Planning an effective response to an outbreak of fire in a building and the orderly evacuation of people from it without injury or distress requires careful consideration and attention by management, particularly in complex buildings and when disabled or vulnerable people are likely to be present.
Section 18(2) of The Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003 places a duty of care on owners/occupiers of premises to take all reasonable measures to guard against the outbreak of fire and to prepare and provide appropriate fire safety procedures for ensuring the safety of persons in the premises and around the premises if a fire does occur. A similar duty of care is placed on employers in workplaces by Sections 8 and 11 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005.
As both of the above Acts place the statutory responsibility for evacuation on the management of premises and not on the fire service, it is essential to prepare and provide an appropriate fire emergency evacuation plan for the premises that does not rely on the intervention of the fire service to make it work.
Treaty can prepare and provide fire emergency and evacuation plans that are appropriate to your premises, including the following:
- Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan (FEEP)
- Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs)
- Test Evacuation Plan
FIRE EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLAN (FEEP)
A fire emergency plan details the arrangements for ensuring that all people in a premises know what actions to take if a fire occurs and for ensuring that they can escape from the premises to a place of ultimate safety quickly and without injury. It is essential that management draw up an emergency plan that is appropriate to the premises and that covers every likely type of situation, from a false alarm to a major incident.
A fire emergency plan that is "appropriate" to premises should be based on an understanding of the fire strategy provided for the building by its designers and on detailed knowledge of the preventative and protective fire safety measures and procedures provided therein. It should take full account of the use to which the premises are put including the fire load, process and storage risks, fire growth rate, and any special risk areas; the number, occupancy characteristic, and needs of people likely to be on the premises at varying times, and on the availability of trained staff to implement of the evacuation plan and to use the first-aid fire-fighting equipment provided, etc.
The two core elements of a fire emergency plan are the fire routine and the evacuation plan. The fire routine sets out the actions to be undertaken in the event of fire. The fire routine needs to take into account the types of activities that take place in the premises, the fire precautions that are provided, and the fire warning system that is provided for the premises. All staff should know how to react on discovery of fire or on hearing the fire alarm. Where members of the public are on the premises, the fire routine should also identify what actions they need to take and trained staff should be available to assist them.
The objective of a evacuation plan is to ensure that in the event of a fire, the occupants of a building can reach a place of ultimate safety outside the building without injury or distress. There are two basic categories of evacuation procedure: total evacuation (by either simultaneous or phased procedures) and progressive evacuation. The evacuation strategy should not rely on external assistance to make it work and should be chosen to take into account the fire strategy and risk profile of the building and the allowable travel time.
The emergency plan should, as a minimum requirement, include adequate arrangements for the following:
- Fire evacuation strategy
- Action on discovering a fire and on hearing the fire alarm
- Calling the fire brigade
- Power/process shut-down and isolation
- Identification of key escape routes
- Fire wardens
- Places of assembly and roll call
- Fire-fighting equipment provided
- Training required
- Disabled and vulnerable people
- Liaison with emergency services
- Care for evacuees
- Re-entry and restart
- Salvage, environmental and damage control
PERSONAL EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLAN (PEEP)
A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) is a plan for disabled users of a building who require special provision to ensure their safe evacuation in the event of fire. There are three types of PEEPs:
- Individual PEEPs for employees and regular visitors.
- Generic PEEPs for known visitors.
- Standard PEEP for unknown visitors.
About one in ten Irish people has some form of disability – that could be a physical disability, mobility impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, hidden or temporary impairment. The legal responsibility for ensuring that all people are safety evacuated resides with the building's management and not with the fire service. It is essential, therefore, that a fire evacuation plan for disabled people should not rely on the intervention of the fire service.
Many people other than wheelchair users have a disability that might mean that they cannot self-evacuate in the event of fire or other emergency. This category includes people who can use stairs but who might not be able to reach a place of ultimate safety within the calculated evacuation time. For the purpose of complying with Section 18(2), it includes all persons on the premises who might need assistance to evacuate, such as people with any of the following impairments:
- Mobility, e.g. people who experience difficulty in walking; frail older people; people who suffer from arthritis; children under the age of 5 years; wheelchair users; people with a debilitating illness, etc.
- Sensory, i.e. people who are visually and/or hearing impaired.
- Cognitive, e.g. people who have dementia, amnesia, a brain injury, delirium, dyslexia, dispraxia, or autism, etc.
- Intellectual, i.e. a person with a learning disability might have problems comprehending what is happening and might not have a good perception of the risk from fire.
- Hidden, e.g. asthma, mental illness, epilepsy, or a heart condition, etc.
- Temporary, e.g. women in later stages of pregnancy; people under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or medications; people with an illness or virus, intermittent back problem, leg in plaster, panic attack, etc.
In all cases, arrangements for the evacuation of disabled people should be compatible with the general evacuation strategy and the emergency fire action plan for the premises and must ensure that all disabled persons who require assistance are provided with the assistance required. If the management does not make arrangements for the safe evacuation of disabled people then this may be viewed as evidence of discrimination, in addition to being a breach of Section 18(2) of The Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003.
An individual personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) is an individual plan for employees and regular users that are written by management in conjunction with the individual concerned and which contain specific details of how the individual will be evacuated from the premises. They should be based on detailed knowledge of the fire strategy for the building and the fire safety measures and precautions provided. By taking into account the specific needs of the individual when preparing the PEEP, management will be able to make any reasonable adjustments to the premises or procedures that are necessary (grants are available for this purpose). They will also be able to make provision for actions to be taken in the event of a false alarm, fire drills, separation from a mobility aid or medications, etc, or if the individual cannot return to the building after the fire. Once agreed, a copy should be kept by the management and by the individual concerned, and by any other person who needs to know the plan, e.g. fire wardens, first aiders, evacuation supervisor, security staff, etc.
Through the recording of PEEPs, the management can be made aware of the number of trained staff required for each assisted evacuation.
Generic PEEPs - Known Visitors
Visitors to a building who are likely to require assistance to evacuate the building in the event of an outbreak of fire have a responsibility to make themselves known to management so that any appropriate assistance required can be provided. They should be encouraged to make themselves known to management on entry to the building by the management making it known at points of entry that generic PEEPs are available. Management of large buildings or buildings that receive a wide range of visitors should have staff available, especially at reception areas, who are trained in disability awareness in order to make the process more comfortable for disabled people and more effective for management.
Generic PEEPs (often referred to as a GEEP or as a Generic Emergency Evacuation Plan) should provide a wide range of guidance for differing disabilities that can be adapted, in conjunction with the individual concerned, to the individual's specific needs. There are around 30 generic plans that can be adapted to the needs of the premises and the individual as appropriate. Guidance should include what the visitor should do in an evacuation, and what the management will do to ensure the visitor's safe evacuation in the event of fire. They should also reflect what specific fire safety provisions are provided for disabled persons on the premises, e.g. fire alarms adapted for people who have a hearing disability.
Copies of the plans should be held at reception points within the building and provided on request or offered as a part of the entry or reception procedure. The provision of generic PEEPs need not be complicated. Where staff are trained in disability awareness, the process is often just a simple extension of signing-in at reception.
Standard PEEP - Unknown Visitors
Accurate information is critical to effective emergency planning. Where the number of people who will require assistance to evacuate is not known, the management cannot know if it can provide the required level of assistance to ensure that all persons will be safely evacuated. Where there are people within the building who do not pass a reception point or are not controlled, it is more difficult to gather information prior to the need to escape. In these instances a system of generic PEEPs should also be implemented and advertised. Information for disabled people should be noted in fire action notices at entry points and around the building. Training for staff is vital in this case as they will have to provide dynamic assistance and advice to disabled users of the building as the incident develops. Staff should be aware of the facilities and know how to use its features such as evacuation lifts or refuges. An appropriate number of trained staff should be available at all times to make sure that evacuation plans are viable. This is particularly important where features such as carry-down procedures are to be adopted to evacuate mobility-impaired people.