FIRE EVACUATION PLAN: WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF A FIRE EMERGENCY

Being in charge of a company carries many responsibilities but arguably the most important one is ensuring the safety of your staff, clients and visitors. Every business owner in the UK is legally required to create a fire evacuation emergency plan (FEEP) as part of their fire safety duties (see Article 15.1(a) of the Fire Safety (Regulatory Reform) Order 2005). Having a plan in case of a fire emergency ensures that there is a safe, actionable fire evacuation procedure in place and the responsible people in the business are aware of what they need to do to help everyone leave the building safely . 

However, designing a fire safety plan is a responsibility in its own right and there are various things that need to be included in it to ensure compliance with the regulatory standards. This may sound like a daunting task at first but we’ve got you covered! Here’s all you need to know to get you started on creating your new fire evacuation plan. 

What is the fire emergency evacuation plan (FEEP)? 

A fire emergency evacuation plan (shortly FEEP) is a document which outlines what actions need to be taken by the people in a building in case of a fire emergency, to ensure that everyone gets out safely. It generally includes the fire evacuation procedure as well as who is responsible for what in the process. It also explains whose responsibility it is to report the fire and call the fire brigade. 

Not every building is the same, so there are two types of fire emergency notices that could be used in the evacuation plan, depending on the size of the premises and the number of people working there: a general fire notice and a staff fire notice.  

General Fire Notice

Short and easy to understand at a glance, the General Fire Notice is perfect for a smaller business with less staff. All the information, including the fire evacuation plan and the allocated responsibilities, is contained on a single page. This notice is placed in key visible locations throughout the building to ensure everyone is aware of it and can refer to it if needed. 

Staff Fire Notice 

If you are responsible for a larger business, or if your building has been identified as being at a high risk of fire for any reason during a risk assessment, you will need to have a Staff Fire Notice in place. It is a lot more detailed than the General Fire Noticed and it includes precise instructions on the steps of the fire safety procedure. 

Fire Evacuation Plan Checklist 

Your fire evacuation plan is a key element of the overarching fire safety strategy for your business. For it to be effective in case of an emergency, you have to consider a number of key points when you prepare the plan. Here’s a checklist of the main questions you need to cover:

  • What fire evacuation strategy best suits your premises? 
  • What to do if you discover a fire?
  • What to do if you hear the fire alarm?
  • Who calls the fire brigade?
  • Who are the fire marshals and what are their duties? 
  • What fire safety equipment do you have and where is it located?
  • What fire alarm system do you have in place to alert everyone of the fire?
  • How many emergency exits do you have and where they are located?
  • Where do your evacuation routes lead and how accessible are they?
  • Where are the designated isolation points in the building? 
  • Where is the final assembly point?
  • Do you have emergency signs where needed? 
  • Who is responsible for switching off equipment and/or taking it out of the building?
  • Is the fire evacuation plan suitable for people with special needs?
  • Who needs a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan and what is included in it?
  • Any additional duties and responsibilities that need to be assigned?
  • What fire safety training is needed to ensure all of the above is adequately communicated to your staff?

If you are preparing a fire emergency plan for a multi-storey building, you will need to add details about all the safety signage and firefighting equipment on each individual floor. You may need to assign a person who would be responsible for the implementation of the fire safety protocols and the evacuation procedures. You might also want to have a designated fire safety training organiser. 

However short or detailed your fire emergency evacuation plan may be, the main rule to remember is to always keep it simple. The instructions provided have to be quick to read and easy to understand because if people need to refer to them for guidance in a real-life emergency situation, they should be able to do so without wasting valuable time. 

Some of the points on our FEEP checklist above are a little bit more complex, so we will take a more detailed look into what you need to consider under each one. 

What fire evacuation strategy best suits your premises? 

Before you begin designing and implementing a fire evacuation protocol, you have to decide what evacuation strategy is most suitable for your business. From the layout of the bullying to the purpose for which it is used and the number of people usually on the premises, these are all factors that will influence your decision. However, choosing an evacuation strategy is mainly guided by the recommendations given to you by the fire safety engineers during your latest fire risk assessment. Any changes to these recommendations following subsequent risk assessment may require changes to the evacuation protocol too. 

Now, let’s look at the most common fire evacuation strategies below: 

Simultaneous Evacuation

Simultaneous evacuation is the most common fire evacuation procedure. Used in most buildings in the UK, it involves everyone leaving the building at the same time in a calm and collected manner upon hearing the fire alarm. After gathering at the designated assembly point, everyone needs to be accounted for by the fire marshall and everyone must remain there until the fire services arrive. 

Phased Evacuation

As the name suggests, phased evacuation happens in stages. This strategy is suitable for larger buildings and buildings with special purposes, such as hospitals and care homes. The process takes longer but it ensures less chaos and reduces the danger of injuries sustained during the evacuation itself. 

To have such an emergency protocol in place, the building must be equipped with a special warning system that can produce a distinct warning and emergency signals, so that the occupants know exactly what they need to do. This could be achieved by playing different voice messages with clear instructions. 

Phased fire evacuation can be done in two ways: horizontally and vertically. 

  • Horizontal phased evacuation: Usually used in hospitals and care homes, this process involves moving people from the area where the fire has been detected to the nearest safe location. The process could be repeated if needed. Horizontal evacuation requires the building to have been divided into a number of fire-resistant compartments during its construction. 
  • Vertical phased evacuation: Mostly applicable to tall buildings, this procedure has everyone on the floor where the fire occurred and on all the floors above it to evacuate first and then instructs people on the floors underneath to leave the building afterwards. For buildings that are 30 metres tall or more, there must be fire sprinklers installed as well. 

Silent Alarm Evacuation 

In highly-trafficked buildings accessible to the public, such as cinemas, museums and theatres, immediately sounding a general fire alarm could cause mass panic and result in accidents. This is why staff who work on such premises are usually equipped with a silent staff fire alarm. The employees are alerted of the fire discreetly before anyone else, so they  can then take the necessary actions to ensure that everyone can leave the building safely before signalling the general alarm. 

There may be failsafes in place, for example, the general fire alarm can be set up to sound off after a set amount of time following the staff alarm if it’s not been activated manually before that. Once the general alarm sounds off, either a simultaneous or a phased evacuation begins. 

Defend in Place

In some cases, people are unable to be evacuated, for example, patients on life support or elderly patients in care homes who cannot move. Then the fire evacuation plan could include a Defend in Place strategy. In this scenario, the people remain in the building despite the fire and wait for the firefighters to come and extinguish it. Only if the flames get out of control, does a full evacuation take place. 

This method only works if the building has fire-resistant areas which can hold off the fire for at least 60 minutes. This is why before you can consider this option as part of your fire emergency evacuation plan, you have to consult with a fire safety specialist to confirm it is safe to adopt a Defend in Place strategy.  

What to do if you discover a fire or hear the fire alarm?

First of all, the person who discovers a fire in the building has to activate the nearest fire alarm to alert everybody else. This is why everyone who works on the premises needs to be aware of where the fire alarm panels are located and how to sound the fire alarm if they need to. 

Upon hearing the alarm, your fire warden/marshal should initiate the agreed evacuation strategy outlined in the fire emergency plan. It is their responsibility to prompt everyone else to calmly leave the building via the nearest exit and have the premises cleared as quickly as possible. It’s also the fire warden’s duty to ensure that people with disabilities and members of the public are assisted in exiting the premises, in line with the evacuation procedure. 

Even though it is the fire marshal’s job to oversee and prompt the evacuation, everyone who works in the building should be aware of the FEEP and what the evacuation strategy is, so that they can begin evacuating as soon as they hear the alarm.

Lifts and escalators should not be used during any type of fire evacuation and people should follow the designated evacuation routes. Once outside of the building, everyone should gather at the final assembly point and wait for the fire emergency services to arrive. 

Who calls the fire brigade?

Alerting your local fire services about the fire as soon as possible is crucial to getting the fire under control and avoiding damage. 

Whose responsibility that is must be detailed in the fire emergency evacuation plan. Usually, this is the most senior responsible person on site of the emergency, as these people have had additional fire safety training and would know what to say on the phone to the emergency services operator. 

However, in out-of-office hours or if the designated responsible person isn’t present, anyone can call the fire brigade (although usually, it’s the person who discovers the fire). 

You can report a fire to the emergency services by calling 999 free of charge. 

Who are the fire marshals and what are their duties? 

Your fire marshal/fire warden is a key figure in the fire emergency evacuation plan. This is a person (or persons) within the business that you have appointed to take responsibility for the fire safety of their colleagues. The fire warden’s duties cover actions not only during a fire emergency but on a regular basis too, including:

  • Overseeing the fire drills in the office 
  • Ensuring staff is informed of the escape routes, alarm points and firefighting equipment available 
  • Checking the fire exits, escape routes, fire extinguishers and signage daily  
  • Completing the close down procedure of the building
  • Organising and overseeing the evacuation in case of a fire emergency

The fire marshal has to complete special training to get a fire marshal certificate that qualifies them to complete their duties adequately. This certification needs to be renewed at a minimum every three years. 

Who needs a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan and what is included in it?

A Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) is the document which details the evacuation procedure for any staff members of visitors who cannot be evacuated using the general fire evacuation plan, due to special needs, including those with visual, cognitive, motor or hearing impairments, as well as people who are suffering from a serious injury.

Not all people with special needs will need a PEEP but all employees who require one should be provided with a bespoke evacuation plan tailored to their specific needs and requirements.  

Looking at each unique case individually, the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) should take into account various factors, such as:

  • How others can assist this person’s evacuation 
  • The size of the emergency exits
  • Any special equipment needed
  • Additional fire safety training

To feel confident that you have completed your fire safety duties as a business owner, you must ensure every employee is equally protected in the workplace, so having a Fire Emergency Evacuation Plan, as well as Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans for everyone who needs them available and ready to be implemented is a must. 

If you found our fire evacuation plan guide useful, you may also like to read about the most common causes of fire at the workplace in the UK and fire alarm regulations for commercial buildings in the UK.