While the ongoing health emergency affects everyone at every level of the work and school place, it’s important to remember that fire prevention and fire safety must still be practiced. Making sure that emergency egress drills (fire drills that include building evacuation) are practiced are essential to making sure that everyone knows exactly what to do in the case of a fire. However, now that we continue to face a global pandemic where social distancing is required, how do we safely conduct fire drills while still maintaining these practices? We take a look at what you need to know regarding fire drills and COVID-19, and which truly comes first – fire safety or social distancing protocol.
Some organizations have opted to conduct online or virtual training for their fire drills, if they cannot ensure that social distancing protocol will be met during a fire drill. This would be likely in a large school, crowded office space, or where there is little room to evacuate.
The Calgary Fire Department in Alberta states the following when it comes to practising fire drills while maintaining social distancing on the thesafetymag.com:
“If the company or organization cannot ensure social distancing an additional option would be to complete online training as developed by the company or organization and to ensure that records are kept regarding details of training and personnel involved,” the memo continued.
As a society, we have become very used to having to do things differently when it comes to COVID-19 – with fire drills being no exception. It’s important to remember that it is still mandatory to have fire drills. In order to maintain social distancing, it may be necessary to come up with a new system to ensure that everyone, on every floor, is able to have the physical experiencing of evacuating the building in the event of a fire, so that they are confident that they’d know exactly what to do in the event of an emergency.
Fire Risk Assessments NI tells us their thoughts on how and when to conduct fire drills amid COVID-19:
“I would suggest as an interim measure that each floor or different work areas are evacuated separately. Again, using a multi-storey office building as an example, the tenant on the 2nd floor is advised that we are completing a fire drill on wed 10th at 10am, which will be initiated by a call from the reception / H&S team etc. This tenant / staff on this floor only evacuates to the assembly point. The following week is another tenant etc. This requires a bit more involvement, but can be achieved and is safe.
Completion of your fire evacuation drills are a key part of the fire safety of the staff and allows the staff to be aware of the procedures to be followed if the alarm sounds. The drills are also a legal requirement and you cannot stop completion of the drills due to social distancing etc!”
Maintaining Social Distancing
In order to maintain social distancing when conducting a fire drill, it may be necessary to come up with new methods of social distancing, such as the physical marking of locations outside of schools and commercial buildings, so that there is no question that social distancing measures must continue to be followed.
The Nebraska State Fire Marshal Agency describes methods in order to maintain social distancing while in schools, while conducting mandatory fire drills.
“It is acceptable for a school to use methods to maintain social distancing during fire drills such as floor marking. In order to minimize the number of students, staff and visitors in the hallways and at the gathering areas during the conduct of a fire drill, it is acceptable during the COVID-19 state of emergency to conduct the monthly fire drills in phases so that only certain grades, classrooms or areas participate in any single fire drill. When phased fire drills are conducted, all occupants of the location must participate in a fire drill, and all drill phases shall be complete no later than two calendar days after the first phased drill was conducted.”
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