The LWF Blog

Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Means of Escape for Disabled People – Part 142

March 28, 2022 11:33 am

Lawrence Webster Forrest (LWF) is a specialist fire engineering and fire risk management consultancy whose aim is to give information on best practice in fire safety for facilities management personnel through this blog series. In part 141, LWF discussed means of escape for people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users. In part 142, we continue to discuss means of escape for people with disabilities and wheelchair users.

The use of a refuge as a temporary shelter for a wheelchair user, prior to their assisted evacuation from the building is subject to certain misunderstandings by the building occupiers, on occasion. A refuge is not designed or intended for use as a place where a disabled person can be left until the Fire Service arrive and evacuate them.

There are various reasons for this. The first is that the period between the alarm being raised and evacuation beginning and the Fire Service attending is a time that the fire may continue to grow. Upon attending the scene, the Fire Service need to focus on putting out the fire and not evacuating people who could have been safely evacuated during the evacuation period. Of course, if there is situation where people are trapped inside the building, the Fire Service will certainly make their rescue the priority, but it would be irresponsible to deliberately leave a wheelchair user (or any other disabled person) in the refuge pending Fire Service arrival.

Misunderstandings about the use of refuges have led some individuals and organisations to believe that refuges are designed for precisely the reasons mentioned above.

Another reason why a disabled person should not be left in a refuge to await Fire Service rescue is that there is the potential for help not to arrive, or to be delayed. The refuge is enclosed in fire-resisting construction which will ensure safety from fire only for a limited amount of time. This could theoretically mean that a disabled person would not be safe to work in an area where the Fire Service might take an extended amount of time to reach the premises.

It is clear that an evacuation plan must include arrangements to evacuate any disabled person from the building during the evacuation phase to a place of safety outside of the building, and without external assistance.

The fire safety management plan for a building must incorporate the safe evacuation of disabled persons and wheelchair users.

In part 143 of this series, LWF will continue to discuss means of escape for disabled people, in terms of evacuation lifts and refuge communications. In the meantime, if you have any queries about your own facilities or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact LWF on freephone 0800 410 1130.


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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