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Last updated: 04.11.21

What are the 3 Categories of Fire Evacuation?

Whilst many people may have taken part in a fire drill in their lifetime, few of us have ever actually been involved in an emergency fire evacuation. Whilst you may assume that the procedure is the same no matter what the situation is, there are actually several different types of fire evacuation procedures which are important to understand if you work in a building or location that you may have to evacuate in the event of a fire.

Some fire evacuations procedures only really apply to hospitals or care homes where evacuating residents cannot be done in one simple stage. Others are required when simultaneous evacuation may result in injury or delays if everyone tries to leave a building at once, causing more problems than the fire itself.

Whether you’re a designated fire marshal, work in a role that requires evacuation knowledge or just want to understand the different procedures that can take place when a fire breaks out, this post has a full breakdown of the 3 categories of fire evacuation and when each procedure is required.

What is Fire Evacuation?

Fire evacuation is the process of removing all people from an area in the event of a fire in order to prevent any harm or damage to their health. If a significant fire starts in a building then one of the most common health and safety procedures is to evacuate so that there is no danger of anyone getting injured from the flames or smoke.

Fire evacuation procedures typically happen when a fire alarm sounds. The majority of people have been conditioned to respond to this kind of emergency by leaving a building, but there are also often fire evacuation signs and guidance in place giving directions to emergency exits, stairways and meeting points.

In some cases, total evacuation of a building in the case of a fire may be avoided for as long as possible, such as in a hospital or care home when patients are unable to move by themselves or are dependent on medical equipment. A fire evacuation plan tends to have different categories of evacuation which apply to these scenarios, providing a framework for staff to follow depending on the severity of a situation.

What Are the 3 Categories of Evacuation in Fire Safety?

Different circumstances require different kinds of fire evacuation. Broadly speaking, there are three categories that fire safety evacuation plans fall into, which are important to understand if you are in a position where you will be in charge of evacuating a building in the event of a fire.

Simultaneous Evacuation

Simultaneous evacuation is the most common of all fire evacuation procedures and usually the one that most people will have experience of. It involves getting everyone inside a building to exit at the same time, usually when a fire alarm is sounded.

A simultaneous evacuation should be organised by trained fire marshals or those who have been designated as fire safety managers. It is their responsibility to sound the fire alarm, make sure that the fire brigade has been called, supervise the evacuation and ensure that everyone has left the building before the fire gets out of control.

The most important thing to remember in a simultaneous fire evacuation procedure is that everyone should exit the building as calmly as possible. It is very easy for crowds of people to grow out of control in emergencies, but this can make evacuation procedures unsafe and actually end up taking longer than if everyone had taken their time to leave slowly.

Vertical or Horizontal Phased Evacuation

In some situations, simultaneous evacuation isn’t possible. This may be because of the size of the building or because the people inside the building are unable to move with the necessary ease required when everyone exits a building at once. 

An example of this is in a hospital, where patients cannot leave their wards due to their condition or the medical equipment they rely on to function normally. Alternatively, a building might have hundreds of floors and limited exits, which means that the people nearest the fire have to evacuate first and then the rest of the occupants will follow.

Vertical evacuation is often the first emergency procedure protocol in this context, involving a building being evacuated floor by floor. Those on the floor where the fire is will leave the building first, followed by those on the floor above it to avoid anyone getting trapped if the fire spreads upwards. 

This kind of evacuation procedure happens just as fast as a simultaneous one, where everyone inside is required to move as quickly but as calmly as possible out of the building. Evacuating in stages means that stairways won’t get overly busy and cause hold-ups, as well as ensuring that those closest to the fire get out before those who aren’t in any imminent danger.

A vertical evacuation should be organised by having two different, distinctive fire alarms. The first should indicate that a floor needs to be evacuated immediately and the second should sound as a warning that a floor will be evacuated soon, so those on it need to be prepared.

Horizontal evacuation is often considered the stage after vertical evacuation and is most commonly used in hospitals or care homes where inhabitants are unable to just get up and leave the building without taking anything with them. It involves keeping residents on the same floor that they are already on and just moving them to a safer area for as long as possible before total evacuation becomes necessary.

Fire-resistant compartments are often found in buildings where horizontal evacuation is part of the fire evacuation policy, providing a space that is more resistant to fire than the rest of the area where residents can be kept safe. In hospitals, there may also be more compact treatment rooms on the same floor where care can continue to be delivered to patients until they have to leave the building.

In situations where vertical or horizontal evacuation may be a possibility, staff will usually have been given training on what to do in these situations to ensure the process goes smoothly. This is particularly important when evacuation involves moving disabled or unwell people to another location, as official protocols must be followed and some individuals may have specialist needs.

Both of these fire evacuation procedures carry additional risks, which means that procedures or equipment may need to be put in place to try and reduce this as much as possible.

Silent Alarm Evacuation

A silent alarm evacuation is an emergency procedure for fire that most people are not aware of unless they have worked as a member of staff in a location that uses this kind of fire evacuation plan. It involves a ‘silent’ alarm or alert going off that only staff in an area understand, communicating that an emergency is happening and that action needs to be taken.

The reason that this kind of evacuation procedure exists is that in some locations, such as theatres, shopping centres or stations, sounding a fire alarm to evacuate could cause mass panic and movement that could lead to more harm. People could start to run and knock each other over, single exits could get congested or staircases may become overcrowded and lead to trips and falls.

Whilst it isn’t related to a fire, silent alarms are also sometimes used in the event of a terrorist attack when a location needs to be evacuated without having a lot of attention drawn to the process, or when rushing towards an exit could lead directly into more danger.

When a silent alarm evacuation happens in the case of a fire, staff inside the building will be notified. They will have pre-arranged procedures to evacuate the building as quickly and efficiently as possible without causing too much panic, ensuring that everyone gets out safely.

Different levels of danger may have different silent alarms, such as lights flashing, a discrete sound, individual messages or a coded announcement. Each of these will have a different evacuation procedure associated with it, allowing staff to act in the safest possible way to minimise harm.

What Are the Steps of the Fire Evacuation Procedure?

In the event of an emergency fire evacuation procedure, the first thing to do is sound the alarm if it hasn’t already been set off. This ensures that everyone in the building is aware that there is an emergency and can start to leave with enough time to get out safely.

If a silent alarm has been sounded, it is important to follow the correct procedure and not set off the general fire alarm unless absolutely necessary.

Once the fire alarm has been sounded, the relevant evacuation procedure should be followed. In the majority of cases, this will involve everyone exiting the building as quickly as possible by the nearest emergency exit, leaving behind any personal belongings that might slow their progress down.

If you are a member of staff or designated fire warden in the building that is being evacuated, it is your responsibility to supervise the evacuation and ensure that everyone is leaving the building where possible. Anyone in the building with a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP) must be located and their plan should be followed before you leave, as long as it is still safe to do so.

Once a building has been evacuated, the next stage of the emergency procedures for fire is to gather everybody at the designated assembly point. This should have been communicated to all of those in the building, but anyone who looks unsure should be directed to the right location to ensure that nobody goes back into the building or stands close enough that they could still be harmed.

Finally, a roll call needs to be organised after evacuation has taken place so that you know whether everyone has gotten out of the building safely. Again, this will be the responsibility of the fire marshal or designated fire safety manager of the building, who will also be responsible for telling the emergency services if anyone is missing.

FAQs

What is a fire evacuation plan?

A fire evacuation plan is the record of the official procedure that is to be followed in the event of a fire. Also sometimes known as a fire emergency evacuation plan (FEEP), it gives a safe and efficient method of clearing people out of a building or area and ensuring that there are minimal casualties if a fire begins.

What is the correct order of evacuation?

If a fire takes place, health and safety advice is to follow RACE procedures; rescue those in immediate danger, sound the fire alarm, try and contain the fire and then evacuate and try and extinguish the fire if possible. If total evacuation is required in the event of a fire, vertical evacuation is a priority, then horizontal evacuation, and then complete evacuation if necessary.

What does PEEP stand for in fire safety?

PEEP stands for ‘personal emergency evacuation plans’ in fire safety. It refers to the evacuation plan that has been put in place for a person who has a disability or mobility issue that means they may be unable to participate in a traditional evacuation, ensuring that they remain safe even if a building has to be evacuated.

Summary

The most important thing to remember in the event of a fire is that staying calm is the key to evacuating everyone safely. When people panic they tend to lose track of others around them, but having an official fire evacuation plan means that you can rely on a trusted method of getting everyone out of a building in enough time that nobody gets hurt.

If you’d like to find out more about fire evacuation procedures and what is involved in fire safety policies, we offer a ‘Fire Safety for Fire Marshals and Wardens Training Package’ that is suitable for anyone who wants to learn more about what to do in a fire emergency.

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