Should Your Employees Fight a Small Fire or Evacuate?
A comprehensive fire safety plan should include a careful assessment of what your employees should do in case a fire occurs: fight the fire or evacuate. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines that can help you determine whether your employees should fight a small fire or evacuate the building.
Fight a Small Fire or Evacuate? Risk Assessment
Fighting a fire has inherent risks. Employees who are authorized to use fire extinguishers should know how to conduct an immediate risk assessment to determine the level of danger involved in fighting the fire. Questions to ask include:
- How big is the fire? Small fires that have not spread, that are contained within a small area, or that produces flames no higher than the firefighter’s head could be fought with a fire extinguishers.
- Is the air breathable? If the air in the vicinity of the fire can still be safely inhaled without the need for masks or respirators, it should be safe to fight the fire.
- Is the air too hot or too smoky? Excessive amounts of smoke, high temperatures, or limited visibility in the area indicates that it may be unsafe to try to extinguish the fire.
- Is there still an evacuation route? Small fires should be fought only if there is still a safe evacuation route available behind the firefighter.
Fight a Small Fire or Evacuate? Employee Options
Giving employees the option of fighting small fires with portable extinguishers will increase chance of fire-related injuries. However, having employees who are ready and able to respond to small fires could be extremely beneficial and could easily reduce the risk of injury to people or damage to the facility. Some factors to consider include:
- Training: Employees who are allowed to use extinguishers must be trained in fire safety, fire risk assessment, and the proper use of extinguishers. This training must also be reinforced with refresher courses on a regular basis.
- Local fire departments: If there is a local fire department close by, it may be better to leave firefighting to these professionals.
- Exit routes: All facilities should have a fire safety and evacuation plan that includes well-marked and defined routes for leaving the building. If the exit routes in your facility are more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of fire, the better idea may be to fight the fire.
OSHA identifies four options that could be applied:
- Immediate evacuation of the facility when a fire alarm goes off. No one is authorized to use extinguishers. This requires a fire safety plan, an evacuation plan, and a fire prevention plan. Extinguishers may not be available since no one is allowed to use them.
- Certain employees are designated as fire fighters and are authorized to use portable extinguishers. All other employees must evacuate the building when a fire alarm sounds. Emergency action plans and evacuation plans are required. Designated employees must be trained in fire extinguisher use and the training should be supplemented with annual refresher courses. Extinguishers must be kept in serviceable condition and inspected and tested according to local fire codes.
- All employees are authorized to use fire extinguishers. Emergency plans and evacuation plans must be in place. All employees must be trained in fire safety, extinguisher use, and facility evacuation. Refresher training should be given at least annually. Extinguishers must be inspected, serviced, and tested at least once a year.
- Employees are not authorized to use extinguishers. Emergency plans, fire prevention plans, and safety plans must be in place and communicated to employees. Fire extinguishers are maintained and made available but are not to be used by regular employees.
Our goal is to help educate our customers about Plumbing, HVACR, Fire Protection, and Alarm Systems in Mechanical, Commercial, and Residential settings. For more information on the conditions affecting whether you should fight a small fire or evacuate, and to view projects we’ve worked on, visit our website!