The LWF Blog

Fire Engineering for Healthcare Premises – The Human Element – Part 53

September 20, 2021 11:55 am

In LWF’s blog series for healthcare professionals, our aim is to give information on best practice of fire safety in hospitals and other healthcare premises. In part 52 of Fire Engineering for Healthcare Premises, LWF began to discuss the human factors influencing fire safety design. In part 53, we will continue to look at the human element of fire safety management, by discussing staff response to fire alarms.

It is acknowledged that a person with a defined role or training will behave more positively and decisively in a fire situation. The nature of Staff response to a fire alarm is imperative, especially in a healthcare environment where other building occupants are likely to be reliant on assistance to evacuate.

Where the initial information about a fire situation is ambiguous, the most commonly-seen positive response is an attempt to gain more information. People in groups will plan action based on how they see others in the group react. Without a manager or staff member providing guidance at an early stage, people in a group will take longer to respond to the alarm than if they were alone.

The behaviour of people in a fire situation varies, even once the existence of the fire is recognised. The reactions will depend on whether or not they have a defined role in the organisation, if they have received appropriate training and also, their perceptions of the developing fire situation – it should be noted that individual perceptions are not always an accurate representation of the actual situation.

Some of the possible responses to a fire situation are as follows:

  • To continue working
  • Go to collect their belongings
  • Attempt fire-fighting activities
  • Try to warn others (either formally through role/training or informally)
  • Attempting to find family members or companions
  • Trying to rescue or assist other building occupants
  • Seek refuge or escape

It should be noted that in a building with a childcare facility, parents will almost always go there first, before attempting to evacuate. It can be appropriate to inform parents what will happen to safeguard the children if a fire alarm sounds and provide a meeting point outside.

From those options, there are few that remain viable as the fire situation develops and worsens. It is therefore important that those staff members who are present are adequately trained and practised in what actions they should undertake once a fire alarm has been sounded. It is also important that visitors to the building have clear instructions on what actions they should take. The main aim is to evacuate all building occupants to a place of safety outside the building, or from an area of danger to an area of safety in the case of a building using horizontal evacuation.


In Part 54 of LWF’s blog series, LWF will continue to look at the reactions of people to the fire alarm in a healthcare building. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this blog, or wish to discuss your own project with one of our fire engineers, please contact us.

Lawrence Webster Forrest has been working with their clients for over 25 years to produce innovative and exciting building projects. If you would like further information on how LWF and fire strategies could assist you, 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.

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