Over the years, with space at a premium, more and more large occupancy buildings have been erected to accommodate the needs of both business and residential purposes alike. Even smaller, more modest office buildings, can have the potential to hold 50 to a 100 occupants during hours of business. This is just one of the reasons these buildings create a unique challenge to the fire service.
As the economy continues to take a hit; and fire services all around the country are forced to conduct their services with reduced manpower, it is important for office workers to understand their role in protecting themselves and assisting their local fire department.
High occupancy and high-rise fires represent an extraordinary challenge to fire departments and are some of the most challenging incidents a fire department encounters. So what can the average employee do to protect and prepare themselves in such occupancies?
The first and most basic thing someone can do is simply be aware of their own surrounding. Take a moment, and think to yourself: “Do I know where the nearest exit is in my office space? Is there more than one? Where's the nearest fire extinguisher? Do I even know how to use it?”
How often do you ever even think of these things?
In general, we are all creatures of habit. We go to work each day, enter our buildings through the same doors, take the same set of stairs to our offices each morning and each afternoon. Now think ... what happens one day when you can't use that set of stairs, or that entrance? Answering these simple questions for yourself can greatly help in an emergency.
In addition, you can eliminate additional hazards by never plugging power cords into other power cords. Also, keeping dust from building up on ventilation grates on the backs of computers, copiers, and other electrical appliances around the office to help to prevent equipment from overheating. Never place storage in or under stairways. Always keep emergency exits clear and accessible.
An acronym often used is high occupancy buildings for remembering what to do in case of a small fire is R.A.C.E (Rescue, Alarm, Confine, Extinguish)
RESCUE anyone in immediate danger from the fire, if it does not endanger your life. Sound an ALARM by activating a pull station, alarm box, calling your local fire department's emergency line, or 911. CONFINE the fire by closing all doors and windows. EXTINGUISH a small fire with a fire extinguisher or EVACUATE the area if the fire is too large for a fire extinguisher.
Early and rapid notification is often the most important step in this entire process when concerned with fire. Fire doubles in size every two minutes when it burns unchecked. Therefore, confining the fire by closing all doors as you evacuate, greatly helps to eliminate potential fuel sources and prevents accelerated growth of a fire until fire department personal can arrive on scene.
If you don't see smoke or fire but you smell it, contact your local fire department and evacuate the building until the odor can be investigated. This often can be indicative of an emergency elsewhere in the building. Realize, that in many large high occupancy buildings, windows are unable to be opened in individual offices. This is because all heating, ventilation, and air conditioning is done through a centralized duct system. Despite having fail safes and smoke detection systems within the ductwork, malfunctions can always occur and smoke from a fire on one floor could easily travel to an unaffected portion of the building.
Arguably, the most important way to assist arriving fire department personal is to evacuate the building each and every time the fire alarm sounds or you are directed to do so by building managers. Evacuating a building in a calm and orderly fashion is a very important aspect in ensuring your safety and assisting fire department personnel. Because of newer laws and standards, most buildings require both automatic alarm systems and sprinklers. These systems have had an enormous positive impact on the fire service in helping to suppress fire growth and initiate early notification to emergency services. However, repeated false alarms or accidental activations sometimes lead workers to ignore and disregard fire alarms in their offices. This can become a hazardous situation and a bad habit.
When firefighters arrive at the scene of these high occupancy buildings they are charged, not only with the task of locating and extinguishing any fires, but also with ensuring that all occupants are out of the building. Firefighters expect that everyone is properly exiting the building. However, we cannot rely on the fact that everyone actually does. For this reason, until a fire can be found and extinguished, the arduous and manpower intense task of going room to room, cubical to cubical, and floor to floor must continue. In the event of a larger scale incident or fire, every individual left in the building now becomes the responsibility of the firefighters and a hinderance to the operation. The easiest and most direct way for firefighters to protect those in a structure is to primarily focus on suppressing the fire. If the fire or emergency goes away, then so does the hazard! By following your proper evacuation procedures each and every time, you help to ensure firefighters can focus on only those priorities that require immediate attention.
It's better to be slightly inconvenienced from time to time with an accidental activation, then to risk your safety or the safety of others!
Remember, the best time to think about fire safety is before a fire starts.