As part of the annual health and safety audit that schools have to complete the subject of fire safety will arise. Questions about the maintenance of fire extinguishers and smoke alarms as well as other equipment will need to be assessed. Are the annual checks up to date and are regular visual checks carried out throughout the year? Along side this the procedure for fire drills will also be reviewed.
Most schools are very good at carrying out fire drills on a regular basis but do the drills go far enough to be useful to highlight any difficulties that may occur in the event of a real fire? The usual procedure for a fire drill is to set off the alarm system and evacuate the children out of the building as quickly as possible. This is good practice and familiarises both pupils and staff with the routine but where is the fire situated from which they are evacuating?
These common fire drills do not take into account that one or more exits may be blocked in the event of a real fire and that an alternative route may need to be used. Teachers who have always used the same exit door in a drill may panic if this exit is blocked by a real fire and may not be able to lead the pupils to safety. It is essential that different exits are blocked in a drill to ensure that it is second nature for the teachers and pupils to use an alternative route.
A fire drill where an exit is blocked may highlight that in actual fact there is only one escape route and that a window may then need to be utilised as exit point. If the window is double glazed and does not open fully it may be necessary to have an emergency escape hammer fitted near the window. If the room is not on the ground floor there may be a need to install an external fire escape ladder.
Increase the scope of your next fire drill and simulate a fire blocking an exit point. It can be as simple as someone standing at the exit door waving their arms saying “this exit is blocked by fire”.