Whilst a fire is a rare event, it’s worth remembering the impact it can cause. Official statistics show that there were 24,100¹ fires in buildings other than dwellings in Great Britain during 2011 – 12 resulting in the death of 25 people and injuring 1,200 people, many of them seriously. And the cost of a serious fire in a commercial building was estimated at over £75,000². It’s worth noting this doesn’t include possible litigation that may arise from any post fire investigations or possible prosecution if you were found not to comply with the law.
How you and your colleagues react in the event of fire depends on how well you have prepared for a fire emergency. Under current fire safety legislation – the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 – it is the responsibility of the person(s) having responsibility for the building to provide a fire safety risk assessment that includes an emergency evacuation plan for all people likely to be in the premises, including disabled people and those with limited mobility.
In addition, The Equality Act 2010 underpins current fire safety legislation by requiring that employers or organisations providing services to the public take responsibility for ensuring that all people, including disabled people, can leave the building they control safely in the event of a fire. Failure to do so may be viewed as discrimination. It may also constitute a failure to comply with the requirements of the fire safety legislation mentioned above.
When preparing an evacuation plan for people with limited mobility, remember that it is preparation for the worst case – the real thing. In these circumstances, it is advisable to take the time to think what is achievable and practical, and not make too many assumptions or set expectations too high.
Some disabled persons will want to take themselves out in a real emergency, but may notwant to do so during a practice drill or a false alarm. Some may prefer to slide or move in some other unconventional way down the stairs, after the main flow of people. For others, the ability to take themselves down and out may not be an option. To facilitate their escape, several evacuation equipment options are available to move a person down stairs and out of the building in the event of an emergency.
An evacuation chair is the most common type. It works by means of ski-like track at the back for sliding down the stairs, using the person’s weight and friction from the rubber track to control the descent.
The alternative solution is an evacuation mattress. They consist of either a semi-ridged base or enclosed foam mattress on which the person lies. Typically secured with quick release safety belts, the device is dragged along the floor and down the stairs. For some people, especially children or the elderly, this can be a less stressful position than in a chair.
There are others with mobility impairment that should be taken into account, including those who are/have:
- a heart condition or disease
- on prescribed medication
- temporarily incapacitated eg by a broken leg or on crutches
- hearing and/or sight impairment
- a cognitive impairment, such as autism or dyspraxia
Staff should be aware of this and be tactful when assisting a person who may seem lost or unsure of what to do during an emergency.
The key to any successful fire or evacuation plan is good communication and practice. Provision of evacuation equipment must be supported by a team of operators who are well trained and familiar with the equipment, and who have a good standard of equality and disability awareness. Evacuation practice should be on a regular basis and should be included in – but not solely restricted to – any fire drills for the building.
Hope for the best and prepare for the worst seems a good starting point for what needs to be done when writing an emergency plan for any organisation.
¹ No. of fires/casualties – Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Fire Statistics Great Britain 2011 to2012’
² Cost of commercial building fire – Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘The economic cost of fire: estimates for 2008 Fire research report 3/2011’