Fire safety planning

Preparing for emergencies can prevent loss of life, property
Monday, October 7, 2013
By Michael Power & Sonny Truong

For building managers, a thorough and up-to-date fire safety plan is vital for both the safety of occupants and the preservation of the premises.

The document provides occupants with the procedures to follow during a fire, and responding fire department personnel with information about the building.

Plans are required by Canada’s provincial and territorial fire codes for all building types that: reach a certain number of storeys; have a specific occupant load; or have fire suppression or alarm systems.

Canada’s fire codes require a fire safety plan to contain specific information regarding human resources, the building layout and life safety systems, persons requiring assistance, training, fire drills and building maintenance.

Human resources
The fire safety plan should state who is responsible for the overall plan and who has a role to play (for example, building staff and fire safety committee personnel) in responding to fire alarm activations.

Building layout and life safety systems
The plan must define the building’s layout and various life safety systems, which occupants and responding firefighters can access during an alarm and evacuation. This should include everything from emergency voice communication systems to exit stairs and routes. Building managers should also detail specific hazards within the property that may affect firefighting efforts.

Persons requiring assistance
The plan should list occupants who may need assistance in exiting the building during an emergency, and define who will provide the assistance and what form it will take. Each building tenant should develop a set of internal procedures to assist these occupants.

Building managers must provide handouts containing emergency procedures and responsibilities to staff and tenants. In addition, management must ensure anyone given a specific responsibility in the building’s emergency fire procedures is trained accordingly.

Training should be undertaken each year and as new personnel are hired. Managers must keep documentation noting the attendees at training sessions. While each tenant can develop its own internal procedures for fire emergencies, these procedures must not contradict or conflict with the overall building plan.

Fire drills
The fire safety plan should state the frequency of fire drills, and note the specific requirements and procedures occupants must follow during drills. Fire drill frequency varies depending on a building’s occupancy type, height and unique hazards. Building managers should encourage tenant participation and explain the importance of regular drills.

Building maintenance
Building management must ensure that maintenance logs, tests, safety checks and inspections required by the fire code are maintained and available on-site for two years. Records of fire drills and the annual fire plan review must be kept for at least one year. Management should keep these documents accessible as fire departments expect them upon request.

Next steps
Management’s responsibilities do not end once a building’s fire safety plan has been drafted. The National Fire Code of Canada – the model that Canada’s provincial and territorial codes are based upon – requires management to review all plans “at intervals not greater than 12 months.”

This requirement ensures the information in the fire safety plan reflects the current fire code provisions, as well as the building’s characteristics in case of renovations or expansion.

It is important to have the final ‘approved’ fire safety plan readily available on-site and accessible at all times. In most instances, management must store it at the building’s fire department response point – often the building’s main entrance. It is recommended that a copy be made of any stamped, approved cover page or fire department letter. It should be kept in a separate location in case the original is misplaced or damaged.

Michael Power is an associate and life safety services group team leader at Leber/Rubes Inc. (LRI), a licensed consulting engineering firm that specializes in fire protection engineering and code consulting. Sonny Truong is an associate with LRI.

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