Do you know where your exits are?

Have you ever walked into a restaurant and not known where the extra exits were?  What would happen if there was a fire, explosion or active shooter near the front door you came in?  Would you and your family know how to get out of the space?

Here is your homework…Next time you go out to eat, scope out all the exits available to you.  Are they blocked, are the locked? Can you easily get to them and do you know where they go?  Would you know how to save yourself or your family if you needed to easily escape a new place.


A proper exit?


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.

A proper plan

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?
Who participated?
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.

Fire—where to go, how to get there; part 1


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.

Emergency Planning Basics For Your Business

An Emergency Action Plan can save the lives of your employees, your customers and the content of your business. When push comes to shove, business is about profit though goods or services. How do we protect the goods, services and people involved in our business?
The simple answer is through effective planning and training of staff members.
An Emergency Action Plan, EAP, is required for most businesses through OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.38. All businesses with more than 10 employees are required to write the plan, businesses with less than 10 can disperse it verbally.
We think of fire when we talk about emergency planning, but that is the start. Think about your local region. Is there a fault? Do you have earthquakes, (California is not the only place where this question needs answers)? Is your area prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, freezing or extreme heat and drought? What will you do when the crisis hits? How are you prepared to survive profitably and intact. The first posts will deal with fire safety planning because it is a universal issue faced by all businesses. Then we will move on to more region-specific questions.