Fire safety and evacuation processes for facility managers

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Wormald Australia’s Garry Kwok shines light on the importance of fire safety and offers some basic guidelines for facility managers.

The consequences of a building fire can be devastating and easily end in tragedy. In the event of a fire, every second counts and the earlier the fire is detected, the faster people can evacuate to safety. While it is not always possible to prevent fire, every effort should be made to protect occupants and minimise damage to property should a fire occur. To this end, an important step is ensuring that fire safety and evacuation processes are in place.

An assessment of a building’s specific contents, occupancy, operation and other potential fire hazards can determine the most appropriate fire evacuation process to have in plac. This could include smoke alarms, portable fire extinguishers, fire blankets, fire hose reels, exit signage, fire sprinkler systems, fire doors and emergency warning systems.

Fire protection and evacuation requirements vary from state to state and building to building, so it is important that facility managers are familiar with the regulations and standards that apply to their property, in addition to the national standard. For example, smoke alarms must be compliant with the Australian Standard – AS 3786-1993.

Most buildings have adequate fire hose reels installed. These provide an accessible and controlled supply of water to help combat a potential Class A fire, such as a fire started by burning wood or paper. Fire doors help contain fire and stop flames spreading throughout a building, which is why it is essential that occupants are made aware of the importance of keeping fire doors closed at all times. Evacuation plans and routes must be shared with occupants and exit signage should be clearly marked.

Many buildings have a range of fire extinguishers, such as powder, carbon dioxide, water, foam and wet chemical extinguishers – they all work on different types (or classes) of fire. Fire sprinkler, water spray, mist or deluge solutions can be tailored to suit the requirements of a specific building. They can automatically detect and suppress a fire, and the connected detection system will transmit an alarm to alert the building’s occupants and the fire brigade.

As with any safety equipment, fire protection equipment and systems should be regularly inspected to ensure they will function effectively if and when they are needed, and also to ensure compliance with relevant legislation and applicable Australian Standards. In New South Wales, for example, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulations (2000) demand that each year a building’s owner or its authorised representative prepare an annual fire safety statement (AFSS) to be submitted to the respective local governing authority.

A team of confident and trained staffers is equally vital, because it can respond appropriately in the event of a fire. In the long run, staff training proves an invaluable investment because it can substantially reduce the impact of a crisis. Fire wardens should be fully trained – they should know how to use appropriate fire equipment, understand the emergency warnings and be familiar with the communication systems on their premises. However, it is the responsibility of each facility member to know how to respond to a fire emergency and how to use the fire equipment on-site.

It is understandable that some building managers may find it overwhelming to deal with mandatory fire audits, comply with strict standard and regulatory requirements and keep well-documented records and reports. This is where fire protection specialists can help. They provide professional advice and help take the stress out of maintaining fire protection systems.

Facility managers must never be complacent – fire is a serious matter and facility managers must keep on top of fire safety at all times. And, if they are unsure whether they are adequately protected or not, they must contact the building manager or a fire protection specialist.

Garry Kwok is national manager – technical services of Wormald Australia.

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