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FAQs on Fire Escape Planning

Sage Bourgeois - Thursday, October 23, 2014

A disorganized evacuation can result in confusion, injury, and property damage. If you are a business owner, please take the time to understand what goes into creating an effective fire escape plan.  Once all your questions are answered, prepare a plan and share it with your employees as part of an ongoing training schedule.  As a homeowner, you should have a clear plan to evacuate your family in the event of a fire.

What is a Fire Escape Plan? 

A fire escape plan is an exit strategy for evacuating a building or structure in an emergency. When entering a building, it is critical that you locate at least two ways out, keeping in mind that the way you came in (usually the front door) may not be the best way out.

Why is it important to know at least two ways out of a building?

Any exit can become blocked during an emergency, so having at least one exit, and preferably two or more alternative exits, can literally save your life.

What is the difference between an Exit and an Exit Passageway?

An Exit can be an exterior door, passageway, stair, ramp, or window leading to the outside of a building, that allows building occupants to safely leave a building in an acceptable amount of time. An Exit Passageway is a protected means of exit travel, sort of a fire resistive "envelope."  Examples of Exit Passageways include enclosed interior exit stairways, hallways, corridors, passages, tunnels, under floor passageways, or overhead passageways.

Why is it important to keep exits and exit passageways clear of obstructions?

Objects located in exit passageways, such as boxes, band equipment, stacked merchandise, garbage cans, etc., can, in a fire or other emergency, cause people to fall, seriously hurt themselves, and even block the exit passageway for others. Keeping exit passageways clear of obstacles enables people to exit a building more quickly and safely.

What is the difference between Exit Lights and Emergency Lighting?

Exit Lights are the illuminated signs  that read "EXIT," whereas Emergency Lighting are the lights that illuminate the pathway leading to the exits. Both must have emergency back-up electricity via batteries or a house generator that enable the Exit signs and Emergency lights to remain illuminated for at least 1-1/2 hours after electricity fails.

Can illuminated exit signs and emergency lighting (exit lights) really make that much difference?

Absolutely. During a fire, emergency lighting allows you to see and navigate your way through dense smoke to an exit. Clearly marked Exit signs enable you to distinguish which doors lead outside.

I had to participate in Fire Drills at school when I was young. Now I'm in college; don't you think I can find my way out?

Two things: First, in a building fire, dense smoke can make it impossible for you to see where you are. And, second, the possibility of being badly burned (or worse) can lead even the most level headed among us to panic and throw common sense to the wind. Multiply that by the number of people also trying to escape and you have a recipe for disaster. That's why it's imperative for occupants of a building to know what to do in a real emergency without having to invent an escape scenario under a panic situation. Not only will practicing over and over make exiting a building become second nature, but any exiting problems that arise will become apparent and can be remedied before disaster strikes.

What if the electricity does go off?

Most emergency and exit lights are required to have back-up power, which can be either batteries or an in-house generator. If the electricity fails, the backup power should provide enough light, via emergency lights, to safely lead all occupants out of the building. Emergency lights should provide light up to 1-1/2 hours after the electricity goes out.

How will I know a fire alarm?

Do they sound different from other alarms, like a police siren, for instance? A fire alarm can be almost anything, just as long as it's loud enough to alert all of the occupants of a building of the possibility of a fire. The alarm can be a bell, a buzzer, an electronic noise, or even a voice that provides instructions. Strobe lights may also be incorporated into the fire alarm system to alert the hearing impaired. Practicing a Fire Drill routine will ensure that all occupants recognize their fire alarm and know what to do once it sounds.

What should I expect to see in a stairway during an emergency?

If the emergency is a fire, all you should encounter is emergency lighting and people like you making an orderly withdrawal to the exits. There may be some smoke, but stairwells that meet current code will probably have a smoke evacuation system to pull any smoke in the stairway to the outside. The important thing is don't panic; continue to move to the outside.


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