What are the Key Factors of an Effective Fire Drill?
Fire drills are an essential part of any fire safety plan. They simulate a real-life fire emergency in order to practice evacuation; ensuring that everyone in the building knows what to do and can evacuate swiftly and safely in the event of a fire.
As discussed in our previous blog post, your place of work should already have undertaken a fire risk assessment. The fire risk assessment will have outlined details including areas of the building which are most at risk of a fire, the locations of fire alarm activation points and all appropriate escape routes, and it is this report which would inform your Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan (FEEP).
According to the Fire and Rescue Service’s statistics, between 2019 and 2020 there were 17 fatalities and 6,935 non-fatal casualties on non-domestic premises in England alone. To help you and your workplace avoid becoming one of these statistics, we have put together our top tips on how to make your fire drills as effective as possible. Read on to learn more about why they are important and for our checklist of the key success factors.
Why are fire drills important?
Fire drills are important for a number of reasons – but first and foremost, they save lives. By ensuring that everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire, they ease evacuation and help to keep people safe. A well-run fire drill will help to prevent panic and confusion in the event of a real fire as employees will be trained and prepared, and crucially, the drill will put the Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan into practice, highlighting any areas that may need improvement.
Effective drills can also protect your premises. At worst, fires can destroy buildings, and at best, cause some costly property damage, so perfecting your procedure for emergencies can help minimise the harm done before the emergency services arrive.
Finally, conducting fire safety drills is simply the law. According to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the ‘responsible person’ (see below) has a duty to provide training in fire safety procedures. As this includes training all staff in evacuation procedure, they have a requirement to carry out emergency drills.
How to conduct a fire drill: key factors
The responsible person is defined as being either the manager, owner or occupier of a premises, and it is this person’s duty to make sure that the evacuation plan is both effective and compliant with fire safety regulations. Here is MCFP’s checklist of factors to remember when conducting a workplace fire drill.
Preparing for the fire drill
- Set aside time – Fire drills are, unavoidably, disruptive to the day-to-day running of a workplace. With everyone away from their desks or stations, it is important to plan ahead and prepare for this loss of time and labour.
- Inform in advance – To prevent fear and panic, make sure that all employees are aware of the upcoming drill so that they can practise the evacuation in a calm manner. If your alarm system is monitored, make sure you notify the relevant monitoring centre or fire service of the drill, and if you work in a shared office space, remember to co-ordinate with other businesses in the building.
- Make sure all staff are familiar with the FEEP – It is important to make sure that everyone knows the fire drill procedure in advance. The Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan should be clearly documented and displayed around the building for employees to familiarise themselves with, and new starters should be informed about the plan during the onboarding process.
- Put PEEPs in place if necessary – A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan will be needed for any persons who cannot evacuate the building safely without assistance. Those with mobility issues or a disability will require help from others and maybe even some specialist equipment, so tailor each PEEP to the individual and check that those helping know what to do.
- Nominate and train fire marshals – Your organisation should already have nominated fire marshals (or fire wardens) who are trained in leading the evacuation procedure and basic firefighting skills (such as use of fire extinguishers in the case of small fires). Remember to let them know not to actually use firefighting equipment during the drill.
- Plan evacuation type – If possible, everyone in the building should evacuate together during a drill. However, depending on the nature of the business, it might be necessary to conduct fire drills floor by floor or with staff on a rotational basis.
- Check for severe weather – It is worth checking the weather report for the likelihood that there will be severe weather on the day of the fire drill. If any storms, flooding or strong winds are forecast, it may not be safe to move all staff outdoors and the date of the drill should be changed.
- Set time goals – The aim of fire drills, ultimately, is to evacuate everyone as quickly and efficiently as possible. Read the report of the last evacuation, take note of the time it took and use that as the time to beat.
Conducting the fire drill
- Alarm – Ask a random member of staff to simulate the necessary action on discovering a fire by sounding the alarm. They should know the nearest call point and how to operate it.
- Practice FEEP – This is the time to put the full Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan into practice! From activating the fire alarm through to having everyone safely evacuated, following the FEEP is arguably the most crucial part of any fire drill.
- Escape routes – Use the planned escape routes and fire exits to ensure the evacuation plan is practised safely.
- Increase complexity – If your workplace has already completed a number of successful drills and staff seem confident following the FEEP, consider introducing an unexpected obstacle to simulate different scenarios (e.g. a blocked exit or faulty emergency lighting).
- Oversee – It is important to have fire marshals overseeing the entire evacuation to ensure that the correct procedure is being followed by all. They should time the evacuation with a stopwatch, make a note of anyone acting inappropriately (e.g. stopping to collect belongings or trying to ‘put out’ the fire) and record any issues encountered with the emergency plan.
- Assembly points – Pre-determined assembly points are safe meeting places outside the building where everyone can gather, so make sure those evacuating know where to go. Practice calling the fire department as soon as you are outside the building.
- Roll call – Carry out a roll call at the assembly point. If anyone is missing from the list, make a note of where they were last seen so that this can be communicated to the emergency services.
Reflecting on the fire drill
- Note any problems – The fire marshals responsible for overseeing the drill should debrief with everyone involved. The drill will have revealed any holes in the plan (e.g. fire doors not opening) and any breaches of fire safety, so a meeting will help to identify aspects that could be improved.
- Report – The responsible person should log the findings of the drill in the form of a report. If necessary, these findings should inform a review of the fire risk assessment.
- Take remedial action – Should the fire evacuation drill have highlighted any faulty equipment, this will need to be addressed and remedied immediately.
- Repeat – As the age-old saying goes: ‘practice makes perfect’. By repeating your fire evacuation drill at least annually, you can implement improvements and ensure that your staff are adequately prepared for an emergency.
We at MCFP know that conducting a fire drill is a vital part of your fire safety plan. By following these steps, you can ensure that your fire drills are effective and that everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire. Check out our fire risk assessment services and fire training courses for more information about how MCFP can help you prepare for your fire drills. If you have conducted a fire drill and found issues with pieces of equipment such as fire alarms or fire extinguishers, our team of certified fire safety professionals will be happy to come and service these. Contact our friendly team here for more information!