Most of us likely remember those days in grade school when the jarring sound of alarm bells or some other audible device signaled a fire drill. I recall hoping the exercise would lead to an unplanned recess or some other distraction that would give us a break from our boring classwork.
What I didn’t fully comprehend at the time was the importance of those drills in preparing me and my classmates to react quickly and efficiently if there was an emergency. It created an environment of readiness – our teachers and administrators would worry less about getting everyone out of the building and avoiding the possibly deadly consequences of individuals being trapped in a classroom or stairwell, or some youngster hiding in panic.
Many years have passed since my elementary school days, and I now find myself in a safety specialist position in a healthcare setting. As part of our duties in the safety office, we are responsible for scheduling and accomplishing fire drills throughout the year within our numerous healthcare facilities. I have learned that the saying “use it or lose it” rings true for how we react to fire drills as adults.
Sadly, I have witnessed with my own eyes the deer-in-headlights look most employees display when asked to respond to a fictional fire. They have no idea where fire extinguishers are, where fire pull handles are located (near the exits) or even the alternate evacuation points available to them.
This is pretty unnerving and quite scary for a safety professional!
All too often, individuals are seriously injured or killed by a fire or explosion in the workplace or at home. Not knowing escape routes is further exacerbated by the lack of basic fire survival knowledge, such as staying low to avoid being overcome by smoke and checking doors for intense heat indicating danger on the other side.
The Army community at large must practice disciplined emergency escape procedures in conjunction with vital fire response activities. Leaders and heads of households have to stress important actions like warning others immediately, which in an office setting means not hesitating to locate and use fire pull handles and designated representatives directing individuals to remain calm and leave the building immediately.
Don’t post a floorplan drawing with escape route arrows on the office bulletin board and label fire safety training “done.” Take the possibly lifesaving step of conducting walkthrough drills that will help identify who may have trouble evacuating quickly and give all occupants confidence in knowing where they would go and what alternate egress points are available to them if an exit is blocked.
The National Fire Protection Association designates a week each October to remind us all of the importance of fire safety. This year’s Fire Safety Week observance, conducted Oct. 6-12, was centered on the theme “Not Every Hero Wears a Cape. Plan and Practice Your Escape.” The campaign may be over, but the imperative has not changed. Awareness of fire safety at home and in general enhances emergency readiness in our communities.
Employee engagement and ownership of safety within the workplace is essential to responding correctly to emergency situations. The next time you hear a fire alarm at work or at home, react as if it were a real-world incident. Never assume others will react for you. For more information on workplace fire safety, visit NFPA’s website at www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Staying-safe/Preparedness/Fire-Prevention-Week.
(The writer, William Linney, works in the Department of Quality and Safety at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, El Paso, Texas. This article was posted to the safety.army.mil website.)