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Fire Safety for Facilities Management Personnel – Means of Escape for Disabled People – Part 143

April 4, 2022 12:23 pm

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 142, LWF discussed means of escape for people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair users. In part 143, we continue to discuss means of escape for people with disabilities and wheelchair users, particularly in relation to the assistance required by wheelchair users during an evacuation and refuge communications.

During an evacuation, the provision of an evacuation lift can help to ensure people using a wheelchair can leave the building promptly and safely. However, is it is a common misconception that disabled people should use the evacuation lift without assistance.

Evacuation lifts should be subject to proper control and their use must be organised and managed efficiently. The fire safety management system for the business or organisation should designate evacuation lift operators to manage the process. Commonly, the staff member(s) chosen are drawn from available security staff, although this is not required.

The operator should put a system into action whereby disabled people are evacuated first from the floor of fire origin and then from other floors as per pre-determined priorities.

For the system to work effectively, there should be a means of communication between refuges and a central control point. The availability of two-way communication enables a disabled person to let control know they are in the refuge and waiting and the control to communicate when assistance will be attending. Such systems should be implemented in all but small buildings where they are deemed unnecessary.

BS 5839-9 Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings – Part 9. Code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of emergency voice communication systems includes recommendations for the design and installation of emergency voice communication systems suitable for use in refuges. It also covers fire telephone systems designed for use by the Fire Service during a fire.

A commonly seen mistake in the provision of facilities to assist a wheelchair user in a fire situation is the placement of special evacuation chairs. Such chairs can be extremely useful in a fire, however mistakes made in placing them in main stairways, for example, can mean that they are not available for use in alternative escape stairways. Thought must be given to the number of chairs required and sensible placement within the building to help ensure wheelchair users can be assisted in evacuating safely.

In part 145 of this series, LWF will begin to discuss the safe evacuation of people who are blind or partially-sighted. 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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