What to do if you smell smoke, see a fire or think there may be a fire in your building?
The reasonable answer would be, ‘I’d go outside’. That is true, to a point. There will be those who will leave out of a sense of self-preservation, but usually it is due to the deafening sound of the fire alarm. Others will go look for the fire, and most will choose to ignore the hints of a crisis in favor of denial (if denial is at all possible).
Case in point: As a firefighter I entered a restaurant at lunch time with my crew to a ‘smell of smoke’ report. About 150 people were sitting there eating their very nice steak and salad lunches. One lady looked up and said,” I thought I smelled smoke, do you think we should leave?”
“Well, you might want to step outside until we figure out what is going on,” my captain replied.
“Check please,” words every manager does not want to hear.
We proceed to the bar area, where the acrid smell of an electrical based fire was evident. The bartender was dutifully manning his post making drinks as he explained his worry. We advised the staff to evacuate the restaurant as we took temperature reading at the post in the center of the bar, where all the electrical wiring ran down from the second story and four plugs and two wall sconces were wired. Yes, there’s a fire.
The benefit, no one was hurt and the bartender was completely vindicated for his call us, despite the manager’s objections. The risk, obvious. A minute, maybe two, that fire would have broke though both the post and the electrical room upstairs. This room looked more like high pile storage than a clear unobstructed path for quick access to the utilities. There were boxes of paper supplies, linens, old book-keeping papers and all sorts of miscellaneous clutter in the room where all the electrical panels live.
One firefighter was sent to shut the power off at the breakers,while the rest of us opened the pillar and put out the fire. The firefighter upstairs had to wrestle through the boxes to the panels in order to isolate the power.
Meanwhile, additional fire crews were assisting the staff in evacuating the restaurant. Some folks were still a bit hesitant to leave their meals.
Where to go? The staff had an adequate plan as to where they would do a head count, but they had never planned to actually ‘have a fire’. What to do with the patrons? Fire crews had to advise the people where to go, off the cuff, as it were because the staff had not been adequately trained. Our largest obstacle, on this little fire, was complacency.
Next week; how to create a proper fire safety plan.