preparedness program, industries can help avoid injuries to employees and visitors, costly damages and potential fines to business. The development of a “Fire Safety Plan” will help ensure the optimum use of all fire prevention and life safety features installed in a building. The complete plan will reflect all the resources available to the building occupants and identify the basic measures that will aid in an orderly and safe evacuation of all occupants in an emergency. An effective Plan that enhances the life safety of staff and building occupants requires:
- A commitment by building management and staff to the safety of occupants.
- Knowledge of the building and its fire safety protection equipment by supervisory staff.
- A clear understanding by supervisory staff of the fire safety procedures in the plan and how to implement them properly.
- The cooperation and education of building occupants.
The purpose of the fire prevention plan is to prevent a fire from occurring in a workplace. It describes the fuel sources (hazardous or other materials) on site that could initiate or contribute both to the spread of a fire, as well as the building systems, such as fixed fire extinguishing systems and alarm systems, in place to control the ignition or spread of a fire.
Elements of the plan
A Fire Safety Plan should include the following elements:
- The appointment and organization of designated supervisory staff by position, with related duties and responsibilities during an emergency.
- Emergency procedures to be used in case of fire, including: sounding the alarm, notifying the fire department,
- provisions for access for fire fighting, evacuating building occupants, and confining, controlling and extinguishing the fire.
- Instructions for building occupants and staff on fire prevention methods and what to do in case of fire.
- The method of training supervisory staff for fire emergencies.
- The method and frequency of conducting fire drills.
- The control of fire hazards throughout the building.
- Detailed maintenance procedures for fire protection systems and building facilities.
- The identification of alternate fire safety measures in the event of a temporary shutdown of fire protection equipment or systems so that occupant safety can be maximized.
- Floor plans that feature the type, location, and operation of fire protection systems, access for fire fighting, and all exit facilities.
- Detailed instructions for supervisory staff on the use of any emergency equipment, such as the voice communication system, the fire alarm system, smoke control system, or emergency power supply system.
- Procedures for the use of elevators and the evacuation of building occupants requiring special assistance.
- Established procedures for assisting the fire department in accessing the building and locating the fire. For large facilities it is recommended that floor plans showing exit locations be posted on each floor.
- An Accountability System that can account for all building occupants following an evacuation, including notification to the Fire Department of any missing occupants and their last known location.
A copy of the Plan should be provided to those who will be responsible for taking the appropriate actions to maximize the safety of building occupants. A copy of the plan should be made available to the following:
- Fire department
- Facility owner and manager
- Supervisor of administration staff
- Supervisor of maintenance staff
It is also appropriate to have key sections of the plan posted in staff work areas, lunch rooms, and any information bulletin boards provided for the occupants of the building. Additionally, all occupants should be provided with information that includes the specific actions to be taken when they discover a fire, hear the fire alarm, or when they cannot evacuate.
- Persons preparing the Plan should be familiar with the strategy behind a coordinated evacuation.
- In addition, supervisory staff should be familiar with the use of portable fire extinguishers and other equipment that could be utilized in an emergency. An effective Plan will depend upon the knowledge, experience, and commitment of management personnel. Every supervisor should have a clearly defined role and the authority to respond appropriately.
- All new staff should receive training in the Plan before responsibilities can be delegated. Training for all staff members should be organized and conducted at least annually.
Responsibilities during an Emergency
It is essential that every organization have supervisory staff trained to respond to a fire emergency in a prompt, positive, and intelligent manner. It is important that every facility have a nucleus of key supervisory staff prepared, through training, to maximize building occupant safety in the event of an emergency. When the fire alarm activates, supervisory staff with defined duties should carry them out immediately. Supervisory staff, trained to assist in the evacuation of building occupants, should respond to the area of fire alarm origin. When they arrive, circumstances will dictate their appropriate response. Coordinated efforts are necessary to evacuate endangered building occupants from the immediate fire area. Where necessary, efforts should be made to confine and control the fire.
Procedures in an Emergency
The procedures that building occupants and staff should follow in an emergency should be detailed in the Plan. All building occupants and staff should be thoroughly familiar with the procedures and a copy of the procedures should be prominently displayed and maintained on each floor.
Control of Fire Hazards
All staff should receive training in recognizing potential fire hazards that can exist throughout the facility. Therefore, it is recommended that a designated staff member perform a weekly walk-through of the entire facility. The walk-through should include at least the common areas, stairwells, storage and electrical and furnace rooms of the building. The following points should be checked to ensure that potential fire hazards are being controlled:
- Ideally, smoking in the facility should be prohibited. Otherwise, smoking by building occupants should be restricted to designated areas.
- Furnishings, such as furniture, carpets, draperies, and wall decorations, should be made of flame-retardant materials.
- Flammable and combustible liquids should be stored in approved containers in accordance with NFPA 30, Flammable Combustible Liquids Code.
- Flammable liquids or aerosol cans should be properly disposed of.
- Files should be stored in closed steel cabinets and not on open shelving.
- Storage, furnace, maintenance, and electrical rooms should be kept clear of combustible materials.
- Materials or equipment should not be stored in exit stairwells.
- Fire doors should not be wedged open or the self-closing device installed on the door disengaged.
Maintenance of building facilities and fire protection equipment
The building owner/manager should:
- Ensure that the building is in compliance with local building and fire codes.
- Ensure that all fire protection features and equipment, such as fire separations, smoke control equipment, emergency lighting, fire alarm systems, automatic sprinkler systems, standpipe systems, fire extinguishers, fixed extinguishing systems, voice communication systems, elevators, and emergency generators, are tested, inspected, and maintained in accordance with applicable NFPA standards, including:
- -NFPA 10, Standard on Portable Fire Extinguishers
- -NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems
- Emergency power system (including the manual operation of the transfer switches, if applicable) the fire department should be notified by supervisory staff when there is a temporary shutdown of any fire protection equipment or systems in the building, as well as when it has been restored and returned to service. During the shutdown, to ensure that fire safety within the building is maintained, regular fire safety patrols should be conducted. Persons conducting the patrol should be provided with a means of communication to be used in the event of an emergency.
In addition to the training in emergency actions to be taken by building occupants and staff in the event of a fire or emergency, the practicing of fire drills should become an integral part of a facility’s preparedness.
- The purpose of a fire drill is to ensure that the staff and building occupants are familiar with the building’s exits and overall evacuation procedures. Therefore, the owners and managers should be aware of the benefits of holding regularly scheduled fire drills that involve all staff. To maximize the benefits of these fire drills, they should be scheduled and rotated throughout the year in such a way that the personnel on all shifts employed in the facility participate. Although it may be of some inconvenience to building occupants, it is important to have a fire/evacuation drill that involves all of the facility’s building occupants and staff. These scheduled fire/evacuation drills should be held at least biannually, or more frequently as required by local fire prevention codes, and designed so that they provide additional experience for the staff.
- The fire drills can also be used to provide additional training for staff by allowing them to become more familiar with use of the building’s fire safety systems. Various exits should be blocked off during these drills so occupants will be familiar with alternate exits. It is very important that all personnel with specific responsibilities attend a debriefing meeting following every practice fire drill.
Auditing the Plan
An audit of the fire safety systems, equipment, and resources in the facility should include information on the following features:
- Fire alarm systems
- Exit locations
- Fire department access
- Portable fire extinguishers