The LWF Blog

Facilities Management & Fire Safety – How people act in a fire situation – Part 4

February 8, 2018 1:07 pm

In LWF’s blog series for Facilities Managers or those who have a responsibility for or interest in fire safety, we have been looking at how an incidence of fire is reacted to by the people involved. Whatever practical fire protection measures are put into place, the greatest variable in a fire situation is the human element.


Individuals have been known to act in a manner which, from a fire safety point of view, is illogical, but which seems the right course of action to the person involved.  In Part 4, we’re going to look at some of the measures which can be taken to help ensure building occupants evacuate promptly and safely.


The building in question might be occupied solely by staff, or it may be a combination of staff and visitors. Staff training must be given high importance with the emphasis on immediate evacuation upon hearing the fire alarm. In cases where the public may be present in the building, it is imperative that staff are given further training to help in this regard. There have been situations where members of the public are reticent to leave their business or activity in order to evacuate.


Any visitor to the building should be made aware of what to do if the fire alarm sounds. The information can be relayed verbally, on a card they are asked to read or printed on the visitor pass they are given. It is important that no assumptions are made about the visitor’s ability to read, however, and so a combination of spoken and written instructions are often best.


Weekly fire alarm tests should be undertaken while the building is occupied and during normal working hours. The test itself is to ensure the system is working correctly, but sounding the alarm each time will ensure staff are familiar with the sound. Some systems work with a two-stage alarm and in these cases, both the alert and evacuate alarms should be sounded consecutively. In buildings where there is a PA system, it is possible to announce the alarms and inform as to the difference between the alarm sounds.


While it is considered that a weekly sounding of the fire alarm during testing will positively reinforce the building occupants’ association with the sound of the alarm meaning fire and evacuation, it should not be over-used. If the alarm is sounded multiple times a week or for longer than 60 seconds, it may be that the occupancy becomes complacent and no longer associate it with the need for action.


It is also true that false alarms have an impact upon the occupancy and their sense of urgency. While they should be avoided as a regular occurrence and the cause of each false alarm investigated fully, research has shown that it is the rate and timing of occurrence which has the most impact. If a false alarm used to happen regularly but has not sounded a few months, people are likely to trust that it is not a false alarm this time. However, if they almost never happen but one happened the previous day, their belief is shaken and they may not take appropriate action to evacuate.


In Part 5, LWF will continue to look at human behaviour in a fire situation and what you can do to ensure building occupants are safely evacuated. 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