fire safety

A condo resident’s role in the fire safety plan

Tuesday, May 9, 2023
By Jason Reid

For a high-rise fire safety plan to be effective in 2023, residents must be aware of their unique roles and responsibilities when it comes to preventing, preparing and responding to fire emergencies.

Complaints and inquiries during and after a fire alarm often occur without a basic understanding of life safety systems and the work of on-site security and concierge staff during an emergency—which doesn’t involve answering phones.

Typical oversights among residents can include assuming an alarm is false, waiting to evacuate once the fire department pulls its hoses off the truck, or calling the concierge when the alarm goes off to inquire about procedures.

For all high-rise buildings in Ontario, fire safety plans are required by Section 2.8 of the Ontario Fire Code. The Code states, “a fire safety plan shall be prepared, approved, and implemented in buildings and premises.” This implementation is a vital component as it demands distribution of the roles and responsibilities to everyone in the building—including residents.

A fire safety plan located at the front door in a little white box is valuable, but if no one is aware of their vital role in that plan and what they need to do in the case of an emergency, then the plan has already failed.

Residents should have a basic understanding of the following to make informed decisions and protect others:

  • The varied life safety features and systems in a building.
  • How these features impact resident safety. Not all buildings are the same. There are limitations of having only one smoke alarm in a suite. Additional smoke alarms should be considered for better protection.
  • The vital role of building operations and security personnel when a fire alarm goes off. Residents can often flood the security desk, not knowing what to do.
  • The decision to leave a suite during a fire alarm is that of the resident, after reviewing evacuation procedures found within the building’s approved fire safety plan. This includes discussing human behaviour during fires, challenges of the fire department response in high-rise buildings, and emergency preparedness for persons requiring assistance during evacuations. This allows residents to make informed decisions before the fire alarm sounds. The only way to achieve this is to engage and communicate the roles and responsibilities in advance of an emergency.
  • Understand and feel comfortable with their options in the event that they cannot leave due to smoke or fire. For example, to properly “defend in place”, a resident must ensure that they have the materials needed to assist them, such as duck tape, towels, and water, and how these items are deployed.

At all high-rise residential buildings, emergency procedures are posted prominently on every floor, typically located at every fire exit in the building.

Property managers communicate the applicable pages of the plan to occupants after the fire safety plan has been approved, as part of their implementation requirements, and again every 12 months to provide regular reminders to residents.

The above serves to meet the requirements of the Fire Code – if emailed, the plan may not be read or shared with others within a suite.

Educating residents

After their initial training, building staff are required to conduct quarterly fire drills to test their action and must maintain proof of this training and ongoing testing. On the other hand, there is no training requirement for residents who, nonetheless, should be able to confidently react during an emergency.

To remedy this, hosting an annual resident education session at a building, typically held in the building’s party room during the evening, brings an opportunity to review procedures and ask questions.

This can expand upon current trends derived from post-fire investigations, lessons learned and fire prevention over the past year. Learning from the actions or inactions of occupants and staff at other high-rise fires can strengthen emergency preparedness planning.

These sessions should be site specific and delivered by those who are intimately familiar with the building’s fire safety plan. Many property managers hold annual education nights, through wine and cheese events, and even virtual sessions have been completed to capture everyone in the building.

Additionally, this session involves reviewing how persons requiring assistance (PRA) during a building evacuation are to respond, and how to effectively prepare in advance of fire alarms. PRAs may be described as anyone who has reduced mobility, a speech, hearing or visual impairment, or a cognitive limitation, regardless of whether it is temporary or permanent.

In Ontario, the building owner is required to work with residents to develop a list of PRAs and ensure that these residents are aware of their roles, responsibilities, and procedures, as outlined within the approved fire safety plan.

In the event of an evacuation, the PRA list, along with a copy of the fire safety plan, is to be made available to municipal emergency services upon their arrival. Residents requiring special assistance need to have their questions answered in advance of an emergency and the in-person educational sessions are an excellent format to do so.

When should these educational sessions be held?

The ideal time is in October or November—just before the colder months when a high percentage of fire fatalities occur. A common challenge for property managers is encouraging residents to participate in fire safety initiatives, either in-person or virtually.

Unfortunately, many residents are under the impression that fire safety is the responsibility of the management team only. They’re either not aware of the important role that they play, or the management has not suitably engaged them in this effort.

Developing a fire safety plan and program, educating everyone, and continually reviewing the program are essential components to keep a high-rise building as fire-safe as possible.

Jason Reid is the senior adviser for Fire & Emergency Management with National Life Safety Group in Toronto. He has worked with international embassies, government, public and private sector critical infrastructure facilities; commercial/residential high-rise buildings; world class shopping centres and mass assembly facilities. He can be reached at: jason.reid@nationallifesafetygroup.ca Main: 647-794-5505 Toll Free: 1-877-751-0508 www.nationallifesafetygroup.ca.

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