Fire code is a difficult thing at times for the un-indoctrinated, but when it comes to exit pathways it is clear and specific. We discussed design issues about numbers of exits and width of them based on the occupancy of the building. Once these are in place and the building is open, it is up to the tenant to keep them visible and accessible.
In general, the hallways or pathway to the exit must remain un-obstructed. One may not diminish the width of an exit with any object. No trash cans, no big plants, no small plants, nick-knacks or doo-dads allowed. Nothing you could walk into or trip over. The reason is fairly simple, when the fire occurs the people in the building may be disoriented, blinded by smoke or simply making a hasty retreat to the outside. You, as the person responsible may not hinder their egress. Your job is to make it easy to escape from harm.
We have heard what went well and what did not in a prior post about fire evacuation. Now, how to avoid the pitfalls of fire safety planning. Begin with a written plan. A written plan is always best, although not required for very small operations. It gives management an opportunity to study exit pathways, designated exits and a designated meeting place for the staff.
When choosing exits, remember there are specific emergency exits required by code. As a rule of thumb, the number of exits is based on the number of people expected or allowed in a structure at a given time. If an occupancy of 49 or less is expected or allowed one exits will suffice. That being said, two ways out is the standard of fire safety thought. “Know Two Ways Out,” is an NFPA slogan. The point is, if you cannot get out in the primary path, you can still exit by a secondary route, even if it is a window. Once out, walk around the building to the rally point and check in.
If there are more exits, it is easy to plan two ways out of a building. If the building is an assembly there may need to be fire wardens, in charge of guiding the egress. Think about evacuating a coliseum designed building with more than 500 to 1000 customers in an unfamiliar space. They may need help in evacuation. Check with your local fire marshal when designing a fire evacuation plan.
Once the plan is complete, post it. Consider doing what is required at hotels. Think ‘You are here’. The arrows show the path down the hall to the most immediate route. Note the rally point. This is extraordinary when considering your clients/customers are unfamiliar with your location overall.
Once you have it all in place, plan the drill. Fire drills are required at least once a year for all businesses under both the International Fire Code and NFPA. Restaurants are required to drill with staff quarterly, as are hospitals and nursing homes ( on each shift, quarterly). A regular office is required once a year. Then there are records to keep. Include in you company form; What notification form did you use?
What was the amount of time needed for evacuation?
Who was in charge?
What problems were encountered in the drill?
By noting these things you can greatly improve the company’s safety response in the event of a real fire.