Fires can happen anywhere. A fire in
a large building creates an enormous risk to everyone. Other reasons for
evacuating buildings include natural gas leaks, earthquakes, hazardous
material spills and storms. Knowing what to do is the key to surviving a
fire emergency. Conducting regular fire drills will give you the knowledge
and confidence to escape a fire safely. There are two steps for a good
evacuation program - planning and practice. In 1997, a fire in Western
Washington University's Mathes hall dormitory resulted in the dorm being
evacuated BEFORE the fire department arrived! This excellent response was
due to a recent fire drill and planning.
Planning gives you the information you need ahead of time to evacuate
safely. In the workplace, employees and supervisors should plan together for
exiting their worksite. At school, involve all school staff including
teachers, administrative and office workers, and the maintenance and food
Working together, design an evacuation plan to meet the specific needs of
your building and your occupants. Make the plan clear and concise. Review
the plan and walk through the exit procedure to make sure that everyone
knows what to do.
Each building, whether it be a school, workplace or multi-family living
unit, should have a posted exit diagram (plan) and everyone should be
familiar with it.
Be sure that smoke detectors are installed and maintained. Know the sound
of the fire alarm. Everyone should recognize and respond to the sound of the
smoke detector or other fire alarm immediately. Immediate response is vital
for a quick, orderly evacuation.
Everyone should exit in an orderly manner to prevent confusion and
minimize panic or injury. No one should push their way out an exit. Single
file lines are best in controlling traffic to the exits.
Consider special needs people. When developing your escape plan, remember
that younger, older, or disabled people may need special assistance. Anyone
with special needs should be located as close to an exit as possible. Train
others to give special assistance with evacuation.
Be sure to know two ways out. There should be two ways out of
every area of the home, school, or workplace. If the primary exit is blocked
by smoke or fire, use your second exit. Point out all emergency exits as you
walk through the emergency procedure.
Always use the stairways to exit multi-story buildings. Do not use an
elevator. An elevator may stop between floors, or go to the fire floor and
stop with the doors open.
If a room or corridor is filled with smoke, crawl low on your hands and
knees to exit. The cleaner air is closer to the ground.
Plan your meeting place. A designated meeting place outside the
building is a vital part of an evacuation plan. Count heads. Be aware of who
is there (hopefully everybody will be accounted for) and who is not there.
When the fire department arrives, you can report if there is anyone missing.
Know what to do if you can't escape. You'll need to plan your actions in
case immediate escape is impossible. If possible, for example, stay in a
room with an outside window and always close doors between you and the fire.
Think about what you could use - sheets, towels, curtains, or even large
pieces of clothing - to stuff around cracks near the door and wave as a
signal to rescuers. Know how to open the window to ventilate smoke, but be
prepared to close the window immediately if an open window makes the room
smokier. If there is a phone, call the fire department with your location,
even if firefighters are already on the scene. Remember, stay low in smoke
until you're rescued.
After planning, practice to make sure that everyone knows what to do.
Have fire drills. Practice your fire escape periodically throughout the
year. Remember, the element of surprise simulates a real fire and adds
essential realism to your fire drill program.
Appoint someone to monitor the drill. This person will sound the alarm
and make the drill realistic by requiring participants to use their second
way out or to crawl low. This could be done by having someone hold up a sign
reading "smoke" or "exit blocked by fire." The monitor also will measure how
long complete evacuation takes.
Coordinate arrangements for fire drills in apartments or other
multi-family homes, in schools or in workplaces with the local fire
After the evacuation, take a head count at the designated meeting
place(s) to account for everyone's participation and safe evacuation.
When everyone is back inside the building after the drill, gather
everyone together to discuss any questions or problems that occurred during
the drill. Redesign the drill procedures as needed. Make the next fire drill
even more effective.
Remember, once you are outside, stay outside. Don't go back in until the
proper authorities say it is okay.