With schools currently working with less staff onsite because of the current lockdowns during Covid-19, having the correctly trained staff in school is vitally important. Because nominated Fire Marshals may be off sick or unavailable at short notice, do you have enough trained staff to cover?
As with any safety procedure, fire safety has some fixed guidelines and statutory requirements that everyone must follow. Despite what it may seem like on a cold January morning, when you are standing at the outside assembly point for a whole school fire drill, these rules and guidelines are there for a reason. They reinforce fire safety in schools and could save lives and minimise the damage to property should the worst happen. Clearly then, it is vital that everyone follows them and applies them correctly.
The regulations surrounding fire safety are well defined and the penalties for not following them are considerable, but this is only part of the story. The legislation is overarching and designed to ensure schools and other institutions adhere to the principles of fire safety. However, these guidelines and laws are created at a national level to provide the framework in which fire safety must be considered. What they cannot do, is take into account your specific requirements at a local level, so it is down the individual school to implement them. Here are a few tips, reminders and suggestions that may be useful when thinking about how these are implemented.
Fire Safety Tips for Schools
- Your local authority or other governing body may well have performed a safety check and published guidance as a fire safety policy. Some of these are very detailed, particularly where larger schools such as the bigger secondaries are concerned. While you should certainly read through this, it is also always worth making sure they are current and that you understand the practical elements of them.
- Obviously, you should know the locations of fire assembly points and fire exits, but what happens if your normal escape route is not available due a blockage? Smoke or fire can spread quickly and soon cut off an exit, as can falling debris. Think about secondary routes through windows and other classrooms perhaps. During a fire, safely leaving the building is your first priority, so it makes sense to have multiple options.
- Try to plan for out of the ordinary behaviour. In the circumstances of an actual fire rather than a drill some children, particularly younger ones, may become distressed. Every teacher knows that an upset child can behave in unpredictable ways. The chances are you will know the children who are likely to panic, so have a plan in place to deal with them.
- Safeguarding is still very important even in a sudden emergency. If there is a fire, the chances are that the children will be outside the buildings for some time and the school may need to close. Extra measures will be needed to safeguard any group of children who are outside the normal day to day school regime.
- It goes without saying that you need to make sure all those currently in your class are present at the assembly point, but the emergency services will also want to know that all the adults have left. In the activity that surrounds an evacuation, it is very easy to concentrate so much on the children, that you forget the staff. Once the learners are safe and accounted for, why not take a quick look around to see if anyone is missing. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are not sure. Remember to check for the support team, such as janitorial staff and caterers, as well. Don’t assume because you can’t see someone, that they are off for the day. What if you are the only person who notices that they are missing and you don’t mention it?
- During Covid-19 it is even more important to maintain daily lists of all those in school. What about visitors? The staff and learners may well know all the fire procedures but visitors may not.
- Be fire aware – because prevention is the best way to fight a fire. Watch for the common causes of fire and do something about them. You will certainly have covered the common causes of fires in your training, so it is up to you to react and clear the problem if you see one. Our trainers often see problems like blocked fire doors, heaters near furniture and piles of cardboard when they visit to do training. They are not surprised they see them because these things easily happen in a busy environment, but they are amazed that nobody has done anything about it.
- Arson is a very common cause of fire in schools. Watch out for holes in fences and external signs of vandalism, as these can be a precursor to an arson attack.
Finally, this tip from our training team is a great little idea that could well make a genuine emergency less dangerous.
TOP TIP – Prepare a grab bag for emergencies. A small rucksack with some inexpensive items could really make a difference if there is a fire. What you put in the pack may vary depending on your circumstances, but a reflective sash or vest and a good torch would be a great start. An evacuation map and a couple of light waterproof sheets perhaps as well. Put in whatever you think would be of use but nothing too heavy of course.
When it comes to fires in schools, the teaching staff need to be calm, alert and above all, in control of the situation. The children will look to you for guidance, so make sure you are up to date with your procedures and ready for an emergency.
If you’d like some help to ensure that you meet your legal duties, please do get in touch. For further details, see our page on Fire Safety Training for Schools.
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