The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – How people act in a fire situation – Part 1

January 18, 2018 2:03 pm

In LWF’s blog series for those who work in Facilities Management or who have a responsibility for or interest in fire safety, we have been exploring those areas of fire prevention and protection which are of prime concern to building owners and managers in a structural and practical manner. We now turn our attention to the variable element of any fire situation – people.


While the majority of guidance on fire safety relates to the building; how fire will behave within a given building and how it can be prevented or limited to avoid damage to the occupants and contents; it is also essential to have an insight into the behaviour of people in a fire situation and to look at those practices and management structures which can influence that behaviour for a safe outcome.


Advances in technology have meant that fire protection measures have become increasingly sophisticated and effective meaning that there are now less fire situations in non-domestic premises which might lead to multiple fatalities. On the rare occasions such a tragedy does occur, the behaviour of the building occupants can often be shown to have had an impact on the terrible outcome.


A responsible business organisation will see a substantial investment in new fire protection equipment or safety equipment as essential, but often cannot see the value in sufficient staff training which would ensure the building was safely evacuated prior to the fire becoming a danger to the occupancy.


It is human nature to sometimes do precisely the wrong thing when faced with an unfamiliar situation and some elements of fire technology now take that into account. The lessons learned from disasters such as the fire at King’s Cross Underground Station, where the manually operated sprinkler system under the escalator was not started and 31 people died, means that now automatic sprinkler systems are a requirement for the protection of escalators in underground stations.


It isn’t always a panicked response that can be potentially dangerous for building occupants. Some decisions by people inside a building on fire can seem to be very logical. For instance, in cases where families are within a building but are separated, for example to undertake different activities, parents will naturally seek to find their children before attempting an escape.


There have been various fires leading to fatalities where this was acknowledged to have been a factor, but it wasn’t until 1990 that this element of human behaviour was translated into a practical form of guidance for those premises in which such situations might occur.


In Part 2 of this series, LWF will look at those organisations which have undertaken research on human behaviour in fires and how this has impacted fire safety practices worldwide. 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.


Share this post