The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – Fire Development & Human Behaviour – Part 4

March 16, 2018 10:45 am

In LWF’s blog series for those who work in Facilities Management or who have an interest in or responsibility for Fire Safety, we have been looking at people’s reactions to a fire starting and their actions resulting from that. In part 3, the fact that other matters may seem pressing to individuals in a fire situation – such as settling a bill or getting a meal they’d already paid for – and the resulting actions have affected the safety of building occupants when a fire is in progress on various occasions in the past. In part 4, we explore what happens when people are no longer faced with just a fire alarm signal but can see the fire itself.


As is natural, once the fire is visible to the building occupants, the attention given to previous activities ceases and their attention is turned to the fire. However, this does not always lead to the most logical course of action – an immediate evacuation. Real fire situations have shown that the urgency of the situation often still fails to become paramount and the fire itself can become the focus of interest and even discussion.


It seems that people relate an uncontrolled fire experience in a building to their most similar previous experience, which may be standing around a bonfire to watch it develop. Such anomalies in human behaviour are, of course, extremely dangerous and have led to deaths and injuries. For example, where a crowd are watching a form of entertainment and the entertainment ceases due to the fire, people are inclined to stay and watch the fire, rather than evacuating immediately.


It seems as if the human brain finds it hard to return to simply functioning as an individual, acting independently, once they have been allocated a role as one of a crowd undertaking an activity.


Another example of people continuing to act in the way they would have been expected to, prior to the fire, is in the workplace. In any normal situation in a workplace, colleagues would discuss decisions and often, wait until a senior officer of the company had agreed them before acting. This can lead to discussions between team members about the fire and a decision to report the fire to a manager who is based further into a building, rather than following the escape route to safety.


Expected normal behaviour clashing with urgently required behaviour can only be overcome through the training of staff to deal with fire situations and the use of voice fire alarm systems.


The necessity for staff to act promptly in a fire situation should be illustrated during training in clear and interesting ways. The use of graphics and training videos to demonstrate the speed of fire growth in a building can be useful. Videos are available which demonstrate the speed of development of real and demonstration fires in different environments.


Voice alarm systems provide instruction on what an individual must do and are more effective in reducing the amount of waiting time before evacuation than a traditional siren.


In Part 5 of this series, LWF will look at the idea that people panic in a fire situation. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.


Lawrence Webster Forrest is a fire engineering consultancy based in Surrey with over 25 years’ experience, which provides a wide range of consultancy services to professionals involved in the design, development and construction and operation of buildings. 


While care has been taken to ensure that information contained in LWF’s publications is true and correct at the time of publication, changes in circumstances after the time of publication may impact on the accuracy of this information.


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