Fire safety is important everywhere, but perhaps nowhere more so than in a school. With so many young children around, it can be difficult to maintain control in an emergency – and you need to make sure that your site is set up to make fires as unlikely as possible and evacuation or response as easy and safe as can be.
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You can make finding alarm points, and evacuating the buildings, significantly easier through effective fire-safety signage. Use arrows, words and pictograms to point the way clearly, and make sure that the signs are not hidden behind plants, doors, lockers or buried among a bunch of notices on a noticeboard.
Practice makes perfect
The key difference between a typical business or public building and a school is, of course, the number of children. More than perhaps any other demographic, children are likely to panic in the face of an emergency and become uncontrollable – an absolute disaster in the face of a fire emergency. You might never be able to completely remove the impulse to panic, but you can reduce it through practising. Practice how to respond to the alarm, get children used to what the alarm sounds like and make sure that order can be kept. You’ll need to make sure that everyone is accounted for at your safe evacuation point, so have them line up in class groups and take a register (match it to the one taken that morning, in case any students are absent).
Your fire alarm points should be tested frequently to check that they are operating correctly. The last thing you want is to make your way to an alarm and it not trigger the evacuation – so test each switch on a cycle. Alarms themselves should be very loud, continuous and distinct from the usual end-of-class/lunch/break bell.
If it’s a small fire, you and your staff may be able to put it out quickly yourselves. This should only be attempted if there is a very good chance of success, and you should still trigger the alarm first. Make sure that the right extinguisher is used for the job – you’ll probably want to keep fire blankets and powder extinguishers in science labs and kitchen areas, for example.
Fire doors are designed to withstand the effects of flames and contain smoke for specified periods (an hour, for example). This is so that any fire can be partly contained while evacuation is completed and emergency services are summoned. These doors should be fitted with automatic door closers – either for every opening/closing, or connected to the alarm to close them only in the event of a fire. Make sure that fire doors are never wedged open, as you will lose all the benefits.
Under UK law, every school must have a responsible person to build the fire safety plan, take ownership of ensuring that there are effective measures in place and run fire drills. This is part of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order of 2005, which outlines in detail the expectations of safety for staff, pupils and any visitors.
Apart from the legal obligations of the responsible person, every staff member should be trained in how to respond to a fire. Staff training is as essential as student training here, as there is an expectation that staff will usher children out before leaving themselves. Pupils will look to their teachers for guidance on how to behave and act – a flustered or panicked teacher is a recipe for disaster.